Meme-turned-hate icon killed off

Safya Khan-Ruf - 09 05 17

Pepe the Frog is being retired, says its creator, after becoming a hate symbol co-opted by the alt-right.

The popular meme is being used as a mascot for the group to spread racist and anti-Semitic content online.

Far-right internet users have depicted the original slacker frog dressed in Ku Klux Klan robes, Nazi uniforms or even as Hitler himself. The meme is often spread by users on forums like 4chan and Reddit.

The character was created in 2005 for the Boy’s Life comic by artist Matt Furie. Pepe and other anthropomorphised characters were depicted as mellow dudes, constantly playing video games, eating pizza and smoking pot.

Furie, a Hillary Clinton supporter, tried to control the cartoon’s image after Clinton put out a formal announcement linking the frog to the alt-right. He launched a campaign to “Save Pepe”, spreading depictions of a “peaceful” Pepe to disassociate his cartoon character from anti-Semitism and racism.

“It’s completely insane that Pepe has been labelled a symbol of hate,” he wrote in an essay for TIME magazine. “It’s a nightmare, and the only thing I can do is see this as an opportunity to speak out against hate.”

But the campaign failed and the cartoon frog remained on the Anti-Defamation League (ADL)‘s database of hate symbols. It joined other logos such as the Swastika and the Ku Klux Klan cross symbol.

“Once again, racists and haters have taken a popular Internet meme and twisted it for their own purposes of spreading bigotry and harassing users,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL head. “These anti-Semites have no shame. They are abusing the image of a cartoon character, one that might at first seem appealing, to harass and spread hatred on social media.”

The cartoon frog is known for its “feel good man” mantra and had starred in harmless memes for years before it was co-opted by the alt-right, which forced the cartoon frog’s creator to cut all ties to it.

As detailed by the Daily Beast, the change happened in 2015 due to a campaign by a group on the /r9k/ board on 4chan. “We basically mixed Pepe in with Nazi propaganda, etc. We built that association,” a self-identified white nationalist told the Daily Beast.

Pepe became a type of code between people on the alt-right and even the frog emoji has become associated to alt-right supporters. In January, Richard Spencer, a white supremacist, was punched in the face while he was explaining that the Pepe the Frog pin he was wearing was a “symbol”.

The meme is very popular with US President Donald Trump’s most openly racist supporters. Trump shared a Pepe meme of himself on Twitter at the beginning of the election race.

While it’s unlikely far-right users will stop using the meme now that the original amphibian is symbolically dead, it has made the creator’s views clear.

Pepe is survived by his friends Landwolf, Brett, and Andy in the comic.


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