The image shows Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) cooly adjusting his tie, as a hysterical looking woman in the background screams while being restrained by an officer. It was posted online following Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court despite allegations that he sexually assaulted a woman in high school.
“I hate to brag. I just took the most thug life @LindseyGrahamSC photos of the entire Kavanaugh saga. [Story soon]” tweeted right-wing provocateur Benny Johnson. The pic took on a life of its own, as other online users superimposed more messaging on it, like a picture of Joe Biden inappropriately touching the woman.
Welcome to the meme wars. An investigation by Mother Jones has found that conservatives have learned to weaponize memes — images occasionally superimposed with text that are designed to go viral — while liberals have largely ignored them. And they’re planning to use them to sway the outcome of the 2020 election, likely in favor of Donald Trump.
Although memes typically emerge organically, Mother Jones discovered that well-funded conservative activists and organizations have started training tech-savvy young conservatives on how to use memes to influence real world electoral and policy outcomes.
Turning Point USA, which is partly funded by right-wing philanthropist Foster Freiss, is prioritizing meme-training.
“Memes are tools for information warfare,” Boston University professor Gianluca Stringhini, who studies memes, told Mother Jones. “Probably this is a new way of doing politics. A new weapon that campaigns can use.”
Media Matters’ President Angelo Carusone explained why conservatives are more adept at memes.
On the left “every meme has to have a million qualifiers, so that it’s no longer a meme. It’s a Medium post,” he told Mother Jones. Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to communicate their ideas “in ways that are very reductionist. They’re also much more comfortable lying, and their audiences are much more likely to accept it.”
Memes have been behind promoting conspiracy theories as varied as Pizzagate and the idea that Hillary Clinton was deathly ill during the campaign.
TPUSA had a budget of $8 million last year and helped promote “Big Government Sucks” memes on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
Benny Johnson hosts tutorials on successful right-wing meme creation. He concluded a recent presentation with a hopeful message for right-wingers.
“Smile. You’re on the winning side,” he said.