President Joe Biden's administration took a turn for the strange when the White House and other Democratic officials started embracing the "Dark Brandon" meme last month, tying what started as an internet joke to a string of legislative and policy wins that have helped the president's approval rating rise in recent months.
In August, everyone from the White House's digital strategy director to the deputy press secretary to Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy (Conn.) began incorporating exaggerated images of the 79-year-old president with blazing, light-filled eyes and captions that read: "Your malarkey has been going on for long enough, kiddo."
Though the memes have grown into pro-Biden sentiment in recent weeks, they began as something far from it more than a year before Biden administration officials reclaimed the antagonistic figurehead.
Here is a look at the origins of Dark Brandon, what the bizarre nickname refers to and how Dark Brandon has been used in practice since the Biden administration first co-opted it in August.
What are the origins of Dark Brandon?
Though Dark Brandon did not capture most internet-dwelling Americans' hearts and minds until this summer, the images' origins date all the way back to 2020.
On Nov. 14, 2020 — just one week after Biden won the 2020 election — Chinese illustrator Yang Quan uploaded several images to Weibo depicting the 46th president as evil, presiding over zombie-looking creatures on a throne seemingly made of assault weapons, according to Politico. The first image in the set is the same illustration that Sen. Murphy, 49, would later post on Twitter.
"The sleeping king ascends the throne, the devil is resurrected," reads the Chinese caption of one of the images, according to Politico.
Other images posted to Weibo by Quan take on "pro-China, nationalistic messages," according to Politico. Though Quan did not name Dark Brandon, the images began recirculating months later on different corners of the internet before finding a home among pro-Biden enthusiasts in 2022. A Dark Brandon Reddit community which boasts about 47,100 subscribed users was created on May 19.
What does the Dark Brandon nickname refer to?
Dark Brandon is a play on "Let's Go Brandon," a popular right-wing political meme that originated when an NBC Sports reporter interviewing NASCAR racer Brandon Brown in October 2021 seemingly misheard racing fans in Talladega, Alabama, chanting "F--- Joe Biden," as "Let's go, Brandon," according to Vox.
That phrase took off as a means for Republican voters and officials in Congress to signify their displeasure with the Biden administration. A host of Republican candidates and across the country and current officials in Congress have adopted the phrase in the months since, and a father whose family spoke with Biden and first lady Jill Biden on Christmas even used the phrase while on the phone with the president.
Meanwhile, Dark Brandon also owes its nickname to "Dark MAGA," a hashtag and group of memes that "depict a 'punished,' more unhinged version of Donald Trump running for reelection in 2024 who has abandoned all optics, replacing his slogan MAGA with 'Dark MAGA,'" according to online meme encyclopedia Know Your Meme.
Dark Brandon in action
In August, The New York Times confirmed in an article detailing the rise of Dark Brandon that Biden himself "has seen some of the Dark Brandon memes and found them funny," citing several people close to the president. White House officials and Democratic politicians began using them at the beginning of August, just as polling aggregators like FiveThirtyEight began tracking an uptick in Biden's approval rating.
Six days after White House senior advisor Neera Tanden joked on Twitter that "lasers shooting out of Joe Biden's eyes" is an official Biden administration position, CNN ran an analysis piece titled "The same Joe Biden suddenly looks different."
Two days later, Biden signed a major climate, health care and tax bill into law on Aug. 16, and he followed it up with the announcement of the administration's student loan forgiveness plan just days afterward.
While popular conservative influencers like Ben Shapiro admonished Dark Brandon memes as a distraction from Biden's then-sub 40% approval rating, Biden and the White House have grown more aggressive in using social media to call out Republicans.
In August, the official White House Twitter account enjoyed a viral moment following a series of matter-of-fact tweets that called out House representatives for criticizing the principle of debt cancellation even though they had personally benefited from PPP loan forgiveness.
Dark Brandon just caught a body pic.twitter.com/dK4ngwzX3V
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 14, 2022
On Sept. 14, Biden's personal Twitter account responded to a post from Republican Sen. Rick Scott (Florida) saying he dropped off copies of his "Rescue America" plan at the White House by directly uploading a publicly available copy of the 66-page plan to the internet.
All the while, Twitter users continue to attribute Biden's more direct approach as of late to Dark Brandon himself.