Meme wars are a time-honored internet tradition. The latest political memetic battle centers on the Dark Brandon meme, which is liberals’ new retort to the phrase “Let’s Go Brandon,” an anti-President Joe Biden meme that came to life a year ago. Dark Brandon appears to have initially been used to mock Biden, but has since been appropriated by supporters to herald him.
Dark Brandon’s origin story came under scrutiny this weekend. According to claims circulating online, some Dark Brandon images were created by a Chinese propagandist; one purportedly has links to message boards popular with extremists and shitposters and includes a Nazi eagle.
The first claim is easily proven true. The second not so much.
On Sunday, Twitter user @Noahpinion tweeted, “The funniest thing about Dark Brandon is that the meme was originally invented by Chinese propaganda cartoonists.” The tweet included one of the more popular Dark Brandon memes in which Biden sits on a throne made of rifles in a fiery scene.
That image was reportedly created by illustrator Yang Quan and posted on the Chinese social media site Weibo in November 2020.
Last year, a moderator of r/neoliberal explained, “It portrays Joe Biden as the new King of Hell who sits atop a throne of US AR-15 and M-16 assault rifles. Biden is raising an army of the dead consisting of zombies who have the Chinese word ‘Public Intellectual’ stamped on their heads.”
But the allegation that another iteration of the Dark Brandon meme includes Nazi imagery is false, according to the meme’s creator.
After White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates tweeted the meme, which flourished after Congress passed a massive climate bill this weekend, conservative commentators claimed it was copied from far-right message boards. They also said that the bird behind Biden is based on Nazi imagery.
Tobin Stone, who first posted the meme on Aug. 3, told the Daily Dot via Twitter direct message that he created it based on The Dark Knight Rises movie poster.
The meme’s caption (“The Dark Brandon rises”), font, and imagery closely mirror that of the poster for the 2012 Batman movie—which has nothing to do with Nazis.
It has a different bird in the background of it, a bat of course.
While the shape of the fiery bird behind Biden does resemble that of the Nazi eagle, or reichsadler, it isn’t unique to the Nazis. Silhouettes of eagles and other birds of prey have been used for millennia, up to and including present day, such as on United States’ currency.
“The eagle is not, and was never intended to be the reichsadler—it was just intended to be a representation of America’s national bird, the bald eagle, and any reasonable person would interpret it as such,” Stone said.