In a turn of events that can only be described as peak 2018, “Gritty”—the googly-eyed, bearded orange monstrosity who serves as the recently adopted mascot of the Philadelphia Flyers—has emerged as an icon of the left-wing, anti-fascist militant group Antifa.
On Sept. 24, 2018, the National Hockey League’s Philadelphia Flyers unveiled Gritty as its “talented but feisty,” “loyal but mischievous” mascot, “a fierce competitor known for his agility.” While recent evidence suggests that Gritty is neither talented nor agile, he is most definitely fesity—to the point of threatening another team’s mascot, the Pittsburgh Penguin, “Sleep with one eye open tonight, bird.”
All this has utterly won over the people of Philadelphia, who are in the grips of Gritty-mania despite the fact that he looks like a Muppet who got booted from Sesame Street for drug-dealing. Local residents get Gritty tattoos, businesses sell Gritty doughnuts and cupcakes, and online platforms from Reddit to Instagram are awash with Gritty fan accounts.
And now, thanks to the Internet, Gritty has also become a symbol of Antifa and American socialism. It’s not entirely clear when Gritty first emerged as a left-wing icon, but observers point to this tweet from Jacobin Magazine on Sept. 26:
The tweet seems to have sparked a slew of parody Gritty fan accounts on Instagram and Twitter–the most notable of which, @FellowGritty, paints Gritty as an anti-capitalist, anti-fascist mascot. A subreddit, r/Gritty, also features memes of Gritty scaring off Republicans, killing Nazis, and encouraging public riots.
The antifascist movement featured Gritty’s image at a rally against Donald Trump in Philadelphia on Oct. 2, chanting “Gritty hates Trump” outside the convention center where the president was giving a speech:
It’s unclear why left-wing activists believe that Gritty is the perfect embodiment of their beliefs. Perhaps it’s because, as Stacey Ritzen of The Daily Dot writes, “Everyone loves an underdog.” Or maybe it’s because of Gritty’s role as a symbol of Philadelphia, a city with strong blue-collar roots.
Gritty’s transformation into an Antifa icon is typical of an age where everything is politicized, according to the Wall Street Journal’s Jillian Kay Melchior. She wrote in an editorial that “in an era when everything from Nike and the NFL to your local restaurant is a political battlefield, this development is as predictable as it is sad.” But the New Yorker’s Ian Crouch was quick to counter that if the left hadn’t embraced Gritty, he might have well gone the way of Pepe the Frog: ”It’s more fun to love Gritty than to hate him, and, recognizing this, the left grabbed him before the right got the chance.”
And what does Gritty think about all this? It’s beside the point, according to Reddit user BrinxJob: “The man” (Muppet?) “can’t even vote as he’s likely a registered felon.”