Ratfucking is an American slang term for political sabotage or dirty tricks, particularly pertaining to elections. It was brought to public attention by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in the book which chronicled their investigative reporting of the Watergate affair, All the President's Men (1974).
Woodward and Bernstein's account in All the President's Men reports that many Republican staffers (Donald Segretti, White House aide Tim Elbourne, Ronald Louis Ziegler, H. R. Haldeman, and Dwight Chapin) had attended the University of Southern California and participated in the highly competitive student elections there. UPI reporter Karlyn Barker sent Woodward and Bernstein a memo, "Notes On the USC Crowd", that outlined the connection. Fraternities, sororities, and underground fraternal coordinating organizations—such as Theta Nu Epsilon and their splintered rival "Trojans for Representative Government"—engaged in creative tricks and underhanded tactics to win student elections. Officially, control over minor funding and decision-making on campus life was at stake, but the positions also gave bragging rights and prestige. The tactics were either promoted by or garnered the interest of major political figures on the USC board of trustees, such as Dean Rusk and John A. McCone. The young operators called these practices ratfucking.
In August 2017, journalist Marcy Wheeler received the disapproval of the Federal Communications Commission when she used the term in a radio broadcast. Wheeler maintained that the word has become a term of art in political science and is thus not an obscenity; FCC officials disagreed.
A more benign use of the term "ratfucking" was commonplace in Southern California (and possibly other) college slang from the late 1950s to at least the early 1960s, meaning a prank. Around that time, Tony Auth was the cartoonist for the Daily Bruin. One of his cartoons showed a large, inebriated rat suggesting to another rat, "Let's go PF-ing tonight!", a play on ratfucking or "RF-ing". The lead story in the January 6, 1961, California Tech, Caltech's student newspaper, was headlined, "Tech Scores First Televised RF". The article chronicled the Great Rose Bowl Hoax, which had just taken place. A political context was irrelevant to such usage. At the end of the article, an Editor's Note both explained and bowdlerized: "RF (for Royal Flush) is a contemporary college colloquialism for a clever prank."
The term ratfucking (rat in this case is shorthand for ration) is a slang term used by U.S. military personnel to mean the targeted pillaging of MREs (Meals, Ready-To-Eat), which the U.S. military calls "field stripping". It refers to the process of opening a case of MREs, which are packed 12 in a box, opening up individual MRE packages, removing the desired items (generally M&M's and other sweets), and leaving the unenticing remainder.
On May 23, 2019, Svetlana Lokhova filed a claim in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia against Stefan Halper, claiming that "Stefan Halper is a ratfucker and a spy" with a footnote that "Ratfucking" is a well-known political term.
After the results of the 2020 presidential election were called for Joe Biden and Donald Trump refused to concede, John Oliver, host of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, said on one of his shows following the set up of the Trump voter fraud hotline that "a political term for election shenanigans is rat[s fucking]. So if you, say, happen to have any access to images of Pennsylvania-based rats fucking, it's frankly your patriotic duty to send them to the Trump campaign straight away." While saying this, Oliver displayed an image of rats engaged in sexual intercourse and the online link to the voter fraud hotline's website.
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The process of tearing through an MRE and picking out the goodies is called "ratfucking". Colbert's team maintains a ratfuck bag in their Humvee for all the discarded MRE entrées, saving them for a rainy day.
- Josh Gerstein (May 24, 2019). "Intelligence scholar sues Cambridge academic, U.S. news outlets over reports on Flynn links". Politico.com. Retrieved 2019-05-24.
- Election Results 2020: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO), retrieved 2021-12-19