beach_and_pier_-_2200x270_-_with_npr_and_cal_lu_1.jpg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Politics

Here's what 'Let's Go, Brandon' actually means and how it made its way to Congress

Updated October 31, 2021 at 3:49 PM ET

If you've heard people chanting, "Let's go, Brandon!" or seen someone with a shirt or hat sporting the seemingly jovial message lately, you might be wondering who Brandon is and why so many people are rooting for him.

In this case, the phrase isn't actually about supporting a guy named Brandon. Instead, it's a euphemism that many people in conservative circles are using in place of saying, "F*** Joe Biden."

The origins of the meme go back to Oct. 2, when race car driver Brandon Brown won his first NASCAR Xfinity Series race and was being interviewed by NBC reporter Kelli Stavast. In the background, some in the crowd can be heard chanting, "F*** Joe Biden," though Stavast says, "You can hear the chants from the crowd, 'Let's go, Brandon!' " in her broadcast.

It remains unclear if Stavast misheard what the crowd was saying or if she purposely tried to change the message.

Who's using the chant and meme?

Either way, the phrase "Let's go, Brandon!" quickly spread among conservative groups and continues to be used in place of the direct expletive toward President Biden, even among members of Congress.

On Thursday, Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., was seen sporting a "Let's go, Brandon" mask. Duncan shared a photo of himself in the mask on Facebook, saying, "The American people are furious." Duncan continued his message and expressed frustration with the Biden administration's immigration policies, vaccine mandates and the state of inflation in the United States.

The week prior, another Republican, Rep. Bill Posey of Florida, ended a speech on the House floor, in which he talked about frustrations with the Biden administration's agenda and legislation, with a "Let's go, Brandon!" and a quick fist pump.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, no stranger to memes, also added to this discourse when he posted a photo from Game 2 of the World Series in which he stands with another Houston Astros fan whose sign reads "LET'S GO BRANDON" in big bold letters.

It has spread outside of Congress too. People are using the phrase as inspiration for multiple songs. A Southwest Airlines pilot used the phrase to sign off from a flight on Friday. The airline says it's conducting an internal investigation of the incident.

How this meme got so big

Independent researcher Hampton Stall, who studies ideology and group cultures, says the phrase itself is "shareable and adaptable" and can be used in public in "way[s] that cursing out the president cannot."

Speaking with NPR's Weekend Edition, Stall says that in addition to the phrase's ability to be shared easily, "Let's go, Brandon!" also got a large boost by alternative right-wing media and figures.

And while it's possible that social media platforms and search engines might ban the more explicit phrase, Stall says the meme version isn't a phrase that can be banned.

"It's not a search term that they were going to limit," Stall says. "And I think that's probably fair. There's a difference between calls for violence and this sort of wink that the 'Let's Go, Brandon' meme is."

How this meme compares with others directed at presidents

"Let's go, Brandon" isn't the first president-related meme to take off, nor is it the first time a president has dealt with vulgar messages.

President Barack Obama was in office as social media's influence began to take hold, enabling the quick spread of racist images and insults online.

The phrase "F*** Trump" was seen often on signs and apparel when Donald Trump was president. And just as that phrase was capitalized on, Stall says he's seeing the same thing now.

"There's a lot of money to be made for people who are seizing the moment and selling," Stall says.

As for whether people will remember this meme in the future, Stall says it has likely reached the point where most people will know what others are saying when they say, "Let's go, Brandon," just like many still remember Trump's "covfefe" typo turned meme.

"I think it's sort of past the point where enough people in the mainstream political audience in the United States have heard it that it will be remembered in the future," he says. "It just maybe won't have the same level of staying power [as covfefe]."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.