The claim appears to have started out in British rag The Daily Mail, but it was Fox News (of course) that turned the hoax into a Major News Event, complete with Every Conservative You’ve Ever Heard Of bubbling over with greasy outrage at the thought that Joe Biden, history’s greatest monster, was going to be imprisoning hamburger eaters, or what the hell ever. Nobody at Fox News appears to have given a moment’s thought to actually fact-checking the claim before catapulting it to the top of Mount Bullshit, because promoting fake claims is what Fox News hosts do on a daily basis. And it’s fake.
CNN’s Daniel Dale does the fact-checking, yet again, and to be honest the takeaway here is not so much that the Daily Mail (no link) goofed, but that this was an intentional attempt to produce a hoax. The Mail, having no “firm details” of Biden’s climate plan to attack, instead went hunting for “recent studies” on what sorts of things could make climate impacts and put the scary-sounding ones in nice big graphics with scary captions, all of it implying that these must be the things Joe Biden is talking about because Look, so scary. Fox News quickly ran with it because—again—they’re fascist propagandists and hoax promoters, and it took no more than that for every last damn fencepost lining Team Trump’s golf-and-grievance compound to immediately freak the entire hell out. The smell of burning meat and short-circuiting neurons wafted through the Twitter air—a smell vaguely akin to what would happen if you stuffed a dead cow into a live electrical transformer—and we were off.
It’s only a matter of time before the “eat your entire supposed allotment of four pounds of beef in a single sitting, do it now, hurry up or you’re with antifa” challenge lands a series of would-be American patriots in emergency rooms, but this is the price we pay for freedom. Even, or especially, imaginary freedom.
Now, there is no possible way the United States government will be forcibly invading your kitchen to measure your meats. You know this because you are not a quivering ball of nationalist grievance who has latched on to every conservative conspiracy theory from the John Birch days to “the United Nations is coming for your golf” to “globalists are being global at me” to “Pizzagate” to here. Donald Trump Jr. and a full colonload of Republican governors and House members and hangers-on do not know this, possibly because they are still too preoccupied with defending their advocacy for hoaxes that fomented violent insurrection. Also, if Rep. Matt Gaetz is representative of his party (and it seems he might be), there may be drugs involved.
It truly feels like there ought to be a way to weaponize Republican gullibility for good, rather than evil. This has been something of a minor subtext to the whole current pandemic, in fact, this notion that if only we could craft the right inane, ridiculous, objectively brain-puddling hoaxes and fire them into the Republican base of fascist-minded rubes, we ought to be able to spur genuinely useful Pavlovian responses.
To wit: Oh no! It turns out that the COVID-19 infections are not caused by a virus, but by airborne microchips developed by the United Nations and spread over the world by the contrails of passenger jets! But Moderna and Pfizer discovered the chips, and developed a “vaccine” that contains blood cells from especially delicious cows, which turn out to short-circuit the microchips and will prevent the United Nations from controlling you!
Or: Oh no! It turns out that Joe Biden does not actually want to raise taxes on rich people! Quick, let’s raise taxes on rich people just to spite him! (To be fair, Republicans have been inching towards that one all on their own. It turns out rich people don’t like overt racism because it hurts their money, which is putting the only two remaining Republican constituencies in direct conflict with each other.)
No. Instead we get an actual former economic adviser to the last Republican administration having a legitimate televised fit over the notion of Joe Biden restricting Americans to “plant-based beers.”
This is going to become conservative canon, by the way. There will be Fox News watchers who will go to their grave believing that Joe Biden was just days away from announcing the creation of the Federal Meat Police. They will not be able to explain why the plan never came to fruition; that, too, will be its own conspiracy. But they will believe it. They will email you pictures of what the Meat Force uniforms were supposed to look like, and diagrams of what the Meat Force strike aircraft would be kitted out with. Your weird relatives will believe it, and burp out bizarre arguments condemning you for supporting anticarnivorism, or antica, and will believe in their cholesterol-clogged hearts that antica activists burned down the city of Cleveland back when nobody was looking, but all the news outlets are in cahoots to not mention it. The city of Charlotte is now a “no-go zone,” they will grumble. Its downtown has been lost in a pale green sea of broccoli.
The only prerequisite for a new conspiracy theory to take hold in the Fox News base and, subsequently, among Republican members of Congress is that it be engaging. Nobody cares whether it’s true. Imagining themselves to be freedom fighters in imminent danger of being oppressed by armed and militant vegans is the smothering gravy that makes the rest of their lives seem still worth living. Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Louie Gohmert: These people wake up in cold sweats at night after dreams in which they are pursued by uniformed vegan shock troops carrying squirt guns of plant-based beer. Let’s revisit this story in a year—I can almost promise you, every low-watt bulb who boosted these claims in the first hours of their spread will still, to a person, believe them to be true.