Pepe, the cartoon frog and star of countless internet memes, has landed in the Anti-Defamation League’s database of hate symbols alongside the swastika and burning crosses.
Matt Furie first created and posted a drawing of Pepe on the internet in 2005. For most of the decade since, the image was used like an emoji or as a symbol to punctuate jokes online.
The character’s popularity grew among mainstream internet users – including several celebrities. That upset some of Pepe’s original fans who decided to take action to discourage the excessive use of the frog symbol.
They decided to make his negative associations too risky to be used by anybody in the public eye by associating him with hate groups. Images of Pepe as a white supremacist, a Nazi and several other extremist organizations began to appear online. Hillary Clinton even associated the once benign cartoon image to alt-right extremists in a stump speech – an audience member interrupted her by shouting “Pepe” as she spoke.
Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt says the decision to place Pepe on the organization’s list of hate symbols was meant to “marginalize” the image and push the hate that has become associated with it “back into the corners and recess of society” where it belongs.