The Anti-Defamation League officially declared “Pepe the Frog” to be racist and anti-Semitic as it added the cartoon character to its database of “hate symbols” on Tuesday.
The popular image, also known on the internet as the “sad frog,” has been used as a versatile base for memes, usually used to express emotions or experiences, since it first appeared in the online cartoon Boys Club in 2005.
However despite admitting that the in the vast majority of cases use of the frog was not racist or anti-Semitic, the A.D.L. has added the frog to its database of hate symbols, along with the Swastika and the Blood Drop Cross of the Ku Klux Klan.
“These anti-Semites have no shame,” ADL’s chief executive Jonathan A Greenblatt said. “They are abusing the image of a cartoon character, one that might at first seem appealing, to harass and spread hatred on social media.“
‘You can’t stump the Trump’
The Alt-Right movement, a disparate group of right-wing social media users, has repeatedly shared Pepe re-workings on social media.
The movement has been described as an alternative to mainstream conservatism, but its proponents have repeatedly abused Jewish Americans and portrayed white people as oppressed.
The Alt-Right has claimed Mr Trump as its presidential candidate of choice. The mogul has not approved it, but did re-tweet a caricature depicting him as Pepe the Frog in October 2015, with the caption “You Can’t Stump the Trump“.
The frog made headlines in mid-September when Hillary Clinton said most of Mr Trump’s supporters belonged in a “basket of deplorables“.
The Republican’s son Donald Trump Jr shared an altered version of the movie poster for “The Expendables”, which showed Pepe with his father and other conservatives, labelled “The Deplorables.”
Hillary Clinton: “That cartoon frog is sinister”
Mrs Clinton’s team duly released a post titled “Donald Trump, Pepe the frog, and white supremacists: an explainer” claiming, “that cartoon frog is more sinister than you might realize“.
In May 2016, the Daily Beast quoted an anonymous white nationalist saying that a campaign was under way to “reclaim Pepe from the normies” – internet slang for mainstream users.
The ADL has clarified that most Pepe memes are not racist, and that innocent versions will not be subject to the hate symbol designation.