Hoaxes & Rumors

Misquote: Reagan Didn’t Compare Taliban to Founding Fathers

Misquote: Reagan Didn’t Compare Taliban to Founding Fathers

In a quote often attributed to Ronald Reagan, the President allegedly compared members of the Taliban to the Founding Fathers of the United States.

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A meme is the most common way this quote has been circulated in recent years. It includes a headline that reads, “Ronald Reagan Meets With The Taliban” and contains words spoken by Reagan in 1985 in which he said, “These gentlemen are the moral equivalents of America’s Founding Fathers.” The meme includes a photo of the President meeting with a group of Islamic leaders.

While those words were spoken by Ronald Reagan, he was not describing members of the Taliban, which did not exist in 1985.

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The quote and the meme make the assertion that President Reagan met with members of the Taliban in 1985 and compared them to America’s Founding Fathers. Below is a breakdown of the elements of the meme.

The Image

The photo used in the meme does not date from 1985, but a February 1983 meeting with Afghan Mujahideen leaders. The official caption of the image reads, “President Reagan meeting with Afghan Freedom Fighters to discuss Soviet atrocities in Afghanistan. 2/2/83.” The identities of those present were not given in media reports, although one was described as a mayor of a village, while another was a woman who was tortured for months while being held by the Soviets. Here is a newspaper clipping of that event from February 1983.

reagan 1983 meeting

The Quote

Ronald Reagan did in fact speak the words in the meme above, but he was not referring to members of the Taliban – which did not form until the 1990s – nor was he describing Afghan guerrillas shown in the photo above. He was speaking of Nicaraguan Contras, in remarks given on March 1, 1985. The full context of the quote reads:

Freedom movements arise and assert themselves. They’re doing so on almost every continent populated by man-in the hills of Afghanistan, in Angola, in Kampuchea, in Central America. In making mention of freedom fighters, all of us are privileged to have in our midst tonight one of the brave commanders who lead the Afghan freedom fighters—Abdul Haq. Abdul Haq, we are with you.

They are our brothers, these freedom fighters, and we owe them our help. I’ve spoken recently of the freedom fighters of Nicaragua. You know the truth about them. You know who they’re fighting and why. They are the moral equal of our Founding Fathers and the brave men and women of the French Resistance. We cannot turn away from them, for the struggle here is not right versus left; it is right versus wrong.

Abdul Haq was not a member of the Taliban and was killed by the group in 2001 after a failed attempt to stir an uprising against them in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

Bottom Line

A quote by Ronald Reagan which allegedly compares members of the Taliban to America’s Founding Fathers is presented out of context. Reagan’s words were in reference to Nicaraguan rebels in a 1985 speech. An unrelated photo with Reagan meeting Afghan guerrillas from 1983 often accompanies the quote. The Taliban did not exist until years after Reagan left office.

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