Here’s How Two Twitter Pranksters Convinced The World That Pepe The Frog Meme Is Just A Front For White Nationalism
by JONAH BENNETT
National Security/Foreign Policy Reporter 4:43 PM 09/14/2016
Pepe the green frog meme’s unmitigated rise into pop culture came amid hysteria that the Internet cartoon is little more than a stand-in for white nationalism. But it turns out the original story that prompted the panic is more or less a complete troll job.
The Daily Beast’s Olivia Nuzzi wrote a piece in May striving to describe and trace the genesis of Pepe in the alt-right scene, a nascent, illiberal political movement focused on preserving white identity and Western civilization.
Here’s Olivia Nuzzi and her former boss Anthony Weiner:
One pattern you should be noticing a lot lately is all the projection by the Clinton Foundation types of conspiracies onto the high school kids on the Internet who are making fun of them. Jared Taylor Swift couldn’t meet for drinks with Paul Town (assuming they are different people) because he would be carded. But to the Clintonistas, of course it had to have been an organized conspiracy with meetings in dark bars to plot strategy. That’s how they do their conspiracies.
In the process, Nuzzi just ended up repeating various made-up stories from the only two people she interviewed from “Frog Twitter”: Paul Town (@PaulTown_) and Jared Taylor Swift (@JaredTSwift). …Since then, Pepe as white nationalist has become a meme of its own sort, circulated through liberal circles, cable networks and think pieces. Rounding out this tidal wave of whinery, Pepe made an appearance on Hillary Clinton’s own campaign site as part of an effort by the campaign to try to associate Donald Trump Jr. with white supremacy.
The explainer on Clinton’s site features a direct quote from Jared Taylor Swift, one of the two accounts Nuzzi interview for her story.
“[I]n recent months, Pepe’s been almost entirely co-opted by the white supremacists who call themselves the ‘alt-right.’ They’ve decided to take back Pepe by adding swastikas and other symbols of anti-Semitism and white supremacy,” Hillary Clinton’s explainer notes, quoting “prominent white supremacist” Swift from Nuzzi’s article: “We basically mixed Pepe in with Nazi propaganda, etc. We built that association.”
Months after flippantly giving that quote to Nuzzi, Swift is still having a good laugh about it.
“I think the most ridiculous thing is that a random guy on the internet who trolled a journalist once is now a ‘prominent white supremacist.’ …
Swift, this apparently prominent white supremacist, created his Twitter account in November 2015. His Twitter name is a tribute to Jared Taylor, a leading intellectual influence on the alt-right and founder of the magazine American Renaissance. Paul Town created his account in January 2016.
The troll consisted of Town and Swift feeding an outrageous narrative to Nuzzi in the hopes she would scoop it up and feature as many quotes as possible, which is a fairly common practice among various alt-right groups to gain in-group status.
For example, comedian Sam Hyde during a June interview with Forbes was able to slip in a reference to his “wife’s son,” which in context is a subtle reference to cuckoldry—again, another in-group joke used to mock people for some combination of either being in an open relationship or sacrificing one’s own interests for the sake of some illusory, fake moral ideal.
Private conversations between Frog Twitter and Olivia Nuzzi provided to TheDCNF show the extent of the troll, which started after she began the Swift interview with, “Can I ask you some stupid questions?”
Nuzzi quoted Paul Town describing how Frog Twitter met for drinks in 2015 to plot appropriating the Pepe meme for white nationalism. Frog Twitter then supposedly coordinated a group effort to seed the meme on various imageboards.
“There was no ‘plot’ to take a cartoon frog and make it a symbol of white supremacy,” Paul Town told TheDCNF. “That’s absurd on the face of it.”
It doesn’t get much better from there for Nuzzi’s narrative.
There was no Frog Twitter meetup — they did not meet for drinks to discuss green frogs. They did not plot in 2015. There was no group experiment. They did not coordinate efforts on /r9k/ or /pol/, two imageboards on 4chan and 8chan, where memes are born and subsequently end up in the public. Jared Taylor Swift says he isn’t actually 19. He doesn’t live on the West Coast. They didn’t turn Taylor Swift, the pop singer, into an “Aryan Goddess.”
And most importantly, it’s just not true that the biggest online supporters of Donald Trump are “white nationalists.”
“Basically, I interspersed various nuggets of truth and exaggerated a lot of things, and sometimes outright lied — in the interest of making a journalist believe that online Trump supporters are largely a group of meme-jihadis who use a cartoon frog to push Nazi propaganda. Because this was funny to me,” Swift told TheDCNF. …
Swift started Olivia’s interview with a hilarious, nonsensical and over-the-top description of Pepe, namely that “Most memes are ephemeral by nature, but Pepe is not. He’s a reflection of our souls, to most of us. It’s disgusting to see people (‘normies,’ if you will) use him so trivially. He belongs to us. And we’ll make him toxic if we have to.”
Swift provided the quote to Olivia just to see if she would print it. She did. …
“After the interview, Swift passed Olivia to Paul for him to pump more inside details of the “plot” behind Pepe. …
“I mean, imagine, some unknown high school twitter troll lying about the origins of a cartoon frog meme somehow made it onto a presidential campaign’s official website as a ‘prominent white supremacist.’ That’s insane,” Swift said.
TheDCNF reached out to Nuzzi for comment, she provided none by press time