One of the challenges of observing internet commentary is that it is often hard to tell whether a person is serious or trolling or stupid or delusional or some mixture of the four. People say things online that make no sense, and you, the observer, have to figure out if it is worth your time to deconstruct them. Just as others consider your observations and engage in the same calculus. People certainly need to do that with many of mine.
So I will admit that I am not sure how seriously to take any claim that Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) has somehow been replaced by a body double. It’s out there in the ether, as are so many other weird things, but in an era where a guy might show up at a pizza joint with a rifle to liberate imaginary child prisoners, we must entertain the idea that, to at least some extent, they might be serious. Semafor’s Dave Weigel notes that this particular conspiracy theory may be linked to Fetterman’s continued improvement after suffering a stroke in 2022, but it may also just be conspiracy theorists conspiracy theorizing, which they do.
But I will say this: There are not very many people in the United States for whom it would be more difficult to obtain a body double than John Karl Fetterman.
John Fetterman is a very large dude. He’s either 6 feet 8 inches or 6 feet 9 inches tall, depending on the source of information you use. But it doesn’t really matter for our purposes; pretty much anything over 6 feet 6 inches is exceptionally tall in the United States.
We can see that in data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Data from the survey of more than 15,000 Americans completed before the coronavirus pandemic gives us a sense of how heights are distributed. At far right is the column for “anything taller than 6 feet 5 inches,” and it constitutes only a fraction of a percent of the population.
In part because Fetterman is so tall, he is also heavy. A few years ago, concerned about his weight, he lost 148 pounds. About a third of the country doesn’t even weigh 148 pounds, according to the CDC data. But now Fetterman stands at a svelte 270 pounds or so, placing him very much on the heavier side of the population.
Of course, most heavier Americans stand well under 6 feet in height. That’s the thing about swapping out Fetterman for someone of the same size: You’ve got to match both dimensions.
How common is that? Well, in the CDC data, there’s no one who landed at more than 6 feet 5 inches and was 270 pounds. The graph below shows the frequency of height-weight combinations (with weights of 50 pounds and under combined in the top row). Darker boxes indicate a greater percentage of the population at that combination. The box representing Fetterman’s combination is empty.
This is a challenge of sampling the population, of course — you’re not going to be able to accommodate every outlier.
But this isn’t even the only problem. To replace Fetterman, you not only have to find a tall guy who weighs 270 pounds. You’ve also got to find one who looks like Fetterman.
The good news for these mysterious schemers — whoever they might be; this is another flaw with the idea — is that Fetterman is a man. Men tend to be taller than women, as you know, and the tallest people in the CDC data were men.
But you also need a White man, and probably a White man in his 50s (as Fetterman is). I suppose if you’re invested in replacing a U.S. senator with an impostor, you can spring for some advanced prostheses and so on. Just depends on how much you’re willing to spend.
There is one other consideration, of course: You don’t necessarily need someone who comes in at 6 feet 9 and 270 pounds on the dot. You could get away with a 6-feet-8-inch guy, probably, and maybe someone closer to 300. Of course, that would only really work if you could dress him in loose clothes, such as sweatshirts and gym shorts, but they don’t let that attire on the floor of the Sen—
Wait a minute. Just how deep does this go?