A recent poll revealed that 38% of Floridian voters believed that Ted Cruz might actually be the Zodiac killer. Enough said.
Written by Michelle Dean (Guardian)
The year was 2013. It was a more innocent time in conservative America. No primary candidates had declared themselves, Donald Trump was still safely tucked away in a reality show, and Senator Ted Cruz gave the keynote speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the Republican Lollapalooza.
His speech was mostly forgettable, arguing that Republican success was inevitable if they simply bullied the Democrats hard enough. He salted it with references to pop culture and firmly denied that he was a “wacko bird”, as John McCain had recently alleged. He cracked a weird joke comparing a newly svelte Newt Gingrich to Anne Hathaway’s character in Les Miserables.
Alas, nothing he would say that night would stick to Ted Cruz the way this one small joke, tweeted from anonymous Twitter account @redpillamerica, would:
This, according to the Daily Dot and confirmed by my own searches, appears to be the first time someone on the internet decided to put Ted Cruz’s name in the same sentence as the Zodiac killer’s.
“I think it was a convergence of being a fan of the Fincher film [2007’s Zodiac], the birtherism craze of 2012, and the sociopathic vibe one gets when Ted Cruz walks, talks, and breathes,” the person behind @redpillamerica told me. “While Trump is a buffoon, Cruz is the kind of guy that makes you want to check the closet, under the bed, and make sure the doors are locked.”
You might call that one man’s opinion. But if you frequent certain precincts of the internet lately, you’ll see that it has blossomed into quite a craze.
People all over the country are slyly linking the Republican presidential candidate’s name with that of the serial killer who terrorized California for several years in the late 60s and early 70s, and who was never definitively identified.
Let’s say you’ve checked out Twitter in the middle of the most recent Republican debate. You might have come across a tweet like this:
Or let’s say that in your daily rounds of several respectable news outlets – among them the Washington Post and Vox Media – you found serious journalists who took it upon themselves to “debunk” the notion that Cruz is in fact a serial killer.
Last week, for extra fun and mouseclicks, the respected polling outfit Public Policy Polling found that 38% of voters in Florida believed that Ted Cruz might be the Zodiac killer. (In fact, 10% said that yes, they thought he was; 28% were “not sure”.)
And, inevitably, there is a Facebook page.
These things might lead you to believe that there really is a constituency in America who have been fooled by this meme into thinking that the Zodiac is several hundred delegates away from the presidency. Perhaps there is. More likely, however, is that these people are kidding. In fact, the first rule of the “Ted Cruz is the Zodiac” meme club is this: you don’t actually believe Ted Cruz is the Zodiac.
“To those Cruz trolls who insist that we ‘look at the facts’ that Ted was not even born when the Zodiac was committing these horrid crimes… yes we know,” @redpillamerica volunteered to me over a Twitter direct message. (The first confirmed Zodiac killing took place in 1968; Cruz was born in 1970.) “Lighten up!”
But the meme works on a higher level. It satirizes the fact that political discourse in America has sunk so low that this kind of spurious accusation can actually get traction. Ted-Cruz-is-the-Zodiac types often say they’re only doing what birtherRepublicans did to Obama in 2008. They repeatedly insisted that Obama’s birth certificate was faked, and that he was born in Kenya. Gradually, certain members of the public began to believe it. So claiming that Ted Cruz is the Zodiac simply mimics the mass-panic technique Republican have already perfected, several meme proponents argued.
The point has landed pretty sharply. Now that so many people have posted about Cruz and the Zodiac, angry Cruz supporters often appear in comments sections, on Facebook pages and elsewhere, to defend their man. Another “Ted Cruz is the Zodiac” enthusiast, Tim Faust, recently tweeted the following:
Faust, a data scientist, has played a particularly altruistic role in all this. He came across the meme on Twitter. Faust is, to say the least, not a Cruz fan. “The man is deplorable, contemptible,” he wrote to me. “This election is resplendent with abuses of integrity for political gain, and yet Cruz is still the worst of the bunch. How?! This would be some dark-ass comedy, if tens of millions of lives weren’t at stake.”
Faust promptly enlisted an artist friend, Rory Blank, to design a T-shirt. A fundraising project was born. Faust is a longtime pro-choice activist, so he decided sales of the shirt would benefit the West Fund, which helps women pay for abortions in Texas.
Initially, Faust says, he expected to make perhaps 20 T-shirts. But the project caught on, and he told me when he ended the sale on 2 March he had sold about 7,500 T-shirts. That comes out to an estimated donation of about $69,000.
Faust is satisfied with what he’s done so far. He also says that he has been urged by many to reopen sales. The logistics of mailing 200 T-shirts a day, however, exhausted him. He’s not sure he’ll be able to reopen. “Commercial sales to privately fund reproductive health is its own kind of libertarian dystopia,” he said. “This is no replacement for the actual good work of on-the-ground organizing. It was just a fun way to burn off some steam.”
Fun indeed, but some people are beginning to wonder if Cruz, faced with the internet ubiquity of the accusation, will somehow be forced to deny it. A favorite offshoot of the joke is to point out that Cruz has never denied that he’s a serial killer, so the possibility remains.
“Selfishly, I would love for him to actual[ly] deny it but the chances are slim,” @redpillamerica said. “Trump on the other hand? I think we’ve crossed the Rubicon on Trump’s daily insane vile diatribes. As Florida looms, I would say there is a very good chance Trump accuses Ted of the murders.”
Though @redpillamerica did not want to be identified by name, he told me he’s a New Yorker, 43, and has worked in politics his whole professional life. So he might actually know what he’s talking about.