In July 2021, we received several inquiries from Snopes readers regarding remarks that U.S. President Joe Biden made about baseless QAnon-related conspiracy theories which posit that Democrats and political progressives, as a group, "suck the blood of children."
During a CNN townhall event in Cincinnati, Ohio on July 21, host Don Lemon asked Biden about the partisan rancor surrounding efforts by congressional Democrats to set up an inquiry into the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, and struck a pessimistic note about the broader prospects of bipartisan collaboration, asking Biden: "If Republicans and Democrats can’t come together — right? — to investigate the biggest attack on our Capitol in 200 years, what makes you think that they can come together on anything?"
In response, Biden spoke about misinformation around the events at the Capitol on Jan. 6, and the role of misinformation and conspiracy theories in deepening mutual misunderstanding and conflict between Democrats and Republicans in the United States. A video of the exchange can be watched below, but the following is an edited transcript of Biden's response:
The fact is, you can’t look at that television and say, “Nothing happened on the 6th.” You can’t listen to people who say this was a “peaceful march.” ...I’ve been through the other end of this when the Democrats, 35 years ago, were way off to the other side.
...I have faith in the American people — I really do — to ultimately get to the right place. And, by the way, many times Republicans are in the right place. I don’t mean that the Repub- — that it’s always the Democratic point of view.
But some of the stuff — I mean, QAnon: The idea that the Democrats or that Biden is hiding people and sucking the blood of children and — no, I’m serious. That’s — Now, you may not like me, and that’s your right... But the kinds of things that are being said of late, I think you’re beginning to see some of the — and both — and by Democrats as well — sort of the venom get — sort of — sort of leak out a lot of it. We got to get beyond this.
Biden was referring to a set of false claims, linked to the QAnon cluster of conspiracy theories, that "globalist elites" including Biden, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and other prominent figures in progressive politics, the news media, and the Democratic party, engage in mass satanic ritual child abuse, including drinking the blood of children. Such claims are utterly false.
During the 2020 presidential election campaign, followers of those theories predominantly supported outgoing President Donald Trump, whom they largely viewed as a tacit supporter or even leader of their (QAnon's) movement, and vehemently opposed Biden, whom they viewed as either complicit, or an active participant in, the nonexistent liberal conspiracy of child sacrifice.
In context, then, the sense of Biden's remarks at the CNN townhall in July 2021 was clear, and he was making the perfectly uncontroversial point that while he strongly supports bipartisan collaboration on important matters of policy and procedure, such collaboration is made much more difficult in light of what he regards as misinformation and disagreement about basic facts — for example, in relation to the events of Jan. 6 — and the fact that a non-trivial cohort of those who typically vote for Republican House and Senate candidates, believe Biden and other Democrats are engaged in the worst kind of ritual child abuse imaginable.
Biden made another reference to the "drinking children's blood" theory, while speaking to reporters upon his return to the White House after the CNN townhall on July 21. Shelby Talcott, from the right-wing Daily Caller website, asked Biden about the Democratic position on police reform and the "defund the police" movement.
It's important to note that Biden has long since repeatedly clarified that he opposes efforts to "defund the police," and prominent congressional Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have also pushed back against that movement, popular among some left-wing activists within the Democratic coalition.
A video of the brief exchange between Talcott and Biden can be viewed here. Below is a transcript:
Talcott: Mr. President, can you clarify what you said about no — that there’s no — no one in the Democratic Party is anti-police?
Biden: I didn’t say that.
Talcott: I know that you said you don’t want to defund the police —
Biden: I said that that — that is not the Democratic Party’s position.
Biden: I’m the Democratic Party; I am President. So is the Speaker of the House and so is the –- the Majority Leader. We are not the defunding the police.
Talcott: Okay. And are there people who — in the Democratic Party, who want to defund the police?
Biden: Are there people in the Republican Party who think we’re sucking the blood out of kids?
Talcott: I'm not sure...
Biden: [Laughs and walks away].
In context, the sense of Biden's remarks was again clear in this second instance. After Biden made it clear that he and other leaders within the Democratic Party are opposed to defunding the police, Talcott again asked whether some people within the party favored that policy.
Biden retorted by asking whether some people within the Republican Party supported the belief that Biden and other Democrats were engaged in child blood harvesting, making the point that controversial views among some party members was not the sole province of the Democrats, and also that those prevalent on the fringes of the GOP were much more destructive and outrageous. One can dispute the accuracy of that argument, but the point being made by Biden was clear and, in itself, coherent.
Despite this context, and despite the fact that "child sacrifice," ritual child abuse, and "blood harvesting" theories were a highly publicized and widely reported fringe feature of the 2020 presidential election (Trump himself even promoted the false claim that Biden was a pedophile), several right-wing commentators expressed apparent bafflement at Biden's references to "sucking the blood of children," and some described the president as being "obsessed" with the subject, thus passively promoting the underlying conspiracy theory of Biden's personal involvement in child sacrifice.
'Perhaps His Answer Is Part of Some Weird Fantasy'
For example, on July 23 the right-wing, pro-Trump commentator Benny Johnson, a known source of politically-motivated disinformation, posted a video to Facebook with the headline "Biden rants about sucking children's blood at the White House," a formulation of words which could quite foreseeably promote the outrageous conspiracy itself, because it conspicuously did not make clear that Biden was referring critically to the belief in the conspiracy theory, among some Republicans, rather than "ranting about sucking children's blood" itself.
The video was also accompanied by a mocked-up photograph of Biden with vampire fangs:
Johnson said the president's exchange with Talcott was evidence that he is "clinically unwell," but speculated he may have been referring to "some fringe QAnon conspiracy theory that no one's ever heard of," even though it was widely reported during the 2020 presidential election campaign, and evidently well known enough for Johnson himself to quickly make the obvious connection, which was made even more obvious by the fact that, earlier that same evening, Biden had already explicitly referred to it as a "QAnon" theory.
Similarly, former Trump campaign attorney Jenna Ellis tweeted out a video clip from the exchange with Talcott, along with the text: "Anyone else concerned how obsessed Joe Biden is with sucking blood out of kids?"
Again, this characterization grossly misrepresented the fact that Biden was, for the second time in one evening, citing the existence of a right-wing conspiracy theory about child sacrifice to make a broader point about the difficulties of bipartisan consensus, rather than articulating a personal fixation on the fictional practice of blood harvesting itself. By reframing Biden's remarks in this way, and describing him as "obsessed," Ellis' tweet likely served to further promulgate the underlying conspiracy theory, namely that Biden himself is personally involved in drinking children's blood.
Likewise, the conservative website Red State called Biden's remarks "creepy" and speculated: "Perhaps his answer is part of some weird fantasy he’s been suppressing..."
If, at first glance, Biden's remarks appeared odd, that's because the conspiracy theory to which he was referring is, itself, exceedingly weird. In bringing it up on July 21, Biden was highlighting a real, widely known and highly publicized conspiracy theory, popular among a vocal cohort of right-wing Americans and supporters of Trump, as an example of the kind of rhetorical excesses that have taken root among sections of the right in recent years, as well as an inflammatory set of allegations that, for obvious reasons, has the potential to constitute a two-way obstacle to bipartisan cooperation.
Any response or commentary that expresses bafflement or concern about the sense of Biden's remarks must therefore be indicative of either blatant intellectual dishonesty, or an unfortunate lack of basic knowledge about political rhetoric in the United States in the past few years.
Finally, Snopes itself was caught up in the wave of reactions to Biden's remarks. On July 23, Kyle Mann, editor-in-chief of the self-described satirical website the Babylon Bee, tweeted out what appeared to be a screenshot from a Snopes fact check of the claim "Do Democrats suck the blood of children?" along with the rating "Mostly False."
Mann added: "Well that's a relief," with the point being that any rating other than "False" would seem to imply there was, rather worryingly, an element of truth to the claim that Democrats "suck the blood of children":
Of course, the screenshot was entirely bogus, and there is not an iota of truth to that claim. Snopes had not published any such fact check at the time Mann posted his tweet, and this fact check carries an unequivocal rating of "False."