Pepe’s creator has sent takedown notices to alt-right websites in the latest clash over his green cartoon frog-turned-hate symbol.
The popular meme is being used as a mascot for alt-right and far-right groups to spread racist, Islamophobic and antisemitic content online.
Matt Furie, the artist behind the frog, had his legal representatives send DMCA takedown notices to alt-right affiliated websites, Motherboard reports. This included the Subreddit thread r/The_Donald and white nationalist Richard Spencer’s Altright website.
Furie’s team have also pushed Amazon into removing a book by Tim Gionet, a far-right personality under the pseudonym Baked Alaska, who used the cartoon frog on his book cover.
— ☁ (@codyave) October 13, 2015
The character was created in 2005 for the Boy’s Life comic by artist Matt Furie. Pepe and other anthropomorphised characters were depicted as mellow dudes, constantly playing video games, eating pizza and smoking pot.
But far-right internet users have depicted the original slacker frog dressed in Ku Klux Klan robes, Nazi uniforms or even as Hitler himself. The meme is often spread by users on forums like 4chan and Reddit.
Earlier this year, Furie won another legal victory against Eric Hauser, who self-published a children’s book, The Adventures of Pepe and Pede. It depicted Pepe as an Islamophobic, alt-right champion on a mission to make his farm great again. Furie and Hauser reached a settlement that prevented further sales of the book and donated all profits to a Muslim-American advocacy group.
The aim is to prevent the misuse of Pepe and Furie is ready to file lawsuits according to one of his lawyers, Louis Tompros while speaking to Motherboard.
“I’m hopeful we’ll reach a place where this stops, where the alt-right realizes it’s too much trouble dealing with us to be misappropriating this character and they move on.”
But Mike Cernovich, who received a takedown notice wrote a Medium post in which he denied being an alt-right member. “This Pepe image is clearly fair use, it’s protected under the First Amendment, and any lawsuit threat is frivolous,” he writes.
Stopping a meme
Furie, a Hillary Clinton supporter, tried several methods to control the cartoon’s image after Clinton put out a formal announcement linking the frog to the alt-right.
He launched a campaign to “Save Pepe”, spreading depictions of a “peaceful” Pepe to disassociate his cartoon character from anti-Semitism and racism.
“It’s completely insane that Pepe has been labelled a symbol of hate,” he wrote in an essay for TIME magazine. “It’s a nightmare, and the only thing I can do is see this as an opportunity to speak out against hate.”
But the campaign failed and the cartoon frog remained on the Anti-Defamation League (ADL)‘s database of hate symbols. It joined other logos such as the Swastika and the Ku Klux Klan cross symbol.
“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 Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL head.
“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.”
— Brandon Kelly (@therealphaTT) May 6, 2017
Furie then unsuccessfully tried to retire the character earlier this year, symbolically killing off the character in a one page strip for the independent publisher Fantagraphics’ Free Comic Book Day. It showed Pepe in an open casket, being mourned by his fellow characters from Boy’s Club.
But it’s use online and in alt-right circles did not stop.
How Pepe changed
The cartoon frog is known for its “feel good man” mantra and had starred in harmless memes for years before it was co-opted by the alt-right, which initially forced the cartoon frog’s creator to cut all ties to it.
As detailed by the Daily Beast, the change happened in 2015 due to a campaign by a group on the /r9k/ board on 4chan. “We basically mixed Pepe in with Nazi propaganda, etc. We built that association,” a self-identified white nationalist told the Daily Beast.
Pepe became a type of code between people on the alt-right and even the frog emoji has become associated to alt-right supporters. In January, Richard Spencer, a white supremacist, was punched in the face while he was explaining that the Pepe the Frog pin he was wearing was a “symbol”.
The meme is very popular with US President Donald Trump’s most openly racist supporters. Trump shared a Pepe meme of himself on Twitter at the beginning of the election race.
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