Pepe the Frog, through no intention of its creator, Matt Furie, became a symbol of the alt-right and a recurring character in anti-Semitic and white supremacist memes over the past few years. He even made an appearance in a Trump campaign Instagram post featuring “The Deplorables.” Pepe was also used by disgraced conspiracy theorist, pill hawker, and harasser of school shooting survivors Alex Jones to sell posters. And that was a step too far for Furie.
The artist sued two of Jones’s companies — Infowars, LLC, and Free Speech Systems, LLC — for copyright infringement, and the case has been set for trial next July.
A Peaceful Frog Dude
Furie, whose work includes “children’s book illustrations for adults,” claims he created Pepe as “a peaceful frog-dude — a kind and blissful cartoon character, who lived alongside three animal roommates,” reciting his catchphrase, “feels good man.” But beginning in 2015, his lawsuit notes, “various fringe groups connected with the alt-right attempted to co-opt Pepe by mixing images of Pepe with images of hate, including white supremacist language and symbols, Nazi symbols, and other offensive imagery.”
Furie was so dismayed with Pepe’s hijacking that he launched a #SavePepe campaign in October 2016 and even killed off the character last May. But the cartoon frog remains a symbol of hate groups.
A Leading Conspiracy Theorist
One of Furie’s trademark claims centers around a poster sold by Jones’s companies in which “Pepe appears alongside Jones, Trump, conservative commentator Matt Drudge, strategist Roger Stone, and other individuals associated with the Trump 2016 campaign.” But, the suit claims, Furie “did not authorize the use of the Pepe image or character in [the] poster and does not approve of the association of Pepe with Alex Jones or any of the other figures shown in this poster, or with [Trump’s] ‘Make America Great Again’ (MAGA) slogan.”
While Jones himself is not listed as a defendant in the lawsuit, he appears repeatedly in the filing, referred to as “America’s leading conspiracy theorist,” and a member of “an antigovernment far-right that blames the world’s ills on a grand global conspiracy.” Jones has claimed Infowars “didn’t even design or produce the poster and is completely protected as a third party.” We’ll see if that legal argument will hold water.