When Matt Furie started drawing Pepe in the early 2000s, the Los Angeles artist conceived the character as an "everyman frog" living an "early 20-something hedonistic lifestyle," he tells the Atlantic. But the cartoon frog soon morphed into an Internet meme, and was then adopted by the "alt-right" white supremacist movement and Donald Trump supporters—and now the Anti-Defamation League has entered the once-innocuous amphibian, aka "Sad Frog," into its database of hate symbols, Time reports. "Once again, racists and haters have taken a popular Internet meme and twisted it for their own purposes of spreading bigotry and harassing users," ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt says in a statement.
The ADL and the Daily Beast explain how Pepe, which Furie initially conceived for his comic strip Boy's Club, started getting pickup on online sites such as Reddit and 4chan and evolved from a harmless meme to a racist, anti-Semitic symbol, and then to an unofficial mascot for Trump supporters. Now it's not uncommon to see a version of Pepe floating down social media feeds donning a Hitler mustache, Jewish yarmulke, or KKK getup, the ADL notes. Meanwhile, Furie shrugs off his character's annexation, telling the Atlantic he feels "pretty neutral" about the whole thing, that it's "just a phase," and that "people reappropriating things for their own agenda ... [is] just a product of the internet." (Check out Furie's surprising take on Pepe in the Atlantic.)