Memes Against State Power

Nathan Allen
5 min readFeb 11, 2023


Ricky Vaughn is in trouble (real name, “Douglass Mackey”). In 2016, Vaughn posted memes suggesting that Hillary Clinton enthusiasts could vote by texting “Hillary” or by using the hashtag #PresidentialElection.

Now, he’s being prosecuted for violating a federal law that punishes conspiracies “to injure, oppress any person … in the free exercise of any right secured to him by the Constitution.” Prosecutors aren’t offering as evidence an actual example of someone who thought they’d voted by text, but the theory of the case is that some people are probably dumb enough to believe that texts and hashtags are legitimate voting methods. So, Ricky Vaughn faces ten years in prison.

The prosecution’s case depends on the distinction between a joke (parody, satire, etc.) and a lie about the voting process that “conspires” to stop someone from voting.

So, what separates a joke from a lie? Here are two examples of “disinformation” about the voting process:

1. You can vote for Hillary by inserting your head up your ass.

2. You can vote for Hillary by texting the Hillary Clinton campaign.

These both may be lies. Or they may both be jokes. The difference is embedded in the intelligence and/or education of the reader. A reasonably intelligent/educated person would realize that one cannot vote by texting a campaign. Similarly, it’s conceivable that one is lacking enough in education/intelligence so that one spends the day attempting to insert his head up his ass because “I’m With Her.” Does the latter have a federal case when he discovers no ballot in his ass? Can he send Ricky Vaughn his medical bill?

The potential harm resulting from a lie is, generally, predicated on a lack of knowledge. A lie, as an assertion of something untrue, is still a lie regardless of whether one knows it’s a lie; but it’s harmful, generally, to the degree to which someone doesn’t know it’s untrue. Which is to say, the degree to which a lie has consequences such that anyone cares about it is tethered to the intelligence/education of the receiver of the lie. If everyone knows an assertion is a lie, then there may be moral consequences for the teller of the lie but no impact of the lie itself.

Because of this, the difference between the two lies above is the difference not in the lie itself — they are both equally untrue — but rather in their potential impact on the receiver: the first (“head up your ass”) requires a greater idiot and thus is likely not believed while the second requires a lesser idiot and thus may be believed.

The resulting question that few ever ask is: what’s the responsibility and potential culpability of the receiver? Is one to be held responsible, at all, for being adequately informed (about anything) such that an obvious lie has no impact? Or, rather, is one’s stupidity/ignorance/etc. rewarded, and, as such, one is victim not of Ricky Vaughn but of one’s own idiocy? Can one side (such as Clinton voters) vanquish their opponents — literally send them to jail — simply by behaving idiotically? Perhaps so.

If such lies are the means by which the government (and their aligned interests) may censor opponents, then aren’t such censorship efforts, at least partially if not wholly, rewarded by mass stupidity? The greater the idiot, the more justified the censorship. Ergo, the government not only tolerates but incentivizes stupidity and ignorance, because idiocy only increases and justifies the state’s narrative control efforts.

Law professor/commentator Eugene Volokh observes that “There is a compelling interest in making sure that voters aren’t deceived into voting in a legally ineffective way, and thus throwing away their votes.”

Deception is a relationship between the deceiver and the deceived. If there are to be restrictions on speech such that people can’t be “deceived,” then those restrictions are variables defined by the nature of the deception and the intelligence/education of the deceived. The dumber the people, the more the variable swings to government control — to minimize the possibility of deception, of course. Thus, it’s clearly in the government’s interest that there persists a critical mass of dumb/uneducated voters in order to justify government censorship efforts, and such censorship efforts are the raison d’être of an increasing phalanx (in power and number) of managerial apparatchiks.

In the Ricky Vaughn case, the government did not submit evidence for a single instance of actual deception, so that the argument relies on a wink and nudge — this is deception because we all know there are people dumb enough to believe it — which, of course, is true. But the question is whether the culpability lies with the deceiver or the deceived. We have a pathological aversion to “victim blaming,” and yet certainly there are instances wherein the victim may be blamed. If the government submitted evidence of someone, probably at Oberlin, who had successfully inserted his head up his ass, certainly most reasonable people would assign some culpability to the voter-by-insertion (probably a dean). Few would defend the head-inserter’s ass-voting as reasonable.

And yet, the system and its managerial apparatchiks do protect some lies. Weaponizing political lies is protected (“Biden tells African-American audience GOP ticket would put them ‘back in chains’” or Biden promises $15 minimum wage), and weaponizing the process is protected (ballot harvesting).

It seems rather scholastic to prohibit lies about the literal mechanics of voting yet permit all other political lies, and yet politics has devolved into a theater of deception, and voting becomes the mechanism to assess the efficacy of that deception. Further, none of this addresses lies in the negative; for example, lies about the severe limitations minorities would supposedly suffer if voter-ID were required (such assertions are empirically untrue statements about the mechanics of voting, much like Ricky Vaughn’s, yet clearly permitted political speech).

The question isn’t whether lies are permitted but rather which lies and whose lies?

In the end, those who are served by protecting political lies while protecting the processes by which those lies are harvested are those who own the mechanisms for weaponizing lies (the media) and weaponizing the process (managerial class). Those outside these two protected classes are rendered potential criminals.

Ricky Vaughn exposed the clear incentive for the government to maximize voter stupidity and that the so-called protection of voting rights serves to enable and expand the bureaucratic hooliganism of the managerial class. And as we “protect” ever greater depths of stupidity and as the managerial class’s power expands into the crevices of society, we will idiocracize until the voices of the dumb lead us into an oblivion of moribund nonsense.

Which explains most of Kamala Harris’s speeches.