The 2016 presidential campaign truly is a product of its time. When one presidential candidate loves to communicate with his voters through 140-character bursts on Twitter, and a hasty tweet can cause an international scandal, the other side has to be quick to respond in similar fashion. Hence a new internet gem courtesy of Hillary Clinton’s campaign website: “Donald Trump, Pepe the frog, and white supremacists: an explainer.”
The explainer, whose sub-headline reads “That cartoon frog is more sinister than you might realize,” details the story of how Pepe, a decade-old internet meme, ended up part of another meme that was inspired by Clinton’s remarks that half of Trump’s supporters are a “basket of deplorables.” The meme shows Trump insiders and allies including his two sons, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former New York governor Rudy Giuliani, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones—and, of course Pepe—superimposed on the cast of the movie “The Expendables,” captioned with “The Deplorables.” It was happily shared by some of the meme’s subjects:
So who is Pepe, and why did Clinton’s campaign feel compelled to explain the meme’s significance? The explainer explains: That’s Pepe. He’s a symbol associated with white supremacy.”
Pepe, who was created in 2005 by artist Matt Furie as a character in a comic strip, according to the website knowyourmeme.com, wasn’t born a Nazi. He was just an innocent bulge-eyed frog who was portrayed saying “feels good man,” or “feels bad man,” a channel to express the internet’s feelings.
Last year, however, Pepe became the subject of a makeover, a reportedly purposeful campaign on the website 4chan to re-appropriate the image to become a white supremacist, adorned with swastikas and Nazi numerology, The Daily Beast reported. The Trump association was the next step, and Pepe as a Nazi became the mascot of the “alt-right,” Trump supporting movement, quickly spreading to Twitter.
Eventually, the frog made its way to the candidate’s inner circle — which the Clinton campaign was quick to jump on, presumably better versed in the frog’s significance.
Clinton’s “explainer” points out that Trump’s son Donald and other “Deplorables” had embraced the meme and shared it, and that last year, the candidate himself tweeted an image of Pepe-as-Trump:
This is not the first controversy involving Donald Trump and Nazi symbolism in this campaign. Trump drew a lot of criticism for being reluctant to disavow former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who came out in his support. He also shared an image of Hillary Clinton on a background of stacks of dollar bills with the words ”The most corrupt candidate ever” positioned over a Star of David background.
No one asked Pepe how he feels about being involved in America’s most divisive campaign, but The Daily Dot did ask its creator, Matt Furie. He was unconcerned:
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. I predict that his sly, lovable, and charming status will be intact as early as next week.