Fact Check: Gingrich Claims Fetterman Tattoos Praise Heroin and LA Gang

Democratic Pennsylvania Senatorial candidate John Fetterman is still leading Republican Mehmet Oz in the polls, despite losing support recently.

Among the most closely watched races in the country for the November midterms, Fetterman's unconventional presentation and style are a focal point for the GOP.

Of particular interest are the former Braddock, Pennsylvania mayor's tattoos which, according to one former senior Republican, have dubious roots.

Newt Gingrich and John Fetterman clash
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich claimed that John Fetterman had tattoos "in favor" of heroin use or were affiliated with gang culture. Pictured here, Gingrich talks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol on September 22, 2022 in Washington, DC, and Fetterman at on September 11, 2022 at Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania. L-R: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images, Mark Makela/Getty Images

The Claim

A tweet, posted on September 30, 2022, included an interview with former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich on Fox News' Hannity, who claimed that John Fetterman's tattoos were associated with either drug use or a Los Angeles gang.

Gingrich said: "I mean, these people verge on being sick. In the case of Fetterman, of course, he apparently had a tattoo that was either a reference to a song in favor of heroin use or was a tribute to the Crips, which is a Los Angeles-based, very violent gang which actually was in Fetterman's home town and worked with Fetterman in his election."

The Facts

This is not the first time that Gingrich has attacked the Pennsylvania Democratic hopeful about his tattoos.

The former speaker tweeted on September 26, 2022, revealing his confusion about one that said "I will make you hurt," not realizing it was a reference to the Nine Inch Nails song "Hurt," famously covered by Johnny Cash in 2002.

Gingrich has gone on to claim that the song is "in favor" of heroin use.

While the original version of "Hurt" makes reference to needles, which many interpreted as symbol for drug use, to suggest it describes heroin in praising terms is a mischaracterization.

Lyrics such as "the needle tears a hole, the old familiar sting" are not a romantic or celebratory reflection of heroin use, as Gingrich suggests.

In a 2005 interview with Uncut magazine the song's author, Trent Reznor, said when he wrote the song he "felt like I was sitting in a pile of rubble and there was a hint of regret and remorse.

"I was at a point in my life when I was really unsure if I was any good or if I had anything to say. The song came out of a really ugly corner of my mind and turned into something with a frail beauty.

"Hurt was the first inclination for me that I could use a hand here," the songwriter explained.

Admittedly, Gingrich does not clarify during the interview whether it's "Hurt" or another song he's referring to.

The Crips reference is more obscure, and part of a narrative that has played out recently among Fetterman's critics, who seek to present him as soft on crime or gang-affiliated.

In a blog post from 2021, Fetterman wrote about his tattoos, most of which he said related to Braddock, Pennsylvania, where he served as mayor for 15 years.

One of the sets of tattoos referred to the people who "were killed through violence in Braddock while I served as Mayor, starting in 2005."

While it's claimed by opponents that Fetterman used a spelling of Braddock in his campaign that was associated with the Crips, there is no evidence that his tattoos are "a tribute" to the gang, as Gingrich characterized it.

In an interview from 2015, Fetterman said he did use the spelling "Braddocc", which contained a reference to the Crips, though he explained it was to do with his attempts to reach out to and connect with younger voters, not to celebrate gangs.

"When I first arrived in town, I noticed that they would spell it that way, and that's a reference to 'Crip killer', they turned the 'k' into a 'c'," he said.

"So during my campaign, I [used] 'Vote John Mayor of Braddocc' and 'Vote John Mayor of Braddock' the way it's traditionally spelled, and the reason why I did that is because there are two Braddocks, and you have to acknowledge that.

"We have to acknowledge that here's the Braddock that only young people know, the Braddock of despair and decline, and they grew up in an era when they never knew there were 14 furniture stores and three movie theaters."

Fetterman adds this was met with some criticism. "And I caught some flak for that because some people thought I was spelling it like a gangster. No, there are two Braddocks."

He continued: "It's not a glorification of gang violence, or embracing gang violence. It's a way of using the way they conceptualize Braddock and saying 'Look, you have your Braddock, and other people have their Braddock.' It doesn't have to be mutually exclusive. We all need to be able to work together, and that's what we've tried to do."

In response to a Newsweek comment request, a Fetterman spokesperson said the claims were totally false: "All of John's tattoos have to do with his commitment to Braddock."

"The tattoos on Fetterman's inside right wrist are the dates of nine individuals who died by violence while he was mayor.

"The tattoo on Fetterman's left wrist is the zip code of Braddock 15104.

The spokesperson also clarified that Fetterman used to have a tattoo on his outside right wrist with the words "I WILL MAKE YOU HURT" that "referenced how the dates of murders on the other side of his arm made him feel." They pointed to a Rolling Stone article which covers the sentiment behind the tattoos in more depth.

Newsweek has contacted Newt Gingrich for comment.

Update: 10/01/2022 EDT 04:20: This article was updated to include a comment from John Fetterman's representative.

The Ruling

False

False.

There is no evidence that Fetterman has or had tattoos that either promote or favor drug use, or are a "tribute" to the Crips. One of the tattoos is related to individuals who were killed during Fetterman's time as mayor in Braddock, Pennsylvania, while the other (now removed) is a lyric from the song "Hurt" that reflects Fetterman's feelings about the dates on the other tattoo.

FACT CHECK BY Newsweek's Fact Check team