If there’s anything the alt-right prides itself on — besides its vast repertoire of racial slurs — it’s its use of memes. Earlier this year, Vice published a short guide to various alt-right memes, from Pepe the Frog to Moonman to deus vult. What was noticeably absent was a much more obscure meme concerning, of all people, our current vice president Mike Pence.
As a U.S. Senator, and then as governor of Indiana, Pence was a reliable soldier for the Christian Right. He was fond of enacting anti-choice legislation, wanted Creationism to be taught as science in public schools, and signed an infamous Religious Freedom Restoration Act that gave businesses a license to discriminate against the LGBTQ community. However, what caught the attention of many LGBTQ activists was Pence’s support for funding conversion therapy — the quack science of turning gays and lesbians straight.
Conversion therapy consists of numerous techniques — again, not a real science — including the use of nausea-inducing drugs, gender reinforcement (having men and women participating in activities associated with their genders), punching pillows, and even hugging. One of the more harmful techniques in existence consists of applying electric shocks to a patient’s genitals.
Of course, Pence never explicitly endorsed electroshock therapy for gays and lesbians, but he did suggest cutting funding from programs designed to combat HIV/AIDS and, instead, using that money to “fix” gay and lesbian people. Nevertheless, the use of electric shocks, something that clearly qualifies as torture, is what many LGBTQ activists seized on to hit Pence during the 2016 presidential campaign. For example, here’s one anti-Pence ad using the electroshock talking point:
Again, this ad is somewhat misleading because, clearly, electrocution is only one method of attempting to “cure” homosexuality. It is not necessarily typical of all conversion therapy techniques, and Pence has not signaled support for this specific technique.
Alt-right fans of Donald Trump, who already turned their “God Emperor” into a meme long before the general election, decided to turn this talking point against LGBTQ activists by embracing it wholeheartedly. Ridiculous, over-the-top memes depict the otherwise dull-as-dirt Pence shooting lightning from his hands and eyes. Other pictures show his eyes glowing bright yellow, with accompanying text claiming that he detected a nearby “Sodomite.” Posters for the 1996 Jim Carrey comedy The Cable Guy are photoshopped with Pence’s face.
At the 4chan-inspired wiki Encyclopedia Dramatica (abbreviated ED), the article on Pence gives a list of “confirmed aliases” including Mike “Suck Cock? Get Shocked” Pence, Mike “Fags beware or get the chair” Pence, Mike “Set phasers to straight” Pence, Mike “AC/DC for LGBT” Pence, Mike “Ignite the Sodomites” Pence, and more.
So the next time an alt-right troll on Twitter posts Pence’s face and jokes about fetching the jumper cables, you’ll know what he’s talking about.