In mid-December 2020, a copy-pasted ("copypasta") meme spread on social media platforms warning "patriots" that U.S. President Donald Trump was about to "tactically" implement elements of an executive order on election security signed in 2018, telling them to have weapons "at the ready":
The meme is an example of copypasta, a term that refers to blocks of text that go viral when social media users share them by copying and pasting them forward.
The incendiary meme appears to reference an executive order signed by Trump on Sept. 12, 2018, ahead of the midterm elections. The meme claimed that Trump was to implement parts of the order at some point between Dec. 18 and Dec. 24, 2020.
Here is a portion of the text:
This will freeze the money and assets of people and entities to include Facebook, Twitter, the Fake News Corp, AND Chinese U.S. financial accounts. Be prepared to assist the National Guard and the military commands in defense of Our nation. Make sure that you have your weapons at the ready. But DO NOT interfere with the operations of the military. During this time, local law enforcement will have no authority. So, assemble small Patriot teams to patrol and secure your own and surrounding neighbors
Trump's 2018 executive order has nothing to do with military or National Guard deployment domestically, nor does it mention the broad suspension of financial assets of social media platforms and "Chinese U.S. financial accounts." The meme appears to actually be referencing extreme calls by some of Trump's supporters, echoing his false claims that the November 2020 election was beset by mass-scale fraud and advocating that Trump impose martial law in response.
The 2018 executive order — signed less than a month before the 2018 midterm elections — was meant as a deterrent against foreign election interference. The order stated that the Trump administration was ready to implement sanctions against any foreign entity that interfered in the election process.
It's noteworthy that the order was signed ahead of the first national election since 2016, during which the Russian government interfered in an effort to sow chaos in the U.S. and help Trump's electoral efforts. Trump was under political pressure at that time to stem similar interference in 2018.
Notably, Facebook and Twitter are American companies, not foreign entities. It's unclear to us what exactly "Fake News Corp" refers to, but unsurprisingly, no such company exists. Sanctions can't be imposed on a fictional entity.
The 2018 executive order relies on various department heads to make determinations about foreign election interference and potential sanctions — in other words, it doesn't give Trump unilateral authority to take action.
For example, it gives the director of national intelligence 45 days to determine whether foreign interference in an election had occurred, at which point the assessment must be delivered to "the President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of Homeland Security."
After further consultation between these department heads, the executive order then leaves the secretary of treasury, who is currently Steve Mnuchin, to lead in the implementation of economic sanctions. The departments of Treasury and State would then assess whether additional sanctions were necessary and present their findings to the White House.
The copypasta meme appears to be inflammatory fear mongering that plays on a disinformation campaign carried out by Trump and his supporters that the election was stolen by way of a massive-fraud conspiracy. Trump's own U.S. Department of Homeland Security debunked this conspiracy theory by stating that the November 2020 election was in fact "the most secure in American history."