Pepe the Frog, a very popular meme on social network sites 9GAG and Reddit, has just been included in the list of hate symbols by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). This is a far cry from the time it was created as a harmless character by Matt Furie for the Boy’s Club, a syndicated comic series launched 11 years ago.
Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL chief executive officer, could only lament how people exploited the image for their own selfish ends.
“Once again, racists and haters have taken a popular Internet meme and twisted it for their own purposes of spreading bigotry and harassing users,” he said in a statement.
— ☁ (@codyave) October 13, 2015
“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.
“Images of the frog, variously portrayed with a Hitler-like moustache, wearing a yarmulke or a Klan hood, have proliferated in recent weeks in hateful messages aimed at Jewish and other users on Twitter,” he added.
According to Time, Pepe the Frog has been depicted in recent weeks as Adolf Hitler, and wearing a yarmulke or a hood used by KKK members in anti-Semite messages. This has forced the hand of the ADL to brand the character as a hate symbol.
— ADL (@ADL_National) September 27, 2016
However, not all Pepe the Frog images are branded as hate symbols, since most of them are not “bigoted” in nature. There are other permutations of the character, from the sad frog, crying frog, rage frog, to the smug frog.
“The mere fact of posting a Pepe meme does not mean that someone is a racist or white supremacist,” ADL said. “However, if the meme itself is racist or anti-Semitic in nature, or if it appears in a context containing bigoted or offensive language or symbols, then it may have been used for hateful purposes.”
Vox ran a very long article explaining the timeline of how Pepe the Frog became a symbol of hate. Matt Furie also lamented how the character was perverted into something that encourages bigotry when it started as a social commentary.
Furie said that it’s easy to reinvent the character in many ways because of his large expressive eyes and admitted that Pepe the Frog has become “a blank slate” for people to play around with. However, he quickly added that he has no control over how people twist the cartoon for their own purposes.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump seems to have walked into a trap when he adopted the meme as his own mascot in order to underscore the fact that Hillary Clinton called his supporters a “basket of deplorables.” The GOP presidential candidate shared a photo of The Expendables with his face superimposed on the face of Sylvester Stallone.
The image also included his son, Donald Trump Jr., former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and other Republicans.
A friend sent me this. Apparently I made the cut as one of the Deplorables???????????? All kidding aside I am honored to be grouped with the hard working men and women of this great nation that have supported @realdonaldtrump and know that he can fix the mess created by politicians in Washington. He's fighting for you and won't ever quit. Thanks for your trust! #trump2016 #maga #makeamericagreatagain #basketofdeplorables
Elizabeth Chan, Clinton campaign senior strategist, wrote that Trump only bolstered his association with the alt-right by sharing the edited image. Now, white supremacists are editing the image of Pepe the Frog and putting the billionaire’s signature hair on it.
Chan mentioned that Trump “has been slow” in condemning the KKK and the white supremacists. Another worrisome development is his hiring of Steve Bannon of Breibart.com, who previously said that his website supports the alt-right, as his main campaign manager.
VOX said that the GOP presidential candidate seems to be following a pattern because aside from sharing Pepe the Frog, he also talked about “warming up the gas chamber,” and appeared as a guest on a radio show of a known white supremacist. While it doesn’t necessarily mean that he is a white supremacist himself, he still seems to be closely associating with them.
[Featured image via Wikimedia Commons]