Mapping the meme: How a viral image went from 4chan and QAnon supporters to Trump’s Twitter

Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

President Donald Trump on November 28 retweeted a meme that showed multiple current and former government officials, including special counsel Robert Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, behind bars. Far-right circles have been using the image in multiple different memes since last year. Below is a brief timeline highlighting where the image spread and the different memes it was used in before one of the memes reached Trump.

October 2017: The image appears on Instagram, Twitter, and 4chan. A reverse image search on the tool TinEye suggested that the image originated in late October 2017 on Instagram, with the image popping up on a site called Photagram that collects Instagram photos and videos. A Twitter user soon after tweeted a meme with the image, and the following day a 4chan user posted another meme with the image saying, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.”

January 2018: Image used to push #ReleaseTheMemo narrative. Multiple fringe websites and accounts shared the image with the text “#ReleaseTheMemo,” referring to a campaign to release a memo drafted by Republicans on the House intelligence committee that GOP members claimed would allegedly show wrongdoing by Mueller (the much-hyped memo was a massive flop and actually backfired on the Republicans).

May 2018: The Gateway Pundit posts the image. Conspiracy theorist Jim Hoft published another version of the image with the text “UraniumOne & RussiaGate A.K.A. Treason & Sedition” and “JUSTICE NOW” on the far-right conspiracy theory blog The Gateway Pundit.

Throughout 2018: QAnon supporters post different memes with the same image. Multiple versions of the image have been shared online to push the QAnon conspiracy theory, including by a prominent QAnon follower.

The image has also been used in other memes to target Trump’s perceived enemies.

November 2018: Trump retweets image. This year, yet another meme featuring the image was tweeted by multiple accounts, including @The_Trump_Train, who tweeted the image in the early hours of November 28. (@The_Trump_Train, who has previously pushed the QAnon conspiracy theory, is allegedly run by a man named Michael Maday who created a pro-Trump PAC.) The meme included the text: “Now that Russia collusion is a proven lie, when do the trials for treason begin?” Hours later, Trump retweeted it.