“Let’s Go Brandon”: A test case for subversion, amplification, and commodification in the post-Trump American right
On 2 October 2021, NASCAR driver Brandon Brown came in first place at the Sparks 300 Xfinity series NASCAR race held in Talladega. As he was being interviewed by an NBC reporter, the crowd of thousands broke out into a chant of “Fuck Joe Biden”. These types of chants have been quite common at sports events (particularly in college football) for about a month preceding the NASCAR race, though coverage is usually limited to right-wing news outlets like the Daily Caller or Breitbart.
The NBC reporter, perhaps out of hearing incorrectly or maybe out of trying to avoid acknowledging the chants, said to Brown that the crowd was chanting “Let’s go, Brandon!”, cheering on the young NASCAR driver. The first viral clip of the moment, posted by “Jewish Deplorable” on Twitter the evening of the race finish, was re-shared the next morning by Donald Trump Jr to his 7 million followers. The chant, “Let’s Go Brandon”, has erupted into a conservative meme since then, breaking down the highly-permeable membrane between online and offline spaces for conservative consumer slacktivists.
Several factors explain the spread of this ‘meme’, which one far-right actor described as the “return to the meme wars” but can also accurately be described as a return of the ‘flash mob’ First, the spread of the phrase’s popularity is likely due in part to several high-profile conservative and far-right media figures sharing or boosting some of the same content around the meme. Second, the meme has had longer staying power and indeed has accelerated in the last few weeks. This has happened through, on the one hand, a new paradigm of online virality and, on the other, a rich network of pro-Trump hip hop artists who finally reached a breaking point in their own popularity to make it into mainstream media.
These details are explored through several sections, which are as follows:
- Timelines of topic interest, content creation, and shares (and the breaches between online and offline)
- Relationships of content duplication, injecting into and through the mainstream
- Patriot Rap collaboration and the ‘second wave’ of the “Let’s Go Brandon” meme through TikTok virality and the application of the ‘challenge’ format
The MAGA (Flash) Mob Mentality
In late September, anti-vaccine demonstrators entered a food court in Staten Island, simultaneously engaging in a protest against COVID-19 health measures and receiving the shot of endorphins that comes from a community-driven Two Minutes Hate. Naturally, the social political event would shortly feature the crowd changing “U-S-A!” and “Fuck Joe Biden!”. Even grannies, sitting at tables between shouting Gen X blondes, joined in the chants. And, of course, the event led to the sharing of satire as truth as conservative Facebook pages and conservative Instagram meme pages alike began to share misinformation that it was illegal to shout “Fuck Biden”, likely due to it being shared by a few prominent conservative Twitter accounts originating from far-right activist and ACT for America founder Brigitte Gabriel (none of which have yet to be deleted).
The “Let’s Go Brandon!” mix-up provided the perfect avenue by which to move a chant in stadiums, slogan on flags, and cafeteria protest shout instead towards a meme, thus providing new opportunities for continued reproduction, exploitation, and virality. This is the moment where a chant evolves into a cultural artifact, thereby opening new opportunities in its use. It’s worth also mentioning that a similar “Fuck [president]” chant has existed under most modern presidents, including in sports events (for example, a 2019 soccer chant against Trump).”Let’s Go Brandon” is an evolution from this modality, allowing for greater public use and adaptation by eliminating a ‘naughty word’ and for its ability to create an in- and out-group dynamic in its usage as political code.
The “Let’s Go Brandon” meme is subversive and allows for a digital or spoken ‘wink’, as Geertz described in 1973 as coded communication between an actor and their audience. In this case, the ‘twitch’ of saying “Let’s Go Brandon” is received as a ‘wink’ meaning “Fuck Joe Biden” to those in the know. For example, a uniformed police officer from Texas, shared a video on TikTok ending with “oh yeah — Let’s go Brandon”. Or, perhaps more explicitly, another uniformed police officer using the meme to show the bottom of his coffee cup with the message “Fuck JOE Biden”.
The “Let’s Go Brandon” meme has also been extremely successful at creating a more unified anti-Biden search term and codeword. This is perhaps most obviously shown by the cataclysmic rise in searches for “lets go brandon” on google, which themselves surpassed “fuck joe biden” searches shortly after the NASCAR clip of Brandon Brown aired. This rise (charted below) led to searches for the “Let’s Go Brandon” meme to rise to well over 5x the searches for “fuck joe biden” within a matter of weeks.
One of the cultural opportunities marked by the move from public chant to meme key phrase is a strange ‘Renaissance-lite’ of early 2000s flash mob and prank culture. Pro-Trump actors have thereby inserted the “Let’s Go Brandon!” meme phrase into everyday and especially media-captured parlance, giving a wink to those in the know and laughing at the clueless confusion from those who aren’t.
These types of media interactions are everywhere. For example, a Clemson Tigers fan inserted a “Let’s Go Brandon” into the end of a Fox interview in Greenville, South Carolina on 7 October. A man recorded airport staff paging for a “Lesgo Brandon” over the PA in Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on 8 October. A child inserted it at the end of a choral “Drivers, start your engines” on 12 October. A grown man wearing a shirt for his 1.5k subscriber-count prank channel went to a series of stores on 13 October, pestered retail staff to call for “Lesco Brandon” over their intercoms, and posted it, interplayed with clips from Will Ferrell’s Talladega Nights. Dr. Disrespect, a Call of Duty streamer, shouted “Let’s Go Brandon!” after a donation on 13 October, even after initially being duped on 11 October.
Each of these events (and their subsequent shares to the internet) are motivated by major incentives. Not only are they a format for expression and community-building with other anti-Biden conservatives, but there are major media figures actively seeking out user-generated content and offering creators a major boost to their own virality. So when Donald Trump Jr served up a clip to his 7 million followers, he thereby conferred to the clip poster — a 10 month-old anonymous account — an increase in nearly 17,000 followers between 8 October and 20 October, according to socialblade (though Donald Trump Jr’s share was on 3 October so his impact was probably even higher).
But Donald Trump Jr. isn’t the only media figure re-sharing “Let’s Go Brandon” content.
Alt-Right Media Machine: Manufacturing Virality
The “Let’s Go Brandon” meme (and also “Fuck Joe Biden” content that precedes it) of course was quite popular with alt-right and conservative alt-media figures. These include individuals like conspiracy theorist Dinesh D’Souza and former cop Dan Bongino. They also include broader platforms themselves such as The Post Millennial (TPM), which employs far-right social media personality Andy Ngo. D’Souza, Bongino, and TPM seem quite interested in boosting “Let’s Go Brandon” content, in no small part due to their alt-right or pro-Trump stance.
These content creators both re-shared content or created content around the meme itself in order to generate discourse or otherwise pinpoint why they felt “Let’s Go Brandon” was so important. Other independent commentators, such as ‘Dr Steve Turley’ (popular with ‘patriot’ consumers online) or ‘Styhexenhammer666’ (alt-right content creator mentioned above describing the “Let’s Go Brandon as the “return to meme wars”), also created content around the meme, heralding it as deeply powerful and important. These two creators specifically uploaded their takes on 19 October. Well before these takes, other alt-media creators discussed the NBC journalist’s misstep, such as far-right pro-Trump fake news outlet One America News Network on 4 October or the former sex-advice gurus turned ultra-conservative “Hodge Twins” on 6 October.
It wasn’t just alt-media or alt-right content creators discussing the “Let’s Go Brandon” event and its subsequent meme, though. Indeed, “Let’s Go Brandon” was repeated often on mainstream conservative media throughout October. On 12 October, radio personality Kay Smythe said the chant was worth watching as it “takes over America”. On 13 October, Fox News host Sean Hannity provided his analysis for why the chants were “breaking out nationwide”. On 14 October, Fox News host and white nationalist flirt Tucker Carlson sarcastically described the chants as “demonstrations of pro-Biden unity” in some admittedly quite poor-quality parody content (a previous news clip of Carlson was also re-shared by Turning Point USA lead Charlie Kirk, who is perhaps most famous for a diaper-related spectacle).
Beyond the alt-right media machine and mainstream conservative media, conservative consumers themselves have created aggregation accounts to both centralize documentation of the clips but also to make money off of views of said content. These include a “Let’s Go Brandon!” channel on Rumble and a “FJB Chants” channel on YouTube. “FJB” refers to “Fuck Joe Biden”, and the YouTube channel cross-posts on TikTok as well. In fact, many of the TikTok videos shared on the FJB Chants YouTube are reuploads on the channel’s TikTok (thereby removing a single detail as to finding the origin of the content beyond their centralized content environment).
Together, legacy media, alt-right alternative media, and crowdsourced documentation spaces create a conservative virality machine that takes key cultural events and spins them into broader moments, thereby creating online artifacts intended to drive the creation of more content and activism IRL. Just looking at the networks around content shared by the alt-media figures mentioned above (Dinesh D’Souza, Dan Bongino, and The Post Millennial), it becomes clear the tightness of the re-sharing/boosting community around early “Let’s Go Brandon” content. How this relationship works, in theory, is detailed in the diagram below:
The above graphic details the flow of information and interaction between these actors, merging virtual and physical action. A Consumer-Creator films and uploads Created Content regarding the meme. This is then re-shared or otherwise referenced by both or either Alt-Media Amplifiers or Mainstream Media Amplifiers, who often re-share or interact with one another. This content is then consumed by a Consumer-Activist (or, more aptly, a crowd of them), who engage in Public Activism around the meme, most often through chants or snarky comments to media. This action then becomes content to repeat the cycle once more.
The relationships within this alt-right/alt-media amplification machine are easily detectable and can be visualized as they stand (see network visualization below). Nodes are sized by how much assumed profit could have been made from the video or by the content creator, based off of payout documentation (this variable is then aggregated by creator or content). The color of video nodes (squares) are coded by the platform where the video got the most views (Rumble is green, YouTube is red, and TikTok is blue). Edges between the nodes are also sized by the view count of the video (dated 21 October 2021). Each edge is a share by a user (circles), as multiple users shared the same content (squares).
The same network, run through a community detection algorithm netted 7 distinct “communities” (see below, nodes colored by community). The first of these is centered around the alt-media personalities but includes Sean Hannity and a couple of independent creators. One bridge community within this network is the Rumble documentation channel (yellow community), which provides overlap between the media community mentioned prior and several other splinter communities. These include a school board prank shared by a TikTok user (green), the video shared by the prank channel (red community), and three links back to the media community (blue). Interestingly, Fox and Friends (orange) and another independent TikTok user (pink) were also given separate communities that are then linked back to the tightly-collected media network (blue).
These network relations seem to indicate that there’s not a ton of independent original content creation among major channels, who are often re-sharing or repackaging the content shared into their networks already. The intention of this likely isn’t just for documentation but instead is likely a mix of seeking profit through views or seeking to fashion a more normalized worldview that this type of content is all-encompassing and ever-present.
Regardless of the media environment which has boosted the content around it, the “Let’s Go Brandon” chant, and specifically the audio clip from which it is derived, has proven to be highly memeable. It is highly exploitable and thereby easy to adapt to new follow-ups and even new products. It is rapidly re-shareable, created in content bites produced for sharing and upheld through viral manufacture. Finally, it allows for the creation of derivatives, as pieces of the meme are warped and translated across other platforms and into new memes.
These factors mean that the Let’s Go Brandon meme has the necessary characteristics to evolve through user input, and indeed it already has. Many subsequent iterations and remixes have already emerged of the initial audio clip and its ensuing re-use in physical and cyber spaces.
Loza Alexander, Patriot Rap, and TikTok Challenges
On 10 October 2021, a moderately-known ‘Patriot Rapper’ Loza Alexander posted a music video called “LETS GO BRANDON — Theme Song — Loza Alexander — (OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO)”. By 22 October, the video was still #17 on trending on YouTube for music, but its initial virality put it at the top of many music listener’s pages. The music video featured Loza dancing in front of a greenscreen version of the Brandon Brown video, sampling the NBC reporter saying “Let’s go Brandon!”. Many of his music videos are quite simple, like a straight shot in front of a US flag (a clip used by a conservative podcast for intro music), a simple textured backdrop, or just the US flag backdrop again. Most of his videos are below 100,000 views and most sit at around 20,000 total. By 23 October, the video for his “Let’s Go Brandon” song had just under 2.9 million views and 183,000 likes.
On 14 October 2021, Loza announced on a livestream on his channel that his song had hit #1 on iTunes, and returned to his usual viewer count of under 40,000 (at time of writing, 37,000). In the time since, though, Loza re-shared content from fans and meme participants on TikTok marking the next transformation of the “Let’s Go Brandon” meme: the #LetsGoBrandonChallenge. More on this challenge further below.
Perhaps seeing these views and the viral explosion surrounding Loza Alexander’s song, or maybe just out of a realization of the moment provided by the “Let’s Go Brandon!” meme, many other ‘Patriot Rappers’ jumped at the opportunity to release their own songs. Here’s a timeline of that release schedule, with view counts timestamped to 23 October 2021:
- 2 October: Brandon Brown wins the Sparks 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series at Talladega
- 10 October: Loza Alexander releases his song “LETS GO BRANDON — Theme Song” to 2.9 million views. The music video is simple, with Loza Alexander performing in front of a greenscreen of himself performing in front of a greenscreen of the NASCAR clip.
- 12 October: Omarr Shabazz releases his song “LET’S GO BRANDON ( themed song FUCK JOE BIDEN )”, netting 71,100 views. It starts off with the rapper saying “Fuck you, Joe Biden” while leaning close to the camera. Next is a montage of clips of crowds shouting “Fuck Joe Biden”.
- 13 October: Forgiato Blow releases audio for a song called “Lets Go Brandon” (126675 views). Notably, his previous song was called “FJB” (Fuck Joe Biden) to only 37,000 views. His sub-two minute song includes a sample of the Tucker Carlson clip mentioned earlier as shared by Charlie Kirk.
- 15 October: Bryson Gray and Tyson James release their audio versions of a similar song, titled “Let’s Go Brandon” featuring Chandler Crump. Both are removed by YouTube for vaccine misinformation. Tyson James notably includes in his verse his desire to “take [Joe Biden] in the back, play smear the queer, man” referring to homophobically-titled children’s game akin to football but here insinuating explicit homophobic violence.
- 17 October: Bryson Gray releases a lyric video of his “Let’s Go Brandon” song, which YouTube also bans due to vaccine misinformation.
- 18 October: Forgiato Blow releases a music video for his song “Let’s Go Brandon”, racking up 811187 views by 23 October. The music video is simple crowd shots with people flying “FUCK BIDEN” flags and grannies wearing “FJB” shirts. One participant, a Gen X white man, wears a shirt saying “Biden Sucks, Kamala Swallows”.
- 20 October: Bryson Gray (with Tyson James and Chandler Crump) releases a music video for his song, which YouTube again bans. The music video depicts Gray rapping in front of a blank wall, holding a rifle with a drum magazine. As of time of writing, a Q-associated YouTube account is the top unbanned result, with 15,516 views. Since writing, said ban evasion result has been banned by YouTube, but at least two more have replaced it.
Patriot rappers have been catering to a niche audience on YouTube and TikTok for several years and have been something I’ve been following closely. In future pieces, I will more deeply investigate the cultural specifics of these unique content creators.
In the “Let’s Go Brandon” TikTok “challenge” (term for memed action/lip-syncing on TikTok using the same audio), anti-Biden content creators dance while the intro to Loza’s song plays, mouthing “Fuck Joe Biden” when the crowd says it in his sample. He posted 22 videos from this “challenge” to his YouTube channel by 23 October. The #letsgobrandonchallenge hashtag on Tiktok had around 3M views by 22 October. Under the #LetsGoBrandon hashtag on TikTok — not the challenge-specific one, but the general one — many of the videos racked up millions of views by 23 October.
The ‘TikTok challenge’-ification of the “Let’s Go Brandon” meme is a clear example of the “Let’s Go Brandon” meme evolving into new forms and formats. It invites Consumer-Creators to put their own spin on the details of the meme, since participants are both Loza Alexander’s audience and participants in content creation simultaneously. These Consumer-Creators bring in the key constituent elements of the challenge’s meme (the audio track and mouthing “Fuck Joe Biden”) but adapt the remainder of the video to their own audiences. Some content creators dance, others stand still and pan the camera around their outfits, others play silly characters to make it their own. One such participant in the Let’s Go Brandon challenge on TikTok is the coffee cup cop mentioned above, jumping on the bandwagon to express his hate for the US president while wearing his uniform.
It is also worth noting that this “challenge” is also within a broader environment of posting on the platform discussing “Let’s Go Brandon”. For example, on 23 October, 4 of the 6 most viral posts were those not covered above. Below, two instances are noted from these results (on bottom left the ‘hot dog’ video by the “fjbchants” account and in the bottom middle a clip by patriot rapper Forgiato Blow).
The next step?
The next stage of this conservative meme is already well underway. As with anything gaining popularity in the MAGAsphere, the content either originates from Nazis or Nazis attempt to hijack the momentum. Right now, the “Let’s Go Brandon” meme is in the early days of the latter. On Telegram, several major far-right channels have already participated in the meme. These actors include channels affiliated with QAnon, the openly Nazi wing of the Proud Boys, local Proud Boys chapters, white nationalist talking heads, and dissident Republicans alike. It’s yet unclear if this meme will have major holding power but much of its ability to capture attention so far has been through manufactured virality. On the side of cultural production (and its consumption), the songs created by the patriot rappers based on the meme have shown to be quite enduring. At time of publication, “Let’s Go Brandon” songs account for the first, second, and sixth top hip-hop tracks in the US on iTunes.
The songs have also had a major impact on Google search interest, too. Loza Alexander released his song (the first “Let’s Go Brandon” song) on 10 October, and within a week, searches for the song would eclipse searches for the meme itself. Searches for “Let’s Go Brandon” themed shirts would slowly rise over the period since Brandon Brown’s interview clip, but the drastic rise in interest of the song (detailed in chart below) shows how much of the “Let’s Go Brandon” zeitgeist is being currently captured by ‘patriot rappers’ at time of publication.
The next phase of virality for the “Let’s Go Brandon” meme will likely be manufactured by far-right actors or not at all. The other potential trajectory is a more organic continuation of the meme, though this is likely to be done through merchandising and clout-chasing more so than love for the meme. The life of a meme is difficult to track until it’s already been lived, but the “Let’s Go Brandon” meme is one that journalists, researchers, and watchers should be aware of if they aren’t yet already. For what it’s worth, Loza Alexander announced he released an “exstended version” of his song just a few hours before publication.
Thanks much to WFT for your help in conceptualizing and editing this piece. Thanks also to those otherwise unnamed for your help. You know who you are.