Two months ago, members of r/Politics, a Reddit forum for political news, were discussing the Democratic Party’s request that the House Financial Services Committee examine Trump’s financial ties with Deutsche Bank, an institution known for laundering Russian money. Over the course of that conversation, one commenter remarked that, despite his leading one of the most significant political inquiries in American history, there was a woeful lack of dank memes dedicated to Robert Mueller, the man selected to head the investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia.
Reddit user DragonSandman heeded the call and immediately created r/The_Mueller, a community that offers a lighthearted take on the ongoing Russian investigation and a much-needed reprieve from the relentless political news cycle.
“It started as a joke, but it’s gotten surprisingly big,” DragonSandman tells me. “Then again, it’s not often the sitting president of the U.S. gets investigated by the FBI.”
DragonSandman is actually Canadian, and just 20 years old. (He declines to give his real name for fear of getting doxxed.) He was politically apathetic until Trump’s unlikely political ascendance provoked his attention 18 months ago. He describes his continued interest in American politics thusly: “There’s a famous saying from former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, father of current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, that goes, ‘If you’re a mouse sleeping next to an elephant, you’ll watch that elephant like a hawk. But if you’re the elephant, you pay no attention to the mouse.’ Canada is that mouse, and the U.S. is the elephant, and right now, the elephant is having an epileptic seizure.” (The actual quote is even more evocative than DragonSandman’s rendition, but he gets the fundamental metaphor correct.)
The name r/The_Mueller is an obvious play on r/The_Donald, the Trump supporter subreddit created two years ago, and credited (and blamed) with helping fuel Trump’s unlikely presidential election victory last November.
But DragonSandman insists that the subreddit is intended merely as a diversion — not a corrective to r/The_Donald. For one, that would be nearly impossible: r/The_Donald has 500,000 members and remains arguably the most mobilized force on Reddit, if not the entire internet. But also, DragonSandman wants r/The_Mueller to be a refuge from the caustic political discussions that take place daily on r/The_Donald and other politically-related subreddits. R/The_Donald, specifically, has been known to traffic in Islamophobia, xenophobia and misogyny (especially when directed at Hillary Clinton) as well as alt-right vernacular such as “cuck” and God Emperor, their term for President Trump.
R/The_Mueller, meanwhile, demands members “stick to memes and shitposts when submitting shit,” meaning posts that elicit a pleasant but inoffensive reaction. The only other rule is “don’t be a dick.”
“There are a lot of places on Reddit for serious stuff,” DragonSandman says. “But there’s not a lot of places for funny, silly stuff nowadays, and there’s nothing specifically for memes about Robert Mueller.”
That said, Reddit user CYBER_COMMANDER helps moderate r/The_Mueller and sees the subreddit as having a slightly more antagonistic mission. “I was sick of r/The_Donald, having seen them spam Reddit relentlessly,” CYBER_COMMANDER writes in an email.
Moderators from other subreddits have frequently accused r/The_Donald of spamming, and Reddit reconfigured its ranking algorithm in February to prevent posts from r/The_Donald from reaching its frontpage. “So when it came about, I asked if I could design the header for [r/The_Mueller],” continues CYBER_COMMANDER, a 32-year-old man from London. “I thought there was value on shining a light on the childishness of The_Donald. R/The_Mueller is fun, but pointed fun (like a political cartoon). … One thing you won’t see on r/The_Donald is people having fun, or being clever in a way you believe it’s truly for enjoyment. They seethe.”
For the first month, activity on r/The_Mueller was sparse, with people posting original content only once every two weeks. But the subreddit has been growing ever since it was linked on r/Politics, a subreddit with 3.5 million subscribers, three weeks ago. (Currently, it has about 7,500 subscribers.)
Trying to understand why the subscribers are so enamored of Mueller is hard to discern. He’s a notoriously press-averse civil servant who’s spent his career deliberately out of the public eye. This puts him in stark contrast to Trump, who courts controversy by any means.
“Trying to figure out why the internet turns things into a meme is pretty much impossible,” DragonSandman says.
But the mystery surrounding Mueller also feeds the intrigue, DragonSandman reasons. “He’s kept a tight lid on this investigation. You see his name and his face, but there’s not much beyond that, and people fill in the gaps with their own idealized version. There’s this weird messianic vibe to him.”
Despite DragonSandman’s insistence that r/The_Mueller is a meaningless distraction, the forum, by its very existence, has a vehement anti-Trump bent. And it’s not unthinkable that as the Mueller investigation proceeds, r/The_Mueller might grow to one day challenge r/The_Donald in terms of numbers and notoriety.
Then again, it’s possible the Mueller investigation doesn’t yield anything worthy of criminal charges, let alone an impeachment trial. If that does happen, we’ll still remember Mueller fondly — as the man who bravely and honestly investigated the 2016 presidential election. Not to mention a man whose hands were bigger than Trump’s.