As President Donald Trump criticizes “Black Lives Matter,” he and his team keep bringing up an eight-word protest chant that has been highlighted repeatedly by conservative Fox News personalities.
Trump has mentioned the chant twice in the past week while criticizing a plan from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to paint the words “Black Lives Matter” in large yellow letters on the street in front of Trump Tower in Manhattan.
“‘Pigs in a Blanket, Fry ‘Em Like Bacon’, referring to killing Police, is their chant. NYC Police are furious!” Trump wrote on June 25.
“This will further antagonize New York’s Finest, who LOVE New York & vividly remember the horrible BLM chant, ‘Pigs In A Blanket, Fry ‘Em Like Bacon,’” Trump wrote on July 1.
After Trump claimed that de Blasio’s plan would create a “symbol of hate,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump’s issue isn’t with the words “Black Lives Matter” but that “what he doesn’t agree with is an organization that chants ‘pigs in a blanket, fry ‘em like bacon’ about our police officers, our valiant heroes …”
Trump and McEnany were not making up the chant. But they were leaving out some important context.
Facts First: The words “pigs in a blanket, fry ‘em like bacon” were chanted at a protest march held by a Black Lives Matter group in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 2015. That group, however, was an independent entity not affiliated with the national Black Lives Matter organization. And we could find no evidence the chant has been used by the national organization, by any Black Lives Matter groups in the New York City area, or by Black Lives Matter activists anywhere outside Minnesota – nor even by the St. Paul group on any subsequent occasion.
Since there have been hundreds of events at least loosely connected with the sprawling Black Lives Matter movement, we can’t say for certain that the chant has never been used by any Black Lives Matter protester at any moment since the Minnesota incident.
But it is safe to say that the chant is not an official, national or prominent Black Lives Matter slogan.
The Minnesota chant controversy
A group of protesters was filmed chanting the words “pigs in a blanket, fry ‘em like bacon” during an August 29, 2015, march to the grounds of the Minnesota State Fair. The march had been organized by the independent Black Lives Matter group in St. Paul, Minnesota.
But others in law enforcement were not amused. The St. Paul police union denounced the chant as disgusting, with then-president Dave Titus saying it was “basically promoting killing police officers.” Through a spokesperson, Minnesota’s then-Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, called the chant “a terrible thing to say.”
Rashad Turner, a founder of the St. Paul Black Lives Matter group, said at the time that “no one is promoting violence.” Turner told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that the chant – which lasted about 30 seconds, according to a person who filmed it – was simply a demand for police officers who kill people to be treated the same as civilians who kill people.
It did not “mean literally ‘fry these guys’ or ‘kill them’ or anything like that,” Turner said. “It’s ridiculous that a cop can kill someone, be seen on camera doing that, be charged or indicted with murder, and be able to post bail. … What we are promoting is that if Black people who kill police officers are going to fry, then we want police officers to face the same treatment that we face as civilians for killing officers.”
Regardless of whether you believe Turner’s explanation, there is no indication that the chant spread to other Black Lives Matter events, was ever used as any kind of official slogan, or even that it was a common chant among the St. Paul activists.
Turner, who is now executive director of the Minnesota Parent Union, told CNN via Twitter on Wednesday that the group used the chant “just that one time.” And our search of newspaper articles and television coverage (specifically, coverage by major networks whose closed captions are preserved on Archive.org) did not find examples of the chant from any protest events other than the Minnesota march.
A Fox favorite
So how did Trump remember a five-year-old controversy?
We don’t know for sure. But it’s possible, perhaps likely, that that he had been watching some of his favorite Fox News shows.
Fox hosts have talked about the Minnesota chant on numerous occasions in the years since 2015 as they have raised suspicions about Black Lives Matter – and both Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson played the video of the chant in June of this year, before Trump’s tweets.
Carlson ran the video the week before Trump’s first tweet using the phrase on June 25.
The St. Paul group and the ‘organization’
To understand this controversy, it’s helpful to understand that the phrase “Black Lives Matter” can refer to several different things.
It’s a statement of principle anyone can make. It’s the informal name of a broad movement opposing police brutality and other racism against Black people. It’s also the name of an incorporated organization that has a network of official local chapters.
And, still more, it is the name of numerous independent groups dedicated to similar goals but not affiliated with the organization. Anyone can start a group that includes the words “Black Lives Matter.”
That’s what happened in St. Paul. Contrary to McEnany’s suggestion that the group that did the chant in 2015 was part of the “organization,” news accounts from 2015 show that it was an independent entity at the time.
Turner confirmed this to CNN in a message on Thursday. He said the group never became an official chapter.