A popular internet meme has been identified as a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League after being appropriated by the "alt-right" and white nationalist movements.
Pepe the Frog reached its status as a meme through 4chan, an anonymous online forum. The cartoon creature was original from a comic series called "Boy's Club," created by artist Matt Furie in 2005. Pepe's likeness is used as a reaction image, and has become so mainstream that celebrities such as Katy Perry have even used it. Sometimes, Pepe is a smiling frog who’s saying “Feels good, man.” Other times he’s smug, angry or sad.
The ADL has added the character to its database of hate symbols after the group says the alt-right co-opted Pepe to appear with a Hitler-like mustache, a Klan hood and other iconography of anti-Semitism and white supremacy.
In 2015, Pepe the Frog was the No. 1 most reblogged meme on Tumblr, a popular social media platform. Pepe's proliferation as a meme is aided by the interpretations internet users could make from Pepe's image through Photoshopping the image into different situations and with different emotions.
“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 ADL CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt in a news release.
“I think he’s on a weird manifestation right now. It’s unfortunate that he’s peaking nationally in the news in this really negative way, but I think it’s just a phase,” Furie told the Washington Post before Pepe was added to ADL’s database. “Ultimately, I hope Pepe will live on as a symbol of peacefulness and of being a cool, chill frog that kids like to share with each other on the internet.”
Donald Trump, Jr., the GOP candidate’s oldest son, shared a Photoshopped image featuring Trump standing beside Pepe the Frog on Instagram on Sep. 10. Hillary Clinton posted an article on her campaign website on Sep. 12 explaining Pepe's connection to white supremacy.
Many have been sharing on social media their reactions to the addition of Pepe to the ADL's database, which includes hateful icons such as the swastika.
"Pepe the frog has been labeled a hate symbol by the ADL. Meanwhile, actual hate groups murdered 49 at the Pulse nightclub," tweeted user @NotJoshEarnest.
"I don't know what's worse; Pepe being depicted as a hate symbol, or the fact that a meme made it to the news," wrote Iyad Alsaud on Facebook.
"This is why we can't have nice things America!" shared Twitter user @nicolekellly, using the hashtags #AltRight, #PepeTheFrog and #SavePepe.