“Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer” is the greatest political meme of the 2016 election cycle — perhaps of all time. Throughout 2016 the internet was abuzz with tongue-in-cheek speculation that Cruz was the notorious serial killer who terrorized Northern California in the 1960s and 70s. But where did this meme come from and why did it become so popular?
The internet was making connections between Cruz and the Zodiac Killer long before 2016. The first known social media post about Cruz possibly being the Zodiac killer dates back to 2013, when Cruz spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference and vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
The second reference came a year later shortly after Cruz expressed opposition to net neutrality, calling it “Obamacare for the Internet.”
For a while, the Ted Cruz-Zodiac Killer meme lived in obscure circles on the internet. But in 2016, during Cruz’s unsuccessful presidential campaign, it went viral.
Credit goes to a Twitter user named Nathan LaManga who was watching the CBS presidential debate during the GOP primaries. CBS had a Google Trends ticker displaying what people were Googling about the candidates during the debate. As a joke, LaManga tweeted that everyone should search “Is Ted Cruz the Zodiac killer?” in order to get on the ticker. He then tweeted an edited image of the ticker to make it look like the question had actually become number one on Google.
From there the meme spread like wildfire. Activists began selling “Ted Cruz was the Zodiac Killer” shirts, the proceeds of which went to Texas abortion clinics. People wrote songs and books about Ted Cruz being the Zodiac Killer. Comedian Larry Wilmore joked about it at length during the 2016 White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Public Policy Polling even did a poll asking voters in Florida if they believed Ted Cruz was the Zodiac Killer, ten percent said yes and 28 percent said they weren’t sure.
In October 2017, Cruz himself finally acknowledged the meme, tweeting out a picture of one of the Zodiac Killer’s cryptograms.
Part of the reason why the Ted Cruz-Zodiac Killer became so popular is that it encapsulated a general sense of unease and discomfort voters had about him. It’s not just his horrible policies and rhetoric, there’s something off-putting about Cruz that’s hard to put your finger on. In fact, scientists have written about why Cruz’s facial expressions and body language makes people uncomfortable.
Cruz’s face is also generic enough for people to draw comparisons between him and the sketch of the Zodiac Killer. Even before the Zodiac Killer meme was trending, the internet was full of memes comparing Ted Cruz to the lead singer of Stryper, Duke basketball player Grayson Allen, Kevin Malone from The Office, and many others. Again, there’s actual science behind this.
Obviously, Cruz is not actually the Zodiac Killer. His birth certificate shows that he was born in 1970, two years after the Zodiac killings began. Like most memes, it’s meant to be absurd and humorous.
But while Ted Cruz may not be a serial killer, he did help incite a deadly insurrection at the Capitol that killed five people (coincidentally, the Zodiac Killer murdered five confirmed victims). So the meme isn’t that far from the truth, Ted Cruz does have blood on his hands. Will he be held accountable, or will he, like the Zodiac Killer, get away with his crimes?