'Pepe is not hate symbol,' says internet-famous frog's creator
The cartoon amphibian was added to the ADL's hate symbol database after being co-opted by white supremacists
The comic book artist who created Pepe the Frog in 2005 says the Anti-Defamation League jumped the gun when they added the cartoon character to its online database of hate symbols.
The odd-looking character has long been an internet meme, popular among young people who create their own versions of Pepe and share them on social media.
But it's recently become a favourite among members of the so-called alt-right — online trolls who reject traditional conservatism and espouse anti-immigrant views — prompting the civil rights group to put it in the same category as the swastika and the burning cross.
It's also found itself at the centre of the U.S. presidential election, with Donald Trump supporters deploying the meme and Hillary Clinton's campaign decrying it as "a symbol associated with white supremacy."
But before Pepe was any of those things, he was a "stoner, hippy frog" in Matt Furie's indie comic series Boy's Club.
"It's been a long, strange trip for the little frog," Furie told CBC News. "I'm just still kind of wrapping my head around all this."
The San Francisco-based artist, who describes himself as "an anti-racist hippy dude," isn't pleased his name is now associated with white supremacy. "Pepe is not a hate symbol," he said.
'Symbol for youth culture'
Despite Pepe's recent surge in popularity in the darker corners of the internet, Furie says the character's meaning is more complex than the Anti-Defamation League listing implies.
"He's always been kind of mischievous. But to just pigeonhole him as a written-in-stone symbol of hate, I think it undermines the fact that it's a popular meme that means a whole lot of things to different people," Furie said.
"I don't think the alt-right has — or I wouldn't give them — the power to be able reclaim him for their own. I think he's far beyond them."
Furie said he thinks the negative hype around his brainchild is just a phase.
"Pepe, as a kind of symbol for youth culture and internet culture and stuff, transcends what's going on right now in American politics," he said. "God bless anybody who is going help bring Pepe back to the cute frog that he is."
Pepe was declared a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/savepepe?src=hash">#savepepe</a> <a href="https://t.co/BFQfjFkvX8">pic.twitter.com/BFQfjFkvX8</a>—@BraedenThomps0n