TSA agents are the latest tool in the government shutdown meme war

Twitter users are tired of federal employees being used as cheap propaganda—while they are ordered to work unpaid through the ongoing government shutdown—and are turning partisan agitprop into a fresh meme to troll lawmakers.

In recent days, prominent lawmakers and individuals on the left and right have been recounting shutdown stories from federal workers they meet in order to sway public opinion or opportunistically smear the opposition. The stories are often inauthentic, too good to be true, insultingly theatrical and emotive parables that fit the narrative of whoever is telling them—which seems to be why so many people are annoyed by them. 

On Tuesday, for example, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) described looking “into the eyes” of a broke but woke TSA agent who told her “don’t stop fighting.”

Another Democrat, Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), had a similar shutdown story.

Then, on Wednesday, senior Trump 2020 campaign aide and former 2016 campaign spokesperson Katrina Pierson found a few Republican TSA agents on her travels.

According to her tweet, while making her way through Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport security, Pierson happened upon an angelic choir of TSA agents defending the president’s uncompromising stance by blaming the Democrats “in unison.”

Both stories were immediately met with cynicism online. Conservatives were dismissing Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s tale on Tuesday.

And liberals definitely weren’t buying Pierson’s story on Wednesday.

What was going on became particularly clear to one user.

It was Pierson’s story, however, that sparked the TSA agent meme as Twitter users on both sides of the political aisle took the story format and rewrote in ridiculous ways.

Some Twitter users compared the TSA agent meme to the hipster coffee shop meme backlash faced by conservative Jacob Wohl.

Republican strategist Rick Wilson even merged the two.

Around 51,000 TSA employees across the country didn’t get paid on Friday, their first lapsed paycheck of the shutdown, a demoralizing new phase in what is now the longest ever government shutdown.

David Gilmour

David Gilmour

David Gilmour is a reporter who specializes in national politics, internet culture, and technology. He previously covered civil liberties, crime, and politics for Vice.