2023 weird news, lady m&ms, silicon valley bank, budlight, antifa, oliver anthony, larry sinclair, robert e lee, osama bin laden, grand theft new main character in a collage

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Antifa, M&Ms, banks, and GTA VI: Everything the far-right thought went woke in 2023

2023 was ... not normal.

 

Katherine Huggins

Tech

Posted on Dec 14, 2023   Updated on Jan 9, 2024, 9:43 am CST

2023 marked a weird, chaotic year for U.S. political news. 

It saw a multiple House leadership crisis prolonged by Republican lawmakers’ struggles to coalesce around speaker nominees, a former president indicted multiple times, and a Republican representative ousted from Congress in a rare and historical vote.

And yet, it often felt like the far-right, which drives discourse in America with its frequent outlandish, nonsensical claims, had a new obsession every month. Something that didn’t impact the country, that was outside of government, and that, they couldn’t shut up about.

It often felt like, even with rising inflation, numerous wars, and a host of other political problems, the focus was always elsewhere.

More often than not the concern was whether something inanimate: A bank, a video game, or a candy for a little too progressive for their taste. But they also found time to freak out over statues, Obama’s sex life, and, of course, TikTok.

Here are the 12 most bizarre political movements and trends that made this year, one for every absurd month of 2023. 

2023 Weird Far-Right News Cycles

Lesbian M&Ms

As the House GOP struggled to elect a Speaker—forcing Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) through 15 rounds of voting—Republicans outside of Congress’ focus was on one candy’s feminist PR strategy.

The right-wing outrage came in response to M&Ms announcing its intentions in January to manufacture all-female packs.

Mars, the company that produces the candy, said in a press release at the time that the “limited-edition product will feature Purple, Brown and Green on inspirational packaging, plus be the first united representation of the female trio spokescandies.”

The “woke” publicity campaign drew backlash from Fox News pundits and beyond, who have long been on the M&M beat, recently trying to spark public outcry when the Green M&M lost her white boots. 

Ex-Fox News host Tucker Carlson at the time raged that Mars wouldn’t “be satisfied until every last cartoon character is deeply unappealing and totally androgynous.”

And after the progressive M&M announcement, Carlson alleged the company was secretly going further, unearthing an old photo of the lady M&Ms holding hands. Carlson declared she is “apparently is now a lesbian, maybe” and bemoaned that another one was “obese.”

It was maybe the most normal news cycle of the year. 

Super Bowl and Grammys corrupted

Sam Smith and Kim Petras’ performance of their song “Unholy” at the Grammys sparked repulsed condemnation from a range of Republicans, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) who labeled the devil-themed depiction of the hit as “evil.”

Others went as far as to link Satanic worship with Hollywood, a longstanding aspect of the QAnon conspiracy that includes the belief a Satan-worshipping group of celebrities and Democratic politicians run a child sex trafficking ring.

But the performance at the Grammys wasn’t the only show that drew the ire of conservatives in February.

Sheryl Lee Ralph singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” widely known as the Black national anthem ahead of the 57th Super Bowl was blasted by some conservatives as an affront to the national anthem.

“No other country on Earth is ridiculous enough to permit different racial groups to perform their own national anthems before major events,” opined far-right commentator Matt Walsh.

“The Star-Spangled Banner” was of course still performed, shortly before kickoff.

‘Queer person of color’ destroys America’s financial system

Silicon Valley Bank collapsed on March 10, marking the largest bank failure in U.S. history since Washington Mutual in 2008.

While it was clear right away what caused the failure, a poor investment strategy that led to an intentional run on the bank that was fueled by panicked Silicon Valley posters, critics decided it failed over “woke” policies such as diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, targeting a vice president who included in her bio “queer person of color.”

“SVB = too woke to fail,” wrote Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) in an X post.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) also blamed the collapse on DEI, telling Fox News that “they’re so concerned with DEI and politics and all kinds of stuff, I think that really diverted from them focusing on their core mission.” 

DeSantis was among a number of Republican governors who began targeting financial institutions perceived as being woke.

In May, DeSantis signed into law a woke banking ban that prohibits state agencies and local governments from considering climate and diversity factors when investing money

“We don’t want any banking or lending practices to be imposing an ideological litmus test on your ability to get a loan, a line of credit or even a bank account,” DeSantis said, a perfectly normal response to something that did not cause the calamity. 

Bud Light backlash

A conservative-led boycott, a months-long backlash, and a vice president of marketing being forced into hiding all came from a video posted April 1 by transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney thanking Bud Light.

Mulvaney was celebrating “day 365 of womanhood,” having documented her transition online and that Bud Light sent her “possibly the best gift ever”—a custom can with her face on it.

The short promo exploded online—in the worst possible way—drawing a myriad of anti-trans responses. Public figures including DeSantis and Donald Trump Jr. voiced their support for a boycott. Singer Kid Rock went as far as to post a video of himself shooting several cases of it.

The movement took off, and Bud Light’s revenue dropped 10.5% in the second quarter as a result. While sales have seen an uptick since then, the toll on its revenues lingered, the boycott lasting nearly an entire year 

It wasn’t until December that Kid Rock moved on, revealing that he was done with the boycott because the company made a “mistake” but “got the message.”

“Hopefully other companies get it too but you know, at the end of the day, I don’t think the punishment that they’ve been getting at this point fits the crime,” he said.

All because of a commemorative can. 

Pure blood

Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who dabbled with a range of conspiracies in the past, breathed new life in April into a longstanding anti-vax claim that falsely alleges those who have not received the COVID-19 vaccine have “pure blood” compared to those who were vaccinated against the virus.

Opponents of vaccines have promoted a “pure blood” movement in social media groups and online, where they search for unvaccinated donors for blood transfusions and other surgeries.

Flynn gave the conspiracy a boost of publicity in May when he helped establish a website for unvaccinated people to find sperm, blood, breastmilk, and more from similarly unvaccinated individuals.

“At 4thePURE our members are Awake, not Woke,” its website reads.

The pure blood movement even became the focus of one Republican presidential candidate’s campaign.

Hirsh Vardhan Singh, a largely unknown candidate, boasts of his “pure blood” status on social media and has argued his refusal to take the COVID-19 vaccine shows he’s a stronger leader than Trump and other contenders who are vaccinated.

Antifa goes trans

Antifa is a favorite boogeyman of right-wing politics, a violent, dangerous movement destroying American cities and pushing leftist policies that only increase crime. 

In June, though, it became something worse. Woke. 

Trantifa is “their current manifestation,” conservative commentator Andy Ngo told Fox News. 

The movement, “centers violent, misogynistic men,” but has added, according to Ngo, “women who take on male-typical patterns of violence through the use of hormones.” 

Antifa, short for anti-fascist, is a decentralized movement whose supporters have been present at a number of protests, such as the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in 2020.

Though there is no central organization, the movement has inspired a number of right-wing conspiracy theories—such as that it was behind California’s wildfires in 2018—and has garnered the ire of Trump, who tried to designate antifa a terrorist organization.

With a preponderance of anti-trans rhetoric from leading figureheads this year, many conservatives’ moral panic shifted to concerns about transgender participation in sports, schools, and beyond.

And they somehow managed to loop antifa into it as well.

“Now they’re going after parents and what they call cis women, cis girls, and by that I mean biological, real women and girls,” Ngo said, although there’s no proof antifa is getting involved in school board policies about women’s sports.

AMC’s secret strategy

The film Sound of Freedom came out July 4 and its anti-child sex trafficking premise was a hit with conservative audiences. 

“Wow. Wow. Wow,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said of the film, urging people to watch it. Trump himself hosted a special screening of it at his private club in New Jersey.

Some critics argue the film played into the QAnon conspiracy that a shadowy cabal of Democratic lawmakers are sex traffickers, though the filmmaker denied connections to conspiracies and the plot is based on a true story.

But even if the film itself was not tied to any conspiracy, its release certainly was subject to conspiratorial skepticism.

Some supporters of the film alleged that movie theaters were trying to prevent people from watching it by sabotaging the air conditioning or lights, or incorrectly marking showings as sold out.

“There’s no one in here and then it said that they were sold out,” one TikTok user said. “This is ridiculous.”

Angel Studios offered a “pay it forward” program in which a number of people and conservative organizations purchased a large number of ticket quantities to donate to people who want to watch a film but have financial constraints—and doing so boosted its box office numbers, but may have been the cause of so many empty seats. 

‘Rich Men North of Richmond’ singer supports diversity 

Little-known music artist Oliver Anthony made waves in August with his song “Rich Men North of Richmond,” which hit the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100.

The lyrics call out government policies that make life more difficult for the working class people and critics allege some lines have conspiratorial undertones.

“I wish politicians would look out for miners / And not just minors on an island somewhere,” Anthony sings, referencing sex offender Jeffrey Epstein’s island and theories that lawmakers were aware of and took part in his scheme.

The song was featured by a number of prominent right-wing figures and was played at the first Republican primary debate, propelling Anthony to stardom overnight.

But Anthony, who has described himself as being “pretty dead center down the aisle” politically, later complained that his song had been “weaponized,” adding that the lyrics are not about President Joe Biden specifically.

“That song was written about the people on that [debate] stage and a lot more, not just them,” he said. 

Anthony, though, couldn’t stay a folk hero for long. After his celebrity turn, he praised America’s “diversity,” which sparked backlash from fans.

The return of Larry Sinclair

Convicted con artist Larry Sinclair’s claims saw a brief revival in September, after Tucker Carlson interviewed him—giving a platform for him to reiterate allegations that he smoked crack cocaine and had sex with former President Barack Obama.

Sinclair has alleged for many years that he had a drug-fueled sexual encounter with Obama, though no evidence has substantiated his claims and he has an extensive criminal history that includes fraud.

Sinclair’s account has largely been met with skepticism, including from Elon Musk, who called his interview with Carlson “not super convincing” and Barstool Sports’ Dave Portnoy, who dubbed Sinclair “top to bottom maybe the least trustworthy human I’ve ever laid eyes on.”

Robert E. Lee statue prompts a meltdown

While the Israel-Hamas conflict ramped up into full swing in the wake of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack against Israeli civilians, a handful of conservatives in the U.S. were focusing their attention on a statue.

The Washington Post shared video of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee that had stood in Charlottesville was broken down into pieces and melted down, prompting a separate meltdown from a handful of conservatives who viewed the move as an attempt to erase history.

The statue was removed in 2017 after the deadly white supremacist “Unite the Right” riot.

The Post reported its material would be recycled and turned into a new piece of public art.

“It feels like watching someone die,” bemoaned one person.

“I struggle to see the point of expunging his image and memory from public consciousness,” wrote Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), as others claimed it was an Orwellian effort to erase the past. 

Osama bin Laden is hip 

Perhaps one of the most bizarre movements to emerge on TikTok is Osama bin Laden gaining sympathy among young social media users.

The “Letter to America” bin Laden allegedly wrote justifying the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks garnered sympathy after circulating on TikTok in the wake of Israel’s war with Hamas.

“This letter is so well written and so reasonably structured,” one TikToker said, adding: “Like everything he said was valid.”

The letter rebukes a number of U.S. policies and calls AIDS “a Satanic American Invention,” but it went viral among many pro-Palestinian users because much of it focused on denouncing Israel and U.S. support for it.

Another TikToker in a comment claimed that the U.S. deserved what happened on Sept. 11 and was “lucky it wasn’t more people.”

While the trend prompted debates about the true nature of virality and whether the movement was really a belief or just a handful of posters, a number of conservatives saw it as final proof TikTok was dementing young people.

According to one analysis, Fox News mentioned bin Laden over 100 times in the two days after the videos first surfaced.

“TikTok should either be banned or they should sell it to an American company, but the idea of having a Chinese Communist propaganda system in the United States is just crazy,” Newt Gingrich said.

TikTok later banned videos promoting the letter as well.

Grand Theft Auto canceled

Grand Theft Auto VI, set to be released in 2025, put out a preview that has drawn unprovoked anger about the main character’s gender identity.

There is ongoing—and unfounded—speculation that the franchise’s first female lead character, Lucia, is transgender, despite the trailer revealing little about her identity.

One X user commented that if Lucia is transgender, “i swear on my life that i’m never going to participate in this bullshit.. there are things more important than a game.”

“oh please please please please please be true,” wrote podcaster Tim Pool of the rumors, hoping that a beloved brand would go “woke” so right-wingers could turn their back on it. 

This speculation comes despite no evidence from Rockstar Games that the character is trans.

But in 2023, it’s a perfectly normal news cycle.

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*First Published: Dec 14, 2023, 8:36 am CST