The most popular website for former vice president and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden takes a page out of the art of deception, according to a New York Times report Saturday.
Although JoeBiden.info appears to look like the former vice president’s official campaign page at first glance, it mocks the candidate with cringeworthy GIFs of Biden touching women and quotes of some of his famous verbal gaffes.
Buried in fine print at the bottom of the page is a note saying that the site is a “political commentary and parody” and “a project BY AN American citizen FOR American citizens” — but who, exactly, is the culprit?
The Times reports that his name is Patrick Mauldin and that he produced digital content for President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign. With his brother Ryan, Mauldin also runs the Austin-based Republican political consulting firm Vici Media Group whose website contains the line “We Kick” followed by the image of a donkey — the Democratic Party symbol that has another less family-friendly three-letter name.
JoeBiden.info was intended to help Democrats “face facts,” Mauldin told the Times. He said he left his name off of it because “people tend to dismiss things that they don’t like, especially if it comes from the opposite side.”
From when Mauldin first began promoting the website on Reddit in mid-March through the end of May, the site had more than 390,000 unique visitors, according to data compiled by web traffic analysis firm SimilarWeb. Biden’s official campaign website had an estimate of 310,000 unique visitors.
Mauldin claimed that the website wasn’t for the Trump campaign, and that he built and paid for it on his own. However, with the campaign knowing about the websites and doing nothing about them, suspicions were raised that the President’s re-election campaign condones a disinformation operation run by one of its own.
Although he didn’t directly address the issue, Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh told the Times that it was “great that talented supporters of President Trump use their time to help his re-election.”
“We appreciate their efforts in their own time with parodies like this that help the cause,” Murtaugh said.
According to two people familiar with the operation, 30-year-old Mauldin is seen as a “rising star” inside the campaign.
Biden spokesperson T.J. Ducklo said the campaign was aware of the fake website for months but that they hadn’t know who was behind it.
“Imagine our surprise that a site full of obvious disinformation is the handiwork of an operative tied to the Trump campaign,” Ducklo said.
Mauldin has also set up sites anonymously for three other Democratic candidates: “Millionaire Bernie” aimed at portraying Sanders as a greedy socialist; “Elizabeth Warren for Chief” mocking her Native American ancestry claim; and “Kamala Harris for Arresting the People” targeting her time as California’s top prosecutor.
But none have come close to the success of the Biden site, Mauldin said. Mauldin claims that the duping worked so well that some offered donations and others asked to volunteer.
“I don’t make any claims on the site to lean one way or the other,” Mauldin said. “Facts are not partisan.”
Read the full report in the New York Times here.