While no evidence corroborated or disproved the claim, it is noteworthy that only one political faction was circulating it.
In summer 2021, numerous Snopes readers asked us to investigate the legitimacy of tabloid stories accusing Hunter Biden, the son of U.S. President Joe Biden, of using the N-word repeatedly in text conversations with his lawyer.
The phrase #RacistHunter was a trending Twitter topic at the time, with participants attempting to frame journalists' unwillingness to report on the alleged text messages as evidence of their bias against American conservatives.
Here's what we know about the claim, as well as our rationale for considering it "Unproven."
Where the 'N-Word' Rumor Originated
The rumor stemmed from a June 8 article published by the Daily Mail.
That story included screenshots (displayed above and supposedly edited to partially blur the offensive term) in which Hunter Biden, who is white, supposedly used the N-word with a soft "r" to refer to his lawyer — who, according to the tabloid, is also white.
According to the story, Hunter Biden and his attorney, George Mesires, allegedly exchanged the following words in December 2018:
Biden: How much money do I owe you
Biden: Because n***a you better not be charging me Hennessy rates
Mesires: That made me snarf my coffee
Additionally, the Daily Mail claimed about one month later, Hunter Biden said "OMG n***a" and "True dat n***a" to Mesires, among other messages.
The tabloid claimed to have uncovered the evidence from a laptop's hard drive that supposedly once belonged to Hunter Biden and allegedly contained a range of evidence detailing the family's shady business dealings and messy personal lives.
Just weeks before the 2020 presidential election, a lawyer for Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump's closest associates, told Snopes that the owner of a Delaware computer repair shop gave them a copy of the hard drive in September 2020. (See here for a more detailed explanation of the laptop saga.) Then, Giuliani's party apparently handed over the digital evidence to the New York Post for mass distribution.
Aside from the alleged texts, the hard drive supposedly included emails outlining Hunter Biden’s correspondence with Ukraine officials involving his dad, as well as pornographic images of the younger Biden with sex workers (see our fact check into the latter claim here).
Over the course of months, venues including the Daily Mail, the New York Post, Breitbart, the Washington Examiner, The Federalist, and Fox News framed the laptop as a "smoking gun" to irreversibly damage the Bidens' reputations, while others believed the stories raised more questions than answers.
With that said, it was unknown how — or under what circumstances — the Daily Mail apparently gained access to the alleged text messages, as well as why it was highlighting them in summer 2021. We reached out to the publication for answers to those questions, and a spokesperson declined to comment, instead referring us to this April 2021 story. (That story explained how the Daily Mail said it hired a firm, Maryman & Associates, to examine the contents of the hard drive. That analysis, according to the Daily Mail, concluded "the data on the system before April 2019 appears to be related to Mr. Biden" and the "operating system timestamps appear to be authentic, and no evidence was found to suggest that [they] were altered or manufactured.")
Credible journalists strive to only report facts that are demonstrably true.
So more plausible than a scheme on behalf of reputable news outlets to purposefully ignore the alleged texts (all in an effort to supposedly help the Bidens) was the straightforward explanation that no evidence existed to confirm or disprove whether the conversation actually took place.
There was no conclusive evidence that the controversial laptop ever belonged to Hunter Biden, nor is there any proof that the screenshots published by the Daily Mail authentically showed his text messages, aside from the Daily Mail's reports alleging otherwise. The circumstances under which certain news venues apparently obtained the alleged evidence were questionable.
Mesires, however, was indeed Hunter Biden's lawyer. We reached out to him for his response to the tabloid article. We have not yet received a response from him, but we will update this report when, or if, that changes.
Also, Snopes also attempted to contact Hunter Biden, or another representative of the family, via official White House channels. We haven't gotten a response. (Aside from passing comments during an April CBS interview, the family has remained mostly silent on rumors about the alleged laptop.)
Ultimately, the rumor about Biden using the offensive term in texts had traits often indicative of misinformation, but until we hear back from someone directly involved (such as Mesires), we cannot give it a standard Snopes truth rating.
Additionally, it should be noted: Only one political faction fixated on the rumor, and, while the claim pertained to alleged offensive conduct on the part of a public figure, anti-racism advocacy organizations had not commented on the Biden's purported behavior.
The summer 2021 rumor was not the first to accuse a member of the Biden family of using the racial slur. See our fact checks into Joe Biden's comments at a 1985 Senate Judiciary Committee meeting here, and a 2021 virtual event to discuss international security policies here.