Fact Check: NO Evidence President George H.W. Bush Ever Said Americans Would 'Lynch Us' If People Knew What His Administration Had Done

Fact Check

  • by: Eric Ferkenhoff
Fact Check: NO Evidence President George H.W. Bush Ever Said Americans Would 'Lynch Us' If People Knew What His Administration Had Done No Evidence

Did George H.W. Bush, the 41st president of the United States, say in 1992 that the American people would "chase us down the streets and lynch us" over Iran-Contra? No, there is no evidence the former president ever said that regarding the pardoning of six Reagan administration officials in the Iran-Contra Affair and Iraq-Gate. The quote has been debunked by fact-checkers in previous years, but it is making the rounds again.

The claim can be found as a meme in a post (archived here) shared on Facebook on August 3, 2020. The meme includes just part of the full fake quote. It reads:


This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:

Facebook screenshot

(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Tue Aug 4 17:37:14 2020 UTC)

Elizabeth Staats, and archivist at his library, George H.W. Bush Presidential Libary, emailed this to Lead Stories:

...I was unable to locate any information related to your request. For quotes from speeches or press conferences made by President Bush while in office I would advise taking a look at our public papers (https://bush41library.tamu.edu/archives/public-papers/), you can search by date or topic. You may also check books such as All the Best by President Bush and Destiny and Power by Jon Meacham to see if there is any information in them..."

None of his official papers in the archive include the word "lynch" as stated in the postings or memes, which get his initials wrong, and writings.

Both Snopes and Politifact called it out as false as early as 2018, soon after George H.W. Bush's November 2018 death. The link in one post goes to an unsecured page, where the quote is found and attributed to Bush. Another place to find the quote is on GoodReads' book site, which touts 90 million members and 2.6 billion books. But there is no proof the quote, which appears in GoodReads' "Quotable Quotes" section, is real. Bush, who also served as Ronald Reagan's vice president, never said those words publicly or in any interview that Lead Stories and others could find.

Here is another post making the same claim, going back to February 2013:

That post and another include the name of Texas journalist Sarah McLendon. Here is one from December 2018 on the Facebook page We The People, around the time of the Snopes debunk:

The 2018 post links to this Daily Kos story, entitled, "Jeb Bush, Oliver North and the Murder of CIA Drug Smuggler Barry Seal in 1986," from April 3, 2013. The piece includes some of the exact wording as the posts.

George Herbert Walker Bush: "Sarah, if the American people ever find out what we have done, they would chase us down the street and lynch us."

That is a famous 1992 quote by George Herbert Walker Bush to Sarah McLendon, a Texas journalist who Bush had known for years and who was the grand dame of the White House press corps at the time. McLendon had asked Bush: "What will the people do if they ever find out the truth about Iraq-gate and Iran contra?"

McLendon, according to this site about her history covering Washington, including 11 U.S. presidents, was:

...an award-winning journalist, syndicated columnist, and Washington, D.C. Press Corp member whose career spanned the terms of eleven U.S. presidents from FDR to Clinton."

McLendon died in January 2003. But nowhere is the quote found, except in conspiracy stories and posts.

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  Eric Ferkenhoff

Eric Ferkenhoff has been a reporter, editor and professor for 27 years, working chiefly out of the Midwest and now the South. Focusing on the criminal and juvenile justice systems, education and politics, Ferkenhoff has won several journalistic and academic awards and helped start a fact-checking project at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he continues to teach advanced reporting. Ferkenhoff also writes and edits for the juvenile justice site JJIE.org.


Read more about or contact Eric Ferkenhoff

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