Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) announced his presidential campaign in March 2015 and it was arguably the worst thing that ever happened to him.
Not only did he lose and have to spend the next near decade sucking up to the guy who insulted his wife and suggested his father helped kill JFK, but he’s also had his name permanently tied to one of the most famous serial killers in American history. Cruz was always getting bashed on social media for being an unsettling, untrustworthy-looking guy, but now the internet was taking things one step further. Ted Cruz was so offputting, Twitter declared, he might actually be the Zodiac Killer.
The killer is believed to be responsible for at least five deaths in the San Francisco Bay area, though speculation by amateur sleuths put the number even higher.
He attracted national attention for a series of cryptic ciphers he sent to media outlets, daring them to identify him and solve the murders.
Although Ted received the stray tweet about the topic as early as 2014 (see the post above), the “Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer” meme didn’t really kick off until December 2015, when a Facebook group by the same name launched and gained nearly 10,000 likes in two months. In 2024, it still has 39,000 followers.
In February 2016, the meme spiraled out of control when a Twitter user asked his followers to Google “Ted Cruz is the zodiac killer” so it would show up on the CBS trend ticker in the middle of a GOP debate.
The trick actually worked.
Ted Cruz Zodiac Killer Memes
Numerous accounts shared side-by-side images of Ted Cruz and an infamous police sketch of the Zodiac Killer, trying to claim the similarities were undeniable.
But a big part of the meme is that nobody (probably) really thinks Cruz is the Zodiac Killer. The infamous murderer is believed to have been active primarily in the 1960s and 70s, and Cruz was born in 1970. Such an accusation is fun because it’s so blatantly absurd.
The silliness of the claim juxtaposes well with the extremely confident manner in which the #ZodiacTed tweets would display their evidence.
“Ted Cruz was born in CALGARY. The Zodiac Killer’s first two victims were named CAL and GARY,” wrote one Twitter user. (The Zodiac Killer’s first victims were not actually named Cal or Gary, nor would that mean anything if they were.)
“’I’m the infamous zodiac killer,’ Cruz confessed,” claimed one user, knowing full well how easy it is to fact-check this and confirm that Cruz said no such thing.
The other element that helped the meme go viral is that enough time had passed since the Zodiac Killer’s final reported murder. Jokes of his crimes did not feel quite as cruel.
By 2015, the killer hadn’t been active for decades; those murders were still horrifying, but the wounds were no longer fresh, especially for those who weren’t born when it happened.
Unlike a contemporary string of killings, you could indeed make zany jokes about the Zodiac killings without expecting much blowback. Unless, of course, you’re Cruz.
Why the meme died out
Like with most jokes at someone’s expense, the meme died shortly after Cruz decided to play along. On the fateful day of Oct. 18, 2017, he responded to a fellow senator’s tweet about him with the image of one of the Zodiac Killer’s famous coded letters. Next year on Halloween, he tweeted a cypher again.
Both were hit tweets, taken by some as a sign of Cruz’s good humor, but they did not put an end to the jokes at Cruz’s expense. The response among a lot of the users originally pushing the meme was to suddenly play offended, to only now reckon with just how insensitive it was to make light of something so tragic.
“NOT FUNNY. People were killed by this serial murderer. Why would you joke about this???” wrote the very same user who got #ZodiacTed trending during the 2016 primary debate.
“I had to go to school laying on the floor of the bus for a month because of the Zodiac Killer when I lived in the Bay Area,” wrote another Twitter user, “What the hell is the matter with you?”
Now, years later, Cruz still is trying to get traction off the joke, helping ensure the meme remains uncool.
#ZodiacTed still gets a stray tweet here or there, but nowadays people are more likely to make fun of Cruz for liking that porn video on his official Twitter account or for going on vacation to Cancun while his state was in a winter weather emergency.
His haters might’ve been disappointed that Cruz took all the fun out of the meme, but luckily for them, Cruz gives them no shortage of new material to work with.