Cult followings in support of people accused of violent crimes are popping up across TikTok and other social media platforms

Joe Exotic, Cameron Herrin, Hot Felon
24-year-old Cameron Herrin is the latest in a long line of criminals to gain a cult following online. State of Florida, TikTok, Stockton PD
  • Cameron Herrin was sentenced to 24 years in prison following the death of a mother and daughter.
  • He pled guilty to vehicular homicide in April, but has since gained a cult following on TikTok.
  • People accused or convicted of violent crimes have a history of going viral on social media.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A cult following developed for Cameron Herrin on TikTok after he was sentenced to 24 years in prison for the death of a mother and daughter.
Cameron herrin appearing in court, left image with mask on looking forward, and right image with mask pulled down and drinking water
Fans have posted millions of TikToks featuring Cameron Herrin, the 21-year-old who was sentenced to 24 years in prison for vehicular homicide. @b1noc/TikTok
In 2018, Herrin struck and killed a mother and daughter with his car while partaking in an illegal street race. 

Herrin was driving 100mph (161km/h) when he fatally hit 24-year-old Jessica Reisinger-Raubenolt and her 20-month-old daughter, Lillia while they were crossing the street in Tampa, Florida.

Herrin was given the 24-year sentence on April 8, 2021, but Fox News reported that the 24-year-old, who has two million followers on a TikTok account with no content, plans to appeal his sentence.

Since then, millions of TikTokers have been posting in support of his “freedom,” with the hashtag #justiceforcameron amassing over 26 million views. TikToks about Herrin have reached 2.2 billion views. One TikToker dubbed him “too cute” to be in prison.

As well as posting TikToks about Herrin, which usually involve footage of him crying or drinking water in court, Insider previously reported that several accounts dedicated to him have been made across Twitter and Instagram. 

While Herrin’s mother told the Tampa Bay Times that she appreciated the support at first, she said that it has started becoming “scary.”

She said that people appear to have developed an “unhealthy obsession” with her son which has led to them sending letters to her, calling in the middle of the night, and even doxxing Herrin’s fiance — a practice whereby people’s private contact information and address are leaked online.

Peter Manfredonia gained an “ironic” social media following while on the run from the FBI after being accused of murder.
Peter Manfredonia
Peter Manfredonia was the subject of several stan accounts after he was accused of double murder in 2020, but it seems the accounts were part of an elaborate prank. Connecticut State Police
As reported by Insider in May 2020, Peter Manfredonia went viral across social media platforms after his Instagram was flooded with ironic admiring comments and several mock “stan” accounts surfaced online.

Manfredonia, who was 23 at the time, was a University of Connecticut student who was on the run from the FBI after being accused of killing two men, assaulting a third, and abducting his first victim’s girlfriend, who was later found unharmed.

The online admiration appears to have begun after his parents issued a public appeal for Manfredonia to turn himself in.

After six days on the run, he was arrested and charged on May 28, 2o20 with the murders of Ted DeMers, 62, and Nicholas Eisele, 23 among other charges. He is currently being held in lieu of a $7 million bond.

While Malfredonia was on the run, a video showing all the mock-admiring comments he was receiving on his Instagram account went viral, with “fans” flooding the accused killer’s Instagram with comments like, “he’s just helping people go to heaven early ???????????????? so kind,” and “Don’t be shy shoot me????????????????.”

The accounts were believed to be a prank by fans of Nicki Minaj and controversial YouTuber Lovely Peaches. Insider reported that at least 10 social media “stan” pages related to Manfredonia were active at the time of the article’s publication on May 27, 2020.

Joe Exotic, who is serving a prison sentence for murder-for-hire and animal abuse, became a viral sensation after the release of the Netflix docu-series “Tiger King.”
Tiger king joe exotic
The documentary ‘Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness’ was released in March 2020 and became a huge hit. Netflix
Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage, who is better known as “Joe Exotic” or “The Tiger King,” became an unexpected social media personality after the Netflix documentary “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness” was released in March 2020.

According to Variety, the documentary had 64 million global viewers by April 2020, with the eccentricity of 58-year-old Maldonado-Passage leading to him becoming a viral meme across social media with his outlandish fashion sense and quotable lines like “I will never financially recover from this.” 

A big feature of “Tiger King” was Maldonado-Passage’s feud with fellow tiger enthusiast Carole Baskin, 60. According to the documentary, the feud led to Maldonado-Passage hiring two hitmen to murder Baskin, and he was arrested in 2018. 

He was sentenced to 22 years in prison in January 2020 for charges including murder-for-hire and animal abuse. However, his online fame has led to renewed interest in his case, with his fanbase, legal team, and private investigators — who he calls “Team Tiger” — all campaigning for his release. 

Maldonado-Passage’s popularity led to a belief that he would be pardoned, with a limo waiting outside the prison for him on the last day of Trump’s administration. While this didn’t happen, his sentence was reduced to 17 years in July, and Exotic has auctioned off various NFTs from behind bars.

Nicholas Cage was also reportedly set to play Joe Exotic in a limited series, although the project was later shelved.

Jeremy Meeks was dubbed “Hot Felon” when his mugshot was posted online by police following his arrest for felony weapon charges.
Hot felon jeremy meeks
Meeks’ mugshot led to him going viral in 2014, and later landing a modeling contract. Stockton Police Department
Jeremy Meeks, who was dubbed “Hot Felon” across social media and by news outlets after his mugshot went viral, was arrested on June 18, 2014 as part of “Operation Ceasefire,” a multi-agency law enforcement mission. Arrested for felony weapon charges, Meeks also had previous convictions including assaulting a 16-year-old when he was 18.

As part of the mission, his mugshot was posted Stockton Police Department’s Facebook page. Within 24 hours, Fox News reported that the image had received over 15,000 likes and nearly 4,000 comments. 

Two days later, the Twitter hashtag #feloncrushfriday went viral, and users proceeded to post mugshots of other criminals who they found attractive.

Meeks was convicted and sentenced to 27 months in prison for possession of a firearm, and signed a top modeling contract while in custody. Since his release in 2016, Meeks has walked New York Fashion Week, Milan Fashion Week and has collaborated with top fashion and fragrance brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Gizada Switzerland. 

He has also been in a $15 million partnership with fashion brand Fashion Concept GmbH since 2019, which led to him releasing his own clothing line in July 2020. 

 

Gypsy Rose Blanchard became a topic of online discussion after pleading guilty to the murder of her mother, who was suspected of living with Munchausen by proxy syndrome.
Gypsy rose blanchard
Gypsy’s story led to her gaining a devoted online following, which increased after the release of drama ‘The Act’ in 2019. HBO
Gypsy Rose Blanchard, who is currently serving a 10-year sentence, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, following the death of her mother, Dee Dee Blanchard, in 2016. Dee Dee was stabbed to death in June 2015 by Gypsy’s boyfriend at the time, Nicholas Godejohn, in a plan they constructed together. Godejohn was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Gypsy’s story has led to huge online fascination. Throughout her childhood, Dee Dee said that Gypsy had various physical ailments including brain damage, leukemia, asthma, and muscular dystrophy. However, doctors were unable to find any evidence of them, and Gypsy was later confirmed as being able to walk and not reliant on a wheelchair, as had been previously stated by her mother. According to Gypsy’s defense team, Dee Dee’s suspected Munchausen by proxy syndrome meant that Gypsy had faced a lifetime of abuse and isolation. 

Gypsy’s case went viral on social media following the release of Hulu series “The Act” in 2019, which told a dramatized version of Gypsy’s life and the murder of her mother. The critically-acclaimed series, which starred Joey King as Gypsy, led to an increased online fascination with the case.

An online petition campaigning for the release of Gypsy reached over 90,000 signatures in April 2019, while Insider found this week that several Facebook groups of up to 18,000 members have been created to discuss, support, and campaign for Gypsy and her case. 

Meanwhile, on TikTok, the tags #GypsyRose and #GypsyRoseBlanchard have 480.9 million and 109.6 million views respectively.

Serial killer Ted Bundy continues to spark online debate more than 45 years after his first arrest due to the release of biopics and docu-series about his life and crimes.
Ted Bundy
Ted Bundy’s popularity re-exploded after the release of a biopic with a Zac Efron playing Bundy as well as the release of several Netflix documentaries. Ted Bundy/Inside Edition
Ted Bundy was an American serial killer who kidnapped and killed at least 30 women during the 1970s. He was initially arrested in 1975, but after escaping prison twice and committing three more murders on the run, he was eventually recaptured in 1978 and was then executed in 1989.

He became a popular culture figure in 2019 following the release of a biopic entitled “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” starring Zac Efron as Bundy, and a four-part Netflix documentary entitled “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes.” 

The near-simultaneous release of these two titles along with the decision to cast teen heartthrob Efron as the serial killer led to an increased interest in Bundy, with several memes remarking on the killer’s looks and “thirsting” over him going viral.

The intense interest in Bundy’s looks and supposed charm even led to Netflix speaking out against fetishizing him, with its official Twitter account writing in late January, 2019, “I’ve seen a lot of talk about Ted Bundy’s alleged hotness and would like to gently remind everyone that there are literally THOUSANDS of hot men on the service — almost all of whom are not convicted, serial murderers.”

Although it has been two years since Bundy became a viral hit, he is still making an impact on social media and inspiring popular culture discourse. The #tedbundy tag on TikTok has nearly 500 million views, while the trailer of a new Ted Bundy biopic starring “One Tree Hill” Chad Michael Murray reignited discourse online about fetishizing serial killers on social media. 

For more stories like this, check out coverage from Insider’s Digital Culture team here.