The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) declared Tuesday the popular internet meme Pepe the Frog, a cartoon frog-derived from an early 2000s comic strip character, to be a hate symbol. But it did not start out that way. Before fringe conservatives on the “alt-right” made the meme indistinguishable from its white nationalist agenda, Pepe the Frog was a playful, “feel-good” internet joke that even popular celebrities had a hand in spreading.
ICYMI, Pepe the Frog has been officially declared a hate symbol.
This is why we can’t have nice things. pic.twitter.com/0BvKtI1IQi
— Fusion (@Fusion) September 29, 2016
The origins of Pepe the Frog date back to 2005, when comic book writer Matt Furie featured the frog as a character in the series “Boy’s Club.” The comic featured the childish antics of the teenage monster characters Pepe, Brett, Andy and Landwolf before gaining popularity on the internet over the next few years.
Pepe the Frog: yes, a harmless cartoon can become an alt-right mascot | Oren Segal https://t.co/AtQz1a8eFn
— The Guardian (@guardian) September 29, 2016
One of Pepe’s most infamous moments came in a 2008 comic strip when he pulled his pants down to his ankles to urinate. The frog’s relieved facial expression was absorbed by the internet and, along with the accompanying phrase, “Feels Good Man,” transformed into one of the all-time great reaction memes. The meme inspired the complimentary “Feels Bad Man” meme of Pepe crying and “Smug Frog” meme of Pepe stroking his chin. Pop stars like Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj eventually got in on the game.
I put all my money into rare Pepe the Frog memes, and the ADL has now deemed even the non-rare ones, symbols of hate. Feels bad, man. pic.twitter.com/d50OAi419c
— Philip DeFranco (@PhillyD) September 28, 2016
Social media users mashed up Pepe with Nazi propaganda imagery — everything from a Hitler mustache to a swastika — to link the two symbols. The movement spawned on 4Chan and eventually moved to Twitter, where many white nationalist-Donald Trump supporters embraced the cartoon frog as the proxy symbol for their candidate — Trump’s trademark haircut now sits atop Pepe in many users’ posts.
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
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Trump, Jr., perhaps unwittingly, cemented Pepe the Frog as one of the faces of white nationalism. For many, the image was the first they had seen of Pepe and the less favorable identity the meme had taken on and became the primary one discussed by the media. The ADL was quick to respond, declaring Pepe a hate symbol later that month.
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