On March 13 2021, the Facebook page Comrade Britney shared the following Gravel Institute (@GravelInstitute) tweet from one day prior, depicting a purported PragerU graphic describing “leftist logic” as “racism = bad”:
Hmm…very good point pic.twitter.com/p3enESSoxg
— Gravel Institute (@GravelInstitute) March 12, 2021
Both the screenshot and tweet encompassed a few moving parts, which we will break down and explain.
For one thing, it is not a university. The Southern Poverty Law Center has a 2018 backgrounder on Dennis Prager and his short videos, which — as the name suggests — are aimed at attracting and grooming young people:
Founded as a nonprofit by conservative talk radio host Dennis Prager in 2009, PragerU’s “5 Minute Ideas” videos have become an indispensable propaganda device for the right. The videos are hosted by conservative personalities; some, like Steve Forbes, Charles Krauthammer, and George Will, are mainstream establishment conservatives, while many others are culled from the more recent and more extreme and combative internet incarnation of conservatism: Ben Shapiro (of The Daily Wire, former Breitbart editor), Candace Owens (Kanye West influencer and vlogger behind “Red Pill Black”), Charlie Kirk (founder and head of Turning Point USA), Jordan Peterson (Canadian professor who recently called for “enforced monogamy”), James Damore (the former Google employee fired for crafting the infamous memo critical of the company’s diversity goals), Dave Rubin (host of the online Rubin Report, who has often featured guests from the racist “alt-right”), and others of their ilk.
While most of PragerU’s videos aren’t as logically deficient as the Southern Strategy presentation that Princeton’s Kruse demolished on Twitter, more than a few similarly function as dog whistles to the extreme right:
“Playing the Black Card,” hosted by Owens;
“The Suicide of Europe,” an anti-immigrant screed hosted by author Douglas Murray and promoted by the anti-immigrant hate website VDARE.com;
“Are the Police Racist,” hosted by Heather Mac Donald;
“Blacks in Power Don’t Empower Blacks,” hosted by Jason Riley;
“Are Some Cultures Better than Others” and “Is Fascism Right or Left,” both hosted by Dinesh D’Souza.
What’s the Gravel Institute?
At least part of the Gravel Institute’s stated mission is explicitly to counter PragerU’s propaganda:
The Gravel Institute, founded by former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel with some of the money remaining from his 2020 presidential run, has taken direct aim at PragerU. Like PragerU, they make short, easily digestible videos with left leaning hosts that should be familiar to their audiences. A recent trailer features the recognizable voice of comedian H. Jon Benjamin laying out their aims to combat PragerU specifically.
Although the Gravel Institute shared the image on March 12 2021 and a reasonable inference that it was a novel parody could be drawn, variations on the image existed at least as far back as January 12 2021 (this version on Reddit’s r/TheRightCantMeme):
One of the five comments on the post simply read “Obvious satire is obvious.” On January 12 2021, the image was shared to r/facepalm, and on January 11 2021, a version was shared to and deleted from r/SelfAwarewolves.
A reverse image search did not return any results earlier than the above-linked Reddit post; nothing in the Reddit post alluded to its origin or source, and that individual thread contained 1,131 comments. Several of the comments credited the subreddit r/ToiletPaperUSA (which parodies PragerU and similar entities) for the image, but we were initially unable to locate a version there.
Among comments was this:
It’s fake. Flair as satire or delete.
Another account in the thread linked to a January 11 2021 r/ToiletPaperUSA post titled “This is an actual screen-grab,” with the same image:
In a linked, stickied comment, a subreddit moderator explained that confusion over the authenticity of the post led to it being locked and deleted:
Not an actual screengrab
Edit: removed and locked because I don’t really want OP getting tons of karma off this fake post and I feel that some people won’t actually see the flair.
The image appeared to originate on r/ToiletPaperUSA (a subreddit for parodies of right-wing figures such as Ben Shapiro, TurningPointUSA, and PragerU), where it was locked and deleted due to improper labeling. Immediately thereafter, the image spread to other parts of Reddit (such as r/facepalm and r/TheRightCantMeme), also lacking any indication it was created to mock or satirize PragerU.
On March 12 2021, @GravelInstitute shared the PragerU “Leftist Logic: Racism = Bad” screenshot, commenting “Hmm…very good point.” From there, screenshots spread to Facebook, where readers largely appeared to take it at face value. Although the original was deleted, it appears to have first emerged on r/ToiletPaperUSA on January 11 2021, where it was subsequently locked and deleted because the original submitter failed to mark it as satire.