On 29 February 2016, presidential candidate Donald Trump shared the above-displayed image to his Instagram page, attributing the quote “first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win” to Mahatma Gandhi. This quote is frequently attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, but in actuality there is no record of the peace advocate ever saying this.
In June 2011, the Christian Science Monitor included the quote in its list of “the 10 most famous things never actually said,” and while we were able to find several high-profile politicians attributing this quote to Gandhi, we were unable to locate any credible source that directly connected Gandhi to these exact words.
It appeared to be in part a paraphrase from the book Freedom’s Battle, a collection of essays and speeches written and compiled by Gandhi. He wrote about introducing his particular form of determined, but nonviolent protest, which he termed satyagraha, from the Sanskrit and Hindi term for “holding onto truth”:
Unfortunately for His Excellency the movement is likely to grow with ridicule as it is certain to flourish on repression.
It is for the nation to return an effective answer by organised non-co-operation and change ridicule into respect. Ridicule is like repression. Both give place to respect when they fail to produce the intended effect.
His Excellency resists the temptation to reply to his critics, meaning thereby that he has not changed his opinion on the many vital matters affecting the honour of India. He is ‘content to leave the issues to the verdict of history.’ Now this kind of language, in my opinion, is calculated further to inflame the Indian mind.
It will be admitted that non-co-operation has passed the stage ridicule. Whether it will now be met by repression or respect remains to be seen. Opinion has already been expressed in these columns that ridicule is an approved and civilized method of opposition. The viceregal ridicule though expressed in unnecessarily impolite terms was not open to exception.
But the testing time has now arrived. In a civilized country when ridicule fails to kill a movement it begins to command respect.
But a speech by union leader Nicholas Klein in 1914 provides a closer version of the misattributed quote:
And, my friends, in this story you have a history of this entire movement. First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you. And that, is what is going to happen to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America.
Donald Trump is hardly the first person to attribute this homily to Gandhi, and in fact it’s a popular misattribution from politicians — several others, including Sarah Palin, Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton, recently made similar mistakes:
Gandhi’s name has been associated with this quote since at least 1982, when the Workshop Of Nonviolence Institute summed up Gandhi’s philosophy in an issue of WIN Magazine:
Gandhi once observed that every movement goes through four stages: First they ignore you; then they abuse you; then they crack down on you and then you win.
The misattributed quote, then, is most likely a combination of Klein’s 1914 speech combined with an attempt to summarize Gandhi’s nonviolent doctrine and philosophy.