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5 criminals linked to famous memes

Jeremy Meeks attends the opening ceremony at the 72nd Cannes Film Festival in 2019
Image: 'Hot Felon' Jeremy Meeks went viral after his mugshot was posted online | Andrea Raffin /

The internet is a hotbed for viral content, and it doesn’t take long for a photo or video to become a global sensation. The phenomenon is called a meme and often materialises overnight.

Oxford Languages defines a meme as the following:

'An image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by internet users, often with slight variations.'

But did you know that some memes are underpinned by darker backstories, or end in handcuffs and jail time for their stars? From ‘The Dress That Broke the Internet’ to the ‘Tough Guy Entrance’, read on to find out more about the not-so-innocent side of memes.

1. The Dress That Broke the Internet

Black and blue or white and gold? This is the question that divided the internet in 2015 when an image of a dress became a controversial meme. The photo was originally snapped by Cecilia Bleasdale, the mother of bride-to-be Grace Bleasdale, who was engaged to a man called Keir Johnston at the time. After attracting the attention of everyone from Justin Bieber and Katy Perry to Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, the outfit was crowned ‘The Dress That Broke the Internet’.

The wedding went ahead. However, in a chilling turn of events, Keir was later summoned to the High Court in Glasgow where he admitted to attacking and strangling his wife. Crown prosecutor Chris MacIntosh told the court, '[Grace] feared for her life and believed Johnston intended to kill her as he was very forceful.'

Johnston was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison for the violent assault.

2. Kai the Hatchet-Wielding Hitchhiker

Kai, whose real name is Caleb Lawrence McGillvary, shot to fame in 2013 after a video captured him using a hatchet to save a woman from an attacker. The Canadian’s eccentric personality and memorable catchphrase, ‘smash, smash, SUH-MASH!’, turned him into an internet hero.

However, his story pivoted in 2019 when he was convicted of first-degree murder for the death of New Jersey lawyer, Joseph Galfy. McGillvary claimed self-defence, but the jury found him guilty, and he was sentenced to 57 years in prison.

3. Hot Felon

Jeremy Meeks went viral in 2014 when the internet went wild for his piercing blue eyes and chiselled cheekbones. The mugshot, which was posted on Facebook by American police, earned him the moniker ‘Hot Felon’ and ultimately led to a lucrative career in modelling and entertainment.

Following his release from Mendota Federal Correctional Institution, where he served time for gun possession, grand theft and gang activity, Meeks capitalised on his fame. He went on to walk runways, shoot magazine campaigns and even launched his own fashion line. He's also appeared in several movies and released an autobiographical book, Model Citizen. The title is a nod to his charity work, which includes mentoring young offenders and working on projects designed to help incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals.

His Instagram account now has more than 1.5 million followers who can’t get enough of the ‘Hot Felon’ turned altruist.

4. Tough Guy Entrance

In 2019, a video of French criminal Jawad Bendaoud entering a courtroom caused internet uproar. The video captured Bendaoud arriving at his sentencing hearing after being convicted of sheltering a pair of jihadists involved in the 2015 Paris Terrorist Attacks. It was dubbed the ‘Tough Guy Entrance’ and gained more than 200 million views on Twitter.

Despite receiving a huge amount of attention, many criticised the meme for glorifying the criminals involved in a terror attack that killed 130 people and injured hundreds more.

5. Cuba Gooding Jr.’s Perp Walk

While not a meme in the traditional sense, images of actor Cuba Gooding Jr.'s ‘perp walk’ became widely shared online in 2019. Gooding, known for his roles in films like Jerry Maguire, was filmed being led out of court by police after being charged with forcibly touching a woman.

Despite being frogmarched in handcuffs, the actor emerged smirking. Gooding’s smug attitude sparked debate over the contrast between the celebrated meme and the seriousness of his offence.