A White House adviser's commentary about a massacre in Kentucky that never happened has sparked seemingly endless snickering online, with jabs like "never remember" and "I survived the Bowling Green massacre."
Kellyanne Conway mentioned the fictional massacre in an MSNBC interview Thursday as the reason for a temporary travel ban for Iraqis in 2011, saying it also proved why the Trump administration's ban was necessary. It thrust this college town back into the national spotlight, nearly three years after a sinkhole that swallowed several classic Corvettes at a museum in Bowling Green garnered worldwide attention.
Even Big Red, the beloved, furry Western Kentucky University mascot, wasn't immune: One social media post shows him sprawled on the ground with the inscription "Never forget."
"The jokes are flying for sure," said Guy Jordan, who teaches at Western Kentucky. "My sense of things is that we are today a city of people walking around looking at their phones and giggling softly to ourselves."
Jordan quipped the only massacres in Bowling Green have been some of Western's football victories.
For Bowling Green radio personality Jelisa Chatman, Conway's remarks were like a gift from heaven as an on-the-air subject.
"You wake up in the morning and you think, 'What am I going to talk about today?'" she said. "And God is like, 'here you go. You need something to talk about, how about this?"
At Home Cafe & Marketplace, the most popular pizza Friday was "the Bowling Green Massacre" pie. The specialty pizza with blackened chicken, mac' and cheese and jalapenos was on pace to set a one-day sales record at the Bowling Green restaurant, said owner Josh Poling.
"The minute I heard it last night, I was like, 'Oh gosh, that's too good of an opportunity to pass up,'" he said.
All proceeds from the specialty pizza's sales will go to the Southern Poverty Law Center, he said.
Meanwhile, someone registered the domain name bowlinggreenmassacre.com, and people clicking on the site were automatically directed to the website of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Conway initially cited the Bowling Green "massacre" as a reason why the Trump administration's temporary ban on immigration from several Muslim-majority nations is necessary. She said President Barack Obama implemented a similar ban in 2011 after two men from Iraq were arrested in Kentucky on charges that they plotted to send money and weapons to al-Qaida. The men had been mistakenly admitted to the U.S. as refugees in 2009 but never were accused of plotting attacks inside the U.S.
Conway tweeted Friday that she meant to say "terrorists" instead, and not everyone in Bowling Green was piling on.
Mayor Bruce Wilkerson said he understands how someone can "misspeak" during an interview, and said he appreciated the "clarification."
Asked how people were responding, the mayor said: "People roll their eyes at trying to make a mountain out of a mole hill."
Bowling Green is the home of Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul. His spokeswoman said Friday the focus should be on immigration policy.
"Regardless of her words, our visa and refugee systems are severely broken, and the situation regarding the Bowling Green terrorists demonstrates that point," said Paul spokeswoman Kelsey Cooper.
Bowling Green has long had a reputation as a welcoming place for refugees, and the city is home to the International Center of Kentucky, a refugee resettlement agency. In the past 10 years, more than 2,000 refugees resettled in Bowling Green from more than a dozen countries, including some Muslim-majority countries, said the agency's executive director, Albert Mbanfu.
Even some of those poking fun at Conway's "massacre" comment, however, said it reflected more serious concerns.
"It's funny and we can laugh at it," said Barry Kaufkins, who teaches at Western Kentucky. "But I think a lot of the laughter is so we don't cry. A lot of people are really worried about some of the rhetoric, not to mention the behavior, from this administration."