A small community of anonymous video meme makers has grown after two of its members met with President Donald Trump at the Oval Office on July 3. Newcomers are reaching out for help, old-timers are coming back, and a new website now centralizes content from prominent creators.
Memes are a form of modern visual humor that provides a commentary on current events by editing, collaging, and remixing photos and videos. Some of these images and short videos reach vast audiences in a short time, creating a cultural shockwave as people share the content on social media. Trump regularly shares memes with millions of his followers on Twitter, elevating this form of humor to the forefront of political discourse.
The president’s White House meeting with two prominent meme creators, who go by the nicknames Carpe Donktum and Mad Liberals, affirmed that the Trump team is aware of the impact of memes and recognizes the memesmiths as valuable allies.
All four prefer to remain anonymous. Carpe Donktum has been identified in other reporting and confirmed his name to The Epoch Times, but prefers privacy, to shield his family from danger in the face of constant threats.
“Things felt amplified after Trump retweeted some of Carpe Donktum’s memes, and then again after he met with Trump,” Something Wicked told The Epoch Times.
“At a minimum, people had this new sense that Trump and his team are aware of meme culture and pay attention to it, and there’s a non-zero chance that Trump or his team might actually see and share one of your memes.”
According to Mad Liberals, the loosely knit community of meme makers on Twitter has grown to 14 people from nine since the White House visit. The members chat to each other individually and actively promote each other’s content.
“Three new memers have contacted me since then and wanted to learn how and a few came back that had left,” Mad Liberals said.
Carpe Donktum said the community has been steadily gaining momentum for the past two years.
“White House recognition certainly helps,” he said.
The president also invited Carpe Donktum to the social media summit at the White House, which included pro-Trump influencers such as former Trump adviser and current radio host Sebastian Gorka and YouTube personality Mark Dice. Something Wicked described the gathering as a “force multiplier” for the meme community.
“It was branded by the media as a gathering of misfits. Whatever your opinion on that, it was a giant networking opportunity for the personalities and alternative media channels who traffic in political memes,” he said.
On Aug. 20, Carpe Donktum launched Meme World, a website that brings together the meme creations from 14 prominent meme makers.
“I created the site to safeguard de-platforming and also to give other creators a space to post as well,” Carpe Donktum told The Epoch Times.
Trump shared two of Carpe Donktum’s memes on Twitter prior to the White House visit, inspiring the makers with the possibility that their work might be spotlighted by the president.
“Carpe getting retweeted by the POTUS was just amazing. I think it made us all better and more serious because if he can do it, we all can,” Sol Memes told The Epoch Times. “There are new meme makers popping up daily and its great to see.”
All four of the meme makers interviewed for this article identify as Republicans and voted for Trump. Political memes surged in popularity on the heels of Trump’s election victory on Nov. 8, 2016, according to a Priceonomics review of data from Me.Me, a website that archives and categorizes memes.
Memes using the acronym MAGA topped the list, growing 1.2 million percent from January 2016 to January 2017. MAGA stands for “Make America Great Again,” Trump’s presidential campaign slogan in 2016. Terms associated with support for Trump and conservatism dominate the growth chart, with even the term “libertarian” placing above “liberal” in the analysis.
Likewise, Trump dominates the list of political figures based on the number of memes about him, with nearly 100,000 memes tracked in January 2017, more than double that of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama. The gap has widened even more since 2017. As of Aug. 21, Me.Me has tracked 435,535 memes about Trump, four times more than the number of memes about Obama and seven times more than the number of memes about Clinton.
“There aren’t very many effective meme masters on the left,” Ben Garrison, a cartoonist who drew a strip featuring the meme makers interviewed for this article, told The Epoch Times. “They lost the battle in 2016 and they now realize they’re in trouble in 2020.”
“That’s why Silicon Valley is helping their cause by de-platforming conservatives. They’re engaged in outright censorship and it will probably grow worse as the next presidential election approaches.”
Garrison, who still draws cartoons by hand with an ink brush, says that cartoonists have been using memes for generations.
“Uncle Sam is a meme. Thomas Nash created the donkey and elephant memes—representing the Democratic and Republican parties. Nash nearly single-handedly brought down the corrupt Tammany Hall and Boss Tweed with his scathing cartoons. That’s the power of memes,” he said.
Measuring the power of memes is nearly impossible due to their very nature. Like a good joke, memes are borrowed and re-shared without reference to their author.
For example, a meme by Mad Liberals titled “Hillary’s Grant a Wish Football Game” has 74,000 views on YouTube. Meanwhile, he has seen a version of his video reposted on Facebook that drew 20 million views. His most popular meme, “Peshwa Warrior Trump,” has 1.5 million views on Twitter, but became so wildly popular in India that it was played on national television.
Similarly, Carpe Donktum’s meme about the technical difficulties at the Democratic debates drew 282,000 views on his own account as of Aug. 21, while the version reposted by Trump had 4.6 million views on the same date.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 27, 2019
All of the memesmiths interviewed for this article started out without the technical skills required to make meme videos. Carpe Donktum stitched his first video out of images edited in a free image-editing software, and Mad Liberals has a background in computer programming but had no video-editing skills when he started.
“I had no skills whatsoever and had never used a video editor so I spent the last few years learning with HitFilm Pro. I’m still a hack, but I love it!” said Sol Memes.
Three of the four became interested in making memes after Trump shared one in which the CNN logo is substituted for the head of his opponent in a WWE wrestling match. CNN went on to hunt down the maker of the meme and threatened to release his personal details to the public. Infowars added fuel to the fire by announcing a $10,000 meme contest.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 2, 2017
“The CNN thing, I was upset about that—that just some normal guy could be doxxed,” Mad Liberals said. “And the Infowars contest was a big part of that. Hey, $10,000, sure, that got me in—that got me excited.”
“I’ve never done art before. You know, I never edited graphics. I never did, you know, Adobe AfterEffects or any of those things,” he added.
Without exception, the meme makers said the primary intention for their creations is to get people to laugh.
“Well, first and foremost, it’s always about making people laugh,” said Carpe Donktum.
“I’m not a guy who takes myself seriously. I make funny videos,” Something Wicked said. “It makes my kids laugh. And to the degree that it makes other people laugh, I’m happy to do that.”
The memesmiths are becoming increasingly sophisticated, using increasingly refined editing techniques and employing voice talent for their videos. Something Wicked hired a voice actor for his “Real Stable Genius” meme series. His “Trump Ford Commercial Parody” employs sophisticated graphics and voice acting.
“I am blown away by that. That was just incredible,” Mad Liberals, who considers the Ford parody the best meme to date.
As they sat in the basement of the White House, Mad Liberals and his mother fumed that they had to wait so long for their official tour. Both were unaware that Carpe Donktum, who had invited them to come along, was about to be ushered into the Oval Office for a meeting with the president.
“They took us upstairs and we waited another 30 minutes and the kids started getting a little rowdy. My mom and I were both sitting there going, ‘This tour guide is just terrible,’” Mad Liberals said.
The White House staffer who helped entertain Carpe Donktum’s children asked them if they were excited to see the Oval Office. A few minutes later, the staffer asked the children if they were excited to see President Trump. Mad Liberals and his mother looked at each other and mouthed the words “President Trump” in surprise. A few minutes later, the group was ushered into the Oval Office.
“I didn’t have any time to prepare for this. I am just floored,” Mad Liberals said. “Then you saw Trump walking down from the hallway and I’m sitting there and just I have the stupidest grin on my face.”
“He was really gracious. He was smiling the whole time,” he added, describing the president.
Carpe Donktum created the Meme World website, in part to create a space meme creators can turn to in case they are removed from social media platforms. He’s been suspended from Twitter on more than one occasion.
The fears are stoked by reports of bias and censorship against conservatives and Trump supporters. In undercover video footage released in 2018, Twitter employees admitted to censoring and shadow-banning conservatives. When the same undercover journalism group, Project Veritas, exposed bias and censorship at Pinterest, Twitter and YouTube removed the video of the report.
Last week, a Google whistleblower released more than 1,000 pages of internal documents exposing a corporate culture replete with left-wing bias. The reports have triggered congressional inquiries and Trump is believed to be preparing an executive action to address the issue.
When he drew the memesmiths in his comic strip, Garrison portrayed them as the stuff of nightmares for the establishment media, including CNN, The New York Times, Twitter, and Google. Like Carpe Donktum, he’s concerned that the media giants will strike back.
“They are authoritarian control freaks who are no longer able to control minds—and that frustrates them,” he said. “It’s a meme war and the lefties have lost the first round. That’s why they’ve brought out their big, censorious guns to destroy our First Amendment right of free speech.”
Carpe Donktum, a stay-at-home dad, plans to continue making memes, even if he is removed from social media.
“I plan to continue to do it as long as I have an audience. If I get taken off of social media or something like that, I’ll have to have to figure out what I’m going to do to continue,” he said. “But I think there’s only going to be more demand for the type of stuff that I do.”