The insipid libertarian memes of COVID-19

Ryan Bohl
5 min readApr 18, 2020

What a time to be alive. The libertarian right is suddenly rediscovering their balls after years of watching the GOP’s steady entrenchment of presidential power under Trump. And their memes are here to tell you — tyranny is upon us!

Perhaps you’ve seen some of these floating around your social media newsfeed, or at least seen a version of them. You may ask, how do I know these are specifically libertarian memes? Well, like all memes, ownership is fluid — but I will say I did take them from popular posts in libertarian Facebook groups and Reddit. Even if the creators were not libertarian themselves (perhaps Russian?), the audiences sure ended up being so.

There are far too many memes to repudiate comprehensively, let alone in a Medium post, but I thought I’d grab a few recurrent ones I’ve seen. When given even a dash of scrutiny, the memes find themselves collapsing faster than Trump’s poll numbers.

The “I don’t know what quarantine means” meme

“Tyranny is when I have to do literally anything but what I feel like in the moment.”

America’s school system has failed again! This meme doesn’t know what “quarantine” means, and for some reason the creator didn’t bother to Google the dictionary definition. Quarantine is not just about sick people — it’s also about exposed people. Because COVID-19 is so virulent (with an r-nought of perhaps up to 5.7, meaning it’s super spreadable) and also often asymptomatic, we 1). have to assume it’s been spread a lot more than it has been and 2). a lot of people have it and we don’t know it.

Hence the widespread measures that look like quarantines — the public health strategy assumes that a lot of people have been exposed, and it’s so many that there is no viable neighborhood by neighborhood strategy, let alone an individual by individual one.

The meme also just totally ignores modern quarantine practices: immigrants and cargo crews coming into the United States are routinely quarantined if it’s believed they may have been exposed to some kind of infectious disease; often, the threshold is as simple as “Been anywhere near Ebola lately?” Many of them are healthy. Most of all, this has been standard practice since the word “quarantine” was invented in the 14th or 15th century.

At its core, quarantine is about individual rights — the rights of millions of people…

Ryan Bohl

Not hot takes on history, culture, geopolitics, politics, and occasional ghost stories. Please love me. (See also