I didn't expect the far right to like Barack Obama's official portrait, painted by the groundbreaking artist Kehinde Wiley, but I didn't expect the disdain for it to be so sexually charged, which is perhaps a testament how naïve I am. “Obama's portrait—a stark contrast to predecessors with inappropriate sexual innuendo,” Sean Hannity wrote on Tuesday in a now-deleted tweet that linked to an equally batshit article on his website.
Hannity's Obama official portrait sex blog, authored by "Hannity Staff," has since been removed, but lives on forever on the Internet Archive. Headlined "PORTRAIT PERVERSION: Obama Portrait Features ‘SECRET SPERM,’ Artist Joked About ‘Killing Whitey,’" the article suggested that Wiley included "secret sperm cells" in the presidential portrait, a conspiracy theory that unsurprisingly seems to have originated on 4chan. The "secret sperm" in question is actually just a depiction of a prominent vein the former president has on his forehead, although it is true that Wiley's past work has included sperm cells.
Hannity said in a statement, "Earlier today my web staff posted content that was not reviewed by me before publication. It does not reflect my voice and message and, therefore, I had it taken down." But he was not the only one in the conservative media to fixate on the alleged secret sexuality of Obama's official portrait.
The Daily Caller published an article headlined, "Obama’s Painter Has Long ‘Predatory,’ ‘Perverse’ History Of Sneaking Sperm Into Paintings." The libertarian-ish weirdo blog ZeroHedge mused, "Did The Bigot Who 'Painted' Obama's Portrait Stick A Giant Sperm On His Forehead?" Breitbart zeroed in Obama's comments about Michelle's portrait, headlining a post, "Obama Thanks Artist for Capturing Michelle’s ‘Hotness’ in Official Portrait." Not to be outdone, InfoWars ran a piece with the subheadline, "Obama bukkake: Artwork is symbolic of how world leaders treated former president."
Jerome Corsi, another InfoWarrior, had more to say about all the sex things he saw in Obama's official portrait. Buckle up:
It’s a reference to the loss of virginity in terms of a physical sense. It’s a very physical reference to loss of virginity… This whole elite globalist pedophilia is a major theme that Q [a random 8chan poster some on the right think is a Trump official] continues to remind us underlies a lot of these globalists that we are dealing with. The fact that they are sitting on flowers and the deflowering could be easily an image of the pedophilia that they’re engaging in or the slavery pedophilia, you know, tend your gardens everybody, their slave gardens.
You'd have to ask a psychologist about the impulse to see a painting of Obama and immediately think about jizz, pedophilia, and losing your virginity, but as ThinkProgress pointed out, "The suggestion that Obama’s portrait—a portrait of the first Black U.S. president—is somehow sexually perverse also plays on a racist trope that suggests Black men are naturally inclined to be sexual predators."
This certainly isn't first time we've seen the right-wing obsession with Obama's sexuality. Corsi, unsurprisingly, was one of the many right wingers who spread false rumors that Obama was gay during his presidency. Breitbart has claimed that the Obama administration thought ten-year-olds were "ready for sex," and Infowars has run multiple articles wondering whether Michelle Obama is secretly transgender. This genre of wild, unfounded conspiracy theory became such a meme that it became a joke: In 2012, FOX News host Greg Gutfeld cracked that "Obama is now out of the closet... he's officially gay for class warfare." As former Bush speechwriter David Frum explained at the time:
You cannot ‘get’ Gutfeld’s joke unless you ‘get’ that a large part of his audience ardently believes that Obama is in fact gay, that his marriage is a sham, and that Mrs. Obama leads a life of Marie Antoinette–like extravagance to compensate for her husband’s neglect while he disports himself with his personal aides.
Funnily enough, in 2016, Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, accused Obama's administration of "interject[ing] sex into any and everything" (which was to blame, in his mind for government employees viewing child porn) but throughout his time in the Oval Office, it's pretty clear that his opponents were consumed with fantasies about Obama's sex life.
In 2009, FOX & Friends falsely accused Obama of ogling the backside of a 17-year-old girl. In 2011, WorldNetDaily columnist Jack Cashill suggested that in his youth, poet Frank Marshall Davis was "plying the underage Obama with alcohol and quite possibly sex." In 2015, WND also suggested that the Obamas faked their wedding and wondered why "no one who ever dated him has shown up."
"The charisma that caused women to be drawn to him so strongly during his campaign certainly would, in the normal course of events, lead some lady to come forward, if only to garner some attention for herself," Bradlee Dean wrote on WND in a 2015 article about Obama's secret life or whatever. "It’s so odd that not one lady has stepped up and said, 'He was soo shy' or 'What a great dancer.'"
The website Defend The Family penned a 2013 article headlined, "Obama was a ‘gay’ teen favored by older white sugar-daddies.” The same year, WND asked whether Obama wants to infect Americans with HIV. In 2014, a French newspaper alleged that Obama and Beyoncé were having a secret affair. Alex Jones has also claimed Obama's mother was a CIA "sex operative" and that Obama had homosexual relations with his former chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel.
In a sense, I empathize with the curiosity about Obama's sex life—as I've said before, he may be the hottest president of all time, so it's only natural to think about him in more intimate contexts. Near the beginning of his first term, the New York Times ran an opinion piece about the apparent trend among liberals of fantasizing about banging him, or just sort of being involved in the Obama family's life. But the right's enduring fixation on Obama and sex—its impulse to find the secret sexuality in innocuous things the former president does, the insistence that there's something wrong or hidden about his sexuality—is ironic considering the current president has allegedly had multiple extramarital affairs and been accused of sexually assaulting or harassing more than a dozen women.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Eve Peyser on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on VICE US.