The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has denounced pictures of Pepe the Frog as a hate symbol.
The meme has recently depicted artist Matt Furie’s character from the comic strip Boy’s Club with swastikas, a “Hitler-like mustache,” or a Klu Klux Klan hood, which prompted the classification.
The ADL said the meme didn’t start with these racist overtones, but “as the meme proliferated in online venues such as 4chan, 8chan and Reddit, a subset of memes came into existence promoting anti-Jewish, bigoted and offensive ideas,” officials wrote in a release.
“Once again, racists and haters have taken a popular Internet meme and twisted it for their own purposes of spreading bigotry and harassing users,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the ADL, said.
According to the hate symbols database maintained by the ADL, the Alt-Right movement is the cause of the racist rise of the meme.
The Alt-Right movement is often associated with efforts on the far right to preserve “white identity,” oppose multiculturalism and defend “Western values.”
The meme has also been associated with Donald Trump’s campaign. Last year, Trump himself re-tweeted a picture of Pepe drawn in his likeness. Earlier this month, rival Hillary Clinton put out a widely-mocked press release saying the meme was “co-opted by the white supremacists.”
But the ADL says context is important when labeling a meme hateful.
“Because so many Pepe the Frog memes are not bigoted in nature, it is important to examine use of the meme only in context,” the database reads.
The meme, started in the late 2000s, was gaining in popularity and only turned dark recently. The Daily Beast reported that in 2015, a group on the website 4chan decided to “reclaim” the picture from people like Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj by associating Pepe with hate symbols.
“He’s a reflection of our souls, to most of us. It’s disgusting to see people (‘normies,’ if you will) use him so trivially. He belongs to us. And we’ll make him toxic if we have to,” an anonymous 4chan and Twitter user who goes by the online handle JaredTSwift told The Daily Beast.
Yesterday, he took responsibility for the new designation tweeting “you’re welcome.”