Rick Melby, a retired construction worker from Wyoming, considers the US president a traitor to his country.
“Joe Biden sold us out – he sold our oil to China and just for his son to benefit,” he told the Financial Times from the shade of a back porch.
Melby’s anger stems from a conspiracy theory involving the recent release of US oil from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
The story, which has gained momentum in right-wing circles over the past two weeks, is largely based on a misinterpretation of American oil policy. It’s also symptomatic of a growing conservative fixation on one figure: Hunter, Joe Biden’s son.
Hunter Biden has been at the center of Republican attacks since the 2020 election, when former President Donald Trump repeatedly targeted his rival’s son for his foreign business dealings.
An analysis for the FT by media monitoring firm Critical Mention shows that Hunter Biden has been mentioned on Fox News nearly 9,000 times over the past two years. That’s almost double the number of mentions for Hillary Clinton, a former hotbed for the conservative news channel.
Over the past few weeks, the focus on Hunter Biden, who declined to comment for this story, has intensified.
Republicans have accused the president of prioritizing electric vehicles because an investment firm founded by his son helped a Chinese conglomerate buy a company that mines cobalt, a crucial ingredient in electric car batteries. Hunter Biden was not involved with the company at the time and Democratic officials stress that promoting electric vehicles is a long-term policy with broad support across the party.
Asked recently about passing gun control measures, Ron Johnson, the Republican Senator from Wisconsin, replied, “Before we pass anything new, let’s enforce the laws we already have. Let’s start with Hunter Biden.
Fox News host Jeanine Pirro presents a four-part documentary titled Who is Hunter Biden? which promises to delve into the “unbalanced” life of the president’s son.
Certain aspects of Hunter Biden’s life make him an obvious target for political attack.
In 2014, he took a lucrative position on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma. Trump later alleged that this was what prompted then-Vice President Joe Biden to push in 2016 for the firing of Ukrainian Attorney General Viktor Shokin, who claimed he was removed from office because he was investigating the company. The president said his efforts were part of a wider international campaign to oust Shokin because he was reluctant to pursue anti-corruption cases.
Trump’s push for Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian president, to investigate the matter led to his first impeachment. But the question has also fueled broader conservative suspicion about Hunter Biden’s international business dealings.
Further details of these activities were found in documents obtained from a hard drive in a laptop that Hunter once owned. The New York Post was suspended from Twitter for reporting the contents of documents on the grounds that they were unverified, sparking conservative allegations of censorship. The documents have since been more widely reported as other outlets have authenticated them.
Hunter Biden is being investigated by the Justice Department over his business interests, but has not been charged with a crime and denies any wrongdoing. He has also spoken openly about his drug and alcohol issues and was accused by his ex-wife of infidelity, which she says played a role in their breakup and divorce.
He has previously said he displayed a “lack of judgment” in his business dealings in China and Ukraine, which exposed his father to political attack. But he denied doing anything wrong.
While many conservatives are convinced of a massive cover-up, Democratic strategists say the recent focus on the president’s son is largely about this year’s midterm elections.
“It’s no surprise the right is focusing on Hunter again now – they’re desperate to find something to excite their supporters in November,” a Democratic strategist said.
The story that angered Melby, the retired construction worker, has its roots in the Biden administration’s recent decision to release about 180 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in a bid to lower global oil prices and curb runaway inflation.
Under US law, the government must accept the highest bids for oil from any unsanctioned company, and in April this included an offer of 950,000 barrels from Unipec, a subsidiary of Chinese state oil company Sinopec. .
Hunter Biden has previously had business dealings with Sinopec, although he was not an employee of the company. This led the conservative Federalist to publish an article titled “Biden sold oil from emergency reserves to Chinese gas giant linked to his scandal-ridden son.”
It sparked a flurry of tweets from Republican members of Congress, including a call from Trump ally Marjorie Taylor Greene for the president’s impeachment.
The issue made its way into the election campaign. In Wyoming, Melby nodded in agreement as Harriet Hageman, the Trump-endorsed candidate for the state House of Representatives seat, called for a congressional investigation into Hunter Biden and the barrels of oil.
During a campaign stop in the small town of Pinedale, Hageman told his supporters: “We are finding out an awful lot about Hunter Biden – including the fact that a million barrels of our oil were sent to China via the company he worked for. .”
Pollsters say, however, that if such messages ring with loyal Trump supporters, they are unlikely to gain much traction with the broader electorate.
In an April poll by Morning Consult, only 28% of voters said a congressional investigation of Hunter Biden should be a top priority, including only half of Republican voters.
Frank Luntz, the Republican pollster, said, “I ask people what the biggest problem in America is and Hunter Biden doesn’t even rank in the top 10.”
“Some people don’t like their president [Trump] was held responsible [by being impeached and losing office] and so they bring their hostility to the child of his successor.