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Pepe the Frog started out innocent enough. Katy Perry shared it, and even The Weeknd got Pepe'd. But since then, Pepe has become deplorable—and proud of it. This week, the Anti-Defamation League added the alt-right's favorite meme to its database of hate symbols.
In a press release, the ADL said that Pepe the Frog is "a cartoon character used by haters on social media to suggest racist, anti-Semitic or other bigoted notions." Acknowledging that the meme wasn't originally anti-Semitic, the ADL says that people on 4chan, 8chan, Reddit and other sites have since used Pepe to promote "anti-Jewish, bigoted and offensive ideas."
ADL's CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt lamented, "Once again, racists and haters have taken a popular internet meme and twisted it for their own purposes of spreading bigotry and harassing users." He continued, "These anti-Semites have no shame. They are abusing the image of a cartoon character, one that might at first seem appealing, to harass and spread hatred on social media." And the alt-right owns it. One white supremacist told the Daily Beast, "We basically mixed Pepe in with Nazi propaganda, etc. We built that association."
Donald Trump, who has a history of tweeting out neo-Nazi related images, has shared Pepe memes on Twitter:
Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., who's joked about "warming up the gas chamber," posted a picture of "The Deplorables" on his Instagram earlier this month, which had him alongside his dad, Pepe the Frog, Alex Jones, and others.
Even the Clinton campaign has addressed Pepe. On Hillary Clinton's website, there's an explainer for Trump, white nationalists, and Pepe the Frog, which, the site says, "is more sinister than you might realize."
Pepe was created in 2005 by artist Matt Furie for his comic Boy's Club. When asked about the racist uses of Pepe a few weeks ago, Furie told the Daily Dot, "It's just a phase, it's not the first time Pepe has been reclaimed for evil, and no one will care about it come November." For Furie, Pepe doesn't reflect white nationalist ideas: "Pepe is a shape-shifter that will soon save humanity and the whales and the frogs and the bees and bring people together in love and friendship and peace."
That prediction doesn't seem to be holding up so well.