Pepe the Frog Declared Hate Symbol by ADL After Alt-Right Memes

Image: Ben Wilke, 19, poses outside the first presidential debate with a sign featuring Pepe the Frog.
Ben Wilke, 19, poses outside the first presidential debate on Monday with a sign featuring Pepe the Frog. SHANNON STAPLETON / Reuters

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By Alastair Jamieson

Pepe the Frog, a cartoon character popular with alt-right campaigners and some Donald Trump supporters, has been declared a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League.

The green icon has increasingly been appropriated for racist or bigoted internet memes and gained traction in the online postings of white supremacists and alt-right campaigners.

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It was recently included in an image posted on Instagram by Donald Trump’s eldest son. The Republican White House hopeful has also tweeted a version of the frog resembling Donald Trump.

Pepe the Frog began life as an inoffensive cartoon character.Twitter

The ADL said the creature had inoffensive origins — including Pepe's original catchphrase of "feels good man" — but had been appropriated for “bigoted themes” such as anti-Semitic cartoons, “a tendency exacerbated by the controversial and contentious 2016 presidential election.”

Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center said Pepe the Frog was well-known to alt-right posters on the internet.

"Pepe the Frog is a huge favorite white supremacist meme, it's constantly used in those circles,” she told NBC News earlier this month after Donald Trump Jr. posted a picture of a poster from the movie "The Expendables" altered as "The Deplorables." Photoshopped faces in the picture included Trump, Rudy Giuliani, alt-right icon Milo Yiannopoulos, and Pepe the Frog.

Announcing the inclusion of Pepe the Frog in its database of hate symbols, the ADL said: “Although Pepe memes have many defenders, not least the character's creator, Matt Furie, who has called the alt-right appropriation of the meme merely a 'phase,' the use of racist and bigoted versions of Pepe memes seems to be increasing, not decreasing.”

Ben Wilke, 19, poses outside the first presidential debate on Monday with a sign featuring Pepe the Frog. SHANNON STAPLETON / Reuters

The group said it was important to consider the context of Pepe’s online use.

“The mere fact of posting a Pepe meme does not mean that someone is racist or white supremacist,” it 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.”