What Is Pepe the Frog? A Short Explainer of the Alt-Right Meme Mascot

How a friendly cartoon amphibian became an international symbol of hate

Last Updated: September 26, 2016 @ 12:05 PM

If you’ve wondered how a friendly cartoon frog suddenly became a white supremacist symbol, here is a quick explainer.

Pepe the frog wasn’t always a Nazi sympathizer. The friendly amphibian started off as as a comic drawing by Matt Furie, which took off in the MySpace era, becoming one of the most popular memes on Tumblr in 2015.

The symbol was then co-opted by former Ku Klux Klan imperial wizard David Duke.

After Hillary Clinton’s campaign called Pepe “a symbol associated with white supremacy, Duke lashed out, saying it was the “#LyingPress and #LyingCrookedHillary” who turned “an innocent frog into a symbol of hate, shameful.” (Yes… Because that’s what’s shameful).

But it was Donald Trump’s son who made Pepe a Nazi star when he posted a Photoshopped image to Instagram featuring Pepe earlier this month. Junior later claimed he had no idea what the frog meant. But critics say Trump Jr. knew exactly what he was doing, pointing to the fact that Junior has had a long history of playing footsie with white supremacists.

Pepe was even mentioned by Richard Spencer, president of the National Policy Institute — a white nationalist think-tank — as a way to wink at fellow white supremacists.

Asked to explain how the cartoon became a neo-Nazi mascot, Spencer told a reporter that Pepe was simply a “smug frog” who’s “willing to speak the truth.”

But the truth is, the frog’s creator is hoping Pepe might outgrow his Neo-Nazi rebellious stage, telling the Washington Post recently, “I think he’s on a weird manifestation right now… It’s unfortunate that he’s peaking nationally in the news in this really negative way, but I think it’s just a phase.”

The more you know… *cue shooting rainbow and star.