Pepe the Frog Deemed a Hate Symbol


It's not easy being green, as Pepe the Frog can attest.

An Internet meme originating from a comic drawing by Matt Furie, the cartoon amphibian has been adopted by racist online trolls and is now deemed a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

Pepe made his debut in the 2005 comic series Boy's Club, but didn't hit it big until three years later, when a likeness of the character (and his "feels good man" catchphrase) began circulating online. Recently, however, images of the frog have been used for offensive content—Pepe with a Hitler-like moustache or wearing a Klan hood, for example.

"Once again, racists and haters have taken a popular Internet meme and twisted it for their own purposes of spreading bigotry and harassing users," ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement.

"These anti-Semites have no shame," he continued. "They are abusing the image of a cartoon character, one that might at first seem appealing, to harass and spread hatred."

The ADL does acknowledge that "the majority of uses of Pepe the Frog have been, and continue to be, non-bigoted," and that simply posting a Pepe meme does not necessarily imply that you are prejudiced. Sharing a picture of Pepe wearing a helmet with SS Bolts (a common neo-Nazi symbol) or clad in a yarmulke and payot in front of the burning World Trade Center? Probably not your finest hour.

That's the conundrum Donald Trump Jr. was faced with recently when he posted a photo of himself and various supporters of his father in a send-up of The Expendables movie poster that mocked Hillary Clinton's "deplorables" comment. The one problem? The lineup in Trump Jr.'s photo also included Pepe (not to mention Milo Yiannopoulos, who was banned from Twitter permanently for his role in the online harassment of actress and comedian Leslie Jones).

Given the controversy surrounding Donald Trump's popularity among white nationalists, and the candidate's penchant for re-tweeting content from undesirable accounts, his son's post made headlines. Trump Jr. denied knowing Pepe's history. "I thought it was a frog in a wig," he said in an ABC interview.

The meme is now well-known to racists, though. Recently, a white nationalist think tank held a press conference in Washington, D.C. during which its president acknowledged that "Pepe memes" are a part of the group's online identity.

The Anti-Defamation League founded its Hate on Display database in 2000 as part of its effort to track hate groups and help law enforcement, educators, and the public identify those symbols that serve as potential calling cards of extremists and bigots.

The directory includes imagery and symbols like the Confederate flag, the hangman's noose, and the swastika, as well as slogans (14 Words, a reference to a popular white supremacist phrase), slang terms (WP or "White Pride"), and gang signs (the Hitler salute).

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