Who Is Dark Brandon? Internet Invents Alter-Ego for Joe Biden

President Joe Biden’s administration turned to the odd when the White House and other Democratic officials began embracing the “Dark Brandon” meme last month, tying what began as an internet joke to a string of legislative and political victories , which contributed to the President’s approval rating increase in recent months.

In August, all of the White House Digital Strategy Director to the deputy press secretary to the Democrats Sen. Chris Murphy (Conn.) began incorporating exaggerated images of the 79-year-old president with bright, light-filled eyes and captions that read, “Your malarkey’s been on long enough, kid.”

Though the memes have veered into pro-Biden sentiment in recent weeks, they began as something far from more than a year before Biden administration officials recaptured the antagonistic poster child.

Here’s a look at Dark Brandon’s origins, what the bizarre nickname refers to, and how Dark Brandon has been used in practice since the Biden administration first co-opted him in August.

What are the origins of Dark Brandon?

Although Dark Brandon only captured the hearts and minds of most online Americans this summer, the imagery’s origins date back to 2020.

On November 14, 2020 — just a week after Biden won the 2020 election — Chinese illustrator Yang Quan uploaded multiple images to Weibo depicting the 46th President as evil, looming over zombie-like creatures on a throne that appears to be extending Assault Weapons is Political. The first image in the set is the same illustration Senator Murphy, 49, would later post on Twitter.

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“The sleeping king ascends the throne, the devil has risen,” reads the Chinese caption of one of the images, according to Politico.

Other images Quan posted on Weibo contain “pro-Chinese, nationalist messages,” according to Politico. Though Quan Dark didn’t name Brandon, the images began circulating around various corners of the internet months later before finding a home among pro-Biden enthusiasts in 2022. On May 19th, a Dark Brandon Reddit community was formed with about 47,100 subscribed users.

What does the nickname Dark Brandon refer to?

Dark Brandon is a play on “Let’s Go Brandon,” a popular right-wing political meme that emerged when an NBC Sports reporter interviewing NASCAR driver Brandon Brown in October 2021 seemingly misunderstood racing fans in Talladega, Alabama and “F — Joe sang Biden” as “Let’s go, Brandon,” according to Vox.

That phrase was a vehicle for Republican voters and congressional officials to express their displeasure with the Biden administration. A host of Republican candidates across the country and current congressional officials have adopted the phrase in the months since, and one father whose family spoke to Biden and first lady Jill Biden at Christmas even used the phrase while on the phone with the president.

Meanwhile, Dark Brandon also got his nickname “Dark MAGA,” a hashtag and group of memes that “represent a ‘punished,’ more awkward version of Donald Trump running for re-election in 2024, dropping all optics and his catchphrase MAGA.” replaced with ‘Dark MAGA,'” according to online meme encyclopedia Know Your Meme.

In March, these images started circulating on the website 4chan and Twitter, and the Dark MAGA Reddit community – 4,700 members – was founded on March 16, 2022.

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Dark Brandon in action

In August, The New York Times in an article on the rise of Dark Brandon, confirmed that Biden himself “saw some of Dark Brandon’s memes and found them funny,” citing several people close to the president. White House officials and Democratic politicians began using them in early August, just as poll aggregators like FiveThirtyEight began tracking increases in Biden’s approval rating.

Six days after White House senior adviser Neera Tanden continued to joke Twitter that “lasers shooting out of Joe Biden’s eyes” is an official position of the Biden administration, CNN published an analytical article entitled “The Same Joe Biden Suddenly Looks Different.”

Two days later, Biden signed a major climate, health and tax bill into law on August 16, and just days later he announced the government’s student loan relief plan.

While popular conservative influencers like Ben Shapiro Admonished Dark Brandon memes as a distraction from Biden’s below 40% approval rating at the time, Biden and the White House have become more aggressive, using social media to call out Republicans.

In August, the official White House Twitter account experienced a viral moment after a series of sober tweets calling on House representatives to criticize the principle of debt forgiveness despite having personally benefited from the cancellation of PPP loans.

On September 14 Bidens personal twitter account responded to a post by Republican Sen. Rick Scott (Florida) in which he said he had dropped copies of his Rescue America plan at the White House by directly uploading a public-facing copy of the 66-page plan to the Internet.

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The whole time, Twitter user continue to attribute Biden’s more direct approach of late to Dark Brandon himself.