Matt Furie, the artist who drew the original frog, told The Atlantic he thinks the association with far-right ideology is “just a phase.”
Pepe the Frog — a multivalent green cartoon used in Internet culture as a vehicle for a wide range of emotions and ideas — has over recent months become particularly associated with racism, anti-Semitism and the alt-right.
“In terms of meme culture, it’s people reappropriating things for their own agenda. That’s just a product of the internet,” he said.
With that, let’s pause here to note a few things.
First, if the entire concept of the Pepe the Frog meme makes no sense to you, don’t try too hard to crack open the enigma.
Life is short, much of Internet communication is more Dada-esque than denotative, and mastering dank memes has an effort-to-payoff ratio that really, truly is not worth it. Suffice to say he’s a character used to express things online, through endless variations on a simple image.
Second, Pepe the frog is not usually racist. There’s nothing inherently hateful about the original image. “He’s just a chill frog,” as Furie told The Atlantic.
And as ADL acknowledges in its hate symbol database, “the majority of uses of Pepe the Frog have been, and continue to be, non-bigoted.”
But Pepe is certainly a meme that’s popular among racists. Its inclusion in the ADL database isn’t meant to make Pepe an amphibia non grata. Identifying whether Pepe is being used in a hateful way requires looking at the context, the ADL says.
The anthropomorphic frog, which is based on a 2004 comic by Furie, is frequently shown as smug, sad, angry or rather gross. Like most memes, he’s frequently used in variations and remixes.
Donald Trump had earlier tweeted an image of Pepe-as-Trump, and then his son posted an image on Instagram that included Pepe. This month Hillary Clinton’s campaign released a widely mocked “explainer” that featured both those posts and called Pepe the Frog “a symbol associated with white supremacy.” Now, the ADL has stepped up to label the frog a hate symbol.
ADL’s inclusion of Pepe in its database does not, as some online have suggested, mean that using Pepe memes is a hate crime. It’s a designation that carries no legal weight, and the ADL is quick to note that the mere use of Pepe the Frog doesn’t, by itself, indicate extremism or hatred.