Was Biden really driving? Why video conspiracists keep spreading lies about the president’s every move

Bizarre rumors have circulated that Mr Biden is a hologram, or he’s computer-animated, or in some other way the images we see of him are fake. Why?

Friday 21 May 2021 17:43
<p>Conspiracy theorists have insisted that President Biden wasn’t really driving the electric truck he tested in Michigan</p>

Conspiracy theorists have insisted that President Biden wasn’t really driving the electric truck he tested in Michigan

In recent American history, every Democratic president has had to contend with at least one crazy conspiracy theory. For Barack Obama, it was that he was secretly from Kenya. For Bill Clinton, it was that he had killed Vince Foster. For Joe Biden, it’s something altogether different: that he’s not real.

From the beginning of his young presidency, bizarre rumors have circulated online that Mr Biden is a hologram, or he’s computer-animated, or in some other way the footage we see of him has been faked.

It doesn’t seem to matter that these theories are repeatedly and thoroughly debunked. To the conspiracy theorists, the mainstream media authorities who do the debunking have no credibility, and efforts to stamp out the rumors only increase their allure as forbidden knowledge.

Just this week, an accusation spread across right-wing social media that Mr Biden didn’t really drive the electric truck he tested in Dearborn, Michigan. According to the conspiracy peddlers, a single odd-looking frame of the video revealed a “second steering wheel” being controlled by a Secret Service agent… or something.

“This was all a show by his handlers to make Joe Biden look like he’s in charge,” the fringe website Gateway Pundit told readers.

Almost immediately, journalists who covered the test drive began debunking the theory.

“The video clearly shows this is utter nonsense. There were not two steering wheels,” Voice of America reporter Steve Herman told the Daily Dot. “This is just the latest of ridiculous conspiracy theories targeting Biden which can be simply dismissed by viewing the actual videos.”

This was far from the only example. In the few months Mr Biden has been president, right-wing trolls have charged both that the White House is a Hollywood set and the South Lawn is a green screen. Earlier this week, PolitiFact found it necessary to refute an eight-hour Facebook video titled “Biden is Computer Generated.”

“What you’re actually seeing here is a holographic image of Joe Biden being transmitted from behind the scenes,” the video’s narrator tells viewers.

That video has over 16,000 views on Facebook. Meanwhile, a YouTube video of Mr Biden’s “Green Screen Fails” has nearly 1.1 million views and 51,000 likes. Multiple tweets about the Ford truck’s “second steering wheel” have each gained dozens of retweets and hundreds of likes.

What is going on here? Why are so many people convinced – or trying to convince others – that Joe Biden as we perceive him doesn’t exist? According to Dr Nicole Hemmer, author of Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics, these theories are nothing new.

“Paranoia has always been part of American politics, but it takes on new inflections depending on what era you’re in,” Dr Hemmer told The Independent.

According to the historian, America has a long tradition of loony suspicions dating back to at least the 1950s, when right-wing newsletters said President Eisenhower was a communist agent.

The only part that’s new, she said, is our technology. Not only does social media give more people access to fringe theories, but advanced video software makes things like doctored footage and holograms seem more feasible.

“When you get the technology to do deep fakes, then real videos start being called fakes,” Dr Hemmer explained. Combine that with the right’s insistence that Mr Biden is too senile to appear in public – a theory peddled by Sean Hannity and other pundits – and you get presidential holograms.

A debunked conspiracy theory video claims President Biden used a “green screen” for his press conference

“The line on Biden in conservative media has been, ‘He’s not really the one running the show,’” Dr Hemmer said. “You take that – and that’s in the mainstream conservative media – and then you go a step further, to the fringes, and the only way to really best that idea is to say he’s not even real at all.”

But why deny that Mr Biden is in charge? Dr Hemmer says the purpose is simple: “discrediting and delegitimizing the Biden administration.”

That hasn’t been easy for Republicans with this president, who remains highly popular. A hundred days into his presidency, 53 per cent of Americans approved of the job Mr Biden was doing – higher than presidents Trump or Clinton on their hundredth days – and 66 per cent approved of his handling of the pandemic. Considering how polarized the United States electorate is, those are extremely high numbers.

“That’s why you get the ‘Biden’s not really in charge’ line,” Dr Hemmer said. “Precisely because he’s hard to ding up, especially with the kind of people you’re trying to win over, the way that you do it is you say, ‘Oh yeah, Joe seems like a nice guy, but he’s just a figurehead.’”

And for a conspiracy theorist in 21st Century America, it’s not a huge leap from figurehead to hologram. The technology may be new, but the paranoia is as old as the country itself.

“We have access to some of the crazier conspiracies these days,” Dr Hemmer said, “but conspiracies are part of the warp and woof of American politics.”

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