Texas Gov. Greg Abbott shared a pointed statement on Twitter that he attributed to former British prime minister Winston Churchill.
“The fascists of the future,” the statement said, “will call themselves antifascists.”
The Republican governor hailed the quote by noting that “some insights are timeless.”
Just one problem: Churchill does not seem to have said it.
David Freeman of the International Churchill Society told The Washington Post that although it would take exhaustive research to be absolutely certain, he could not find any documentation that Churchill ever uttered that string of words.
Instead, Freeman, the society’s director of publications, said it is more likely a case of “aphoristic drift” (or, in this case, “Churchillian Drift”), in which an epigram is incorrectly attributed to a famous person such as Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King Jr. or Churchill to give it “a little more gravitas.”
It’s not uncommon to see political, inspirational or educational quotes mistakenly assigned to Churchill. The website Quote Investigator has written posts about several quotes that have been misattributed to the famous British politician and writer — including the one about antifascists.
On Tuesday, Churchill historian Richard Langworth confirmed that the specific words cited in Abbott’s tweet — “the fascists of the future will call themselves antifascists” — do not show up when digitally searching millions of published words in letters, speeches, articles and books written by Churchill, or in memoirs by his colleagues and authoritative books about him.
“He uses ‘anti-fascist’ frequently toward the end of World War II about the Yugoslav Anti-Fascist Coalition and the Italian Anti-Fascist Council. But in 97 occurrences of the word in his canon, there is nothing resembling this alleged prediction,” Langworth, senior fellow for the Churchill Project at Hillsdale College, wrote in a statement to The Post. “I’ve seen it quoted before. It doesn’t sound like him, really. Too pat. He thought deeply about and feared the future, but not in that way.”
Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But the governor’s tweet was deleted Tuesday morning, hours after it was posted.
At a news conference in Waco, the governor responded to a question about the tweet, according to the Texas Tribune.
“Listen, what I tweeted was a sentiment that I have, and that is antifa is dangerous to society and antifa is the antithesis of safety and security, and they are antagonists to law enforcement as well as to other people,” he said.
“It was irrelevant to me who may or may not have said that in the past,” Abbott added, according to the Tribune. “I didn’t want to be accused of plagiarism for saying it. If no one else said it, attribute the quote to me because it’s what I believe in.”
Antifa is a far-left political movement characterized as antifascists and sometimes anarchists. As The Post has reported, antifa existed before President Trump entered office but has become more prominent during his presidency, making its opposition known at political protests that have occasionally turned violent.
But historians say Churchill doesn’t seem to have said those specific words about antifascists.
Of course, he never said a lot of other things that people often try to attribute to him.
The International Churchill Society, a historical organization dedicated to educating others about the liberal-turned-conservative who led Britain during World War II, has compiled a list of quotes that are commonly attributed to the former prime minister, even though he never said them:
“If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.”
“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
“With integrity, nothing else counts. Without integrity, nothing else counts.”
“You make a living by what you get; you make a life by what you give.”
“The further backward you look, the further forward you can see.” Or, “The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see.”
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Or, “Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”
“The government had to choose between war and shame. They chose shame. They will get war too.”
“All this contains much that is obviously true, and much that is relevant; unfortunately, what is obviously true is not relevant, and what is relevant is not obviously true.”
Freeman, with the International Churchill Society, said Churchill himself would quote unknown epigrams but would not attribute them.
Instead, he would couch the quotes by saying, “It has been said that. .. ”
After Abbott posted the “Churchill quote,” the Internet shared some of its own.