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'Dark Brandon' meme makes an appearance on Biden's new campaign website

President Biden's reelection campaign has embraced the "Dark Brandon" meme.
joebiden.com/Screenshot by NPR
President Biden's reelection campaign has embraced the "Dark Brandon" meme.

President Biden announced on Tuesday that he's officially running for reelection in 2024 and with that comes a brand new campaign website.

Joebiden.com has all of the things one might expect: photos of the 80-year-old candidate, a campaign video and pleas for donations. And there's something else for those who accidentally navigate to a non-existent page. Instead of a plain 404 error, visitors get an eyeful of Biden's alter ego, "Dark Brandon," featuring beaming red laser eyes.

"Let's get you back on the rails," appears below the smiling, suited image of the president and likely a reference to Biden's love of Amtrak.

For those unfamiliar with the "Dark Brandon" origin story here's a quick recap, which like all things internet is a series of takes on takes.

In late 2021, the phrase "Let's go, Brandon!" — based on a famously misheard crowd chant at a NASCAR race — quickly spread among conservative groups as a direct expletive toward Biden.

Then, sometime last year, fringe Donald Trump supporters who called for the former Republican president to run again in 2024 created a series of "Dark MAGA" memes. They usually depict an authoritarian/dictator-like version of Trump in which he sometimes has blue lasers eyes. Accompanying captions typically call for Trump to take revenge on his political enemies.

Those memes almost immediately spawned "Dark Brandon," featuring a sinister Joe Biden. In this context, they often show images of the president shooting red lasers from his eyes or wearing military gear.

But the left appeared to love it, too. So they co-opted the idea. Now, Democrats employ Dark Brandon images to tout Biden's policy victories.

And that's how one ends up here — with an official presidential campaign site for the United States of America asking supporters to buy a $32 "dark T-shirt" that the campaign says is "best worn while vanquishing Malarkey."

Aja Romano, a culture reporter for Vox who's written about the "Dark Brandon" meme, said it's helping to transform the public's perception of the octogenarian president from a bland figure to something more exciting.

"Biden's embrace of the Dark Brandon meme shows not only an awareness of the meme and what it represents to many of his followers, but self-awareness of how the meme livens and rejuvenates his public persona," Romano told NPR.

Romano added: "Especially as he gears up for a difficult reelection, look for him to lean even more into the 'Dark Brandon' meme on social media as a way of galvanizing supporters online."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.