A little less than a year ago, Matt Furie, the artist who created Pepe the Frog, promised to take back the cartoon character from far right trolls who used it as their mascot and tried to profit from the chill amphibian’s likeness. In another victory in the battle this week, Pepe has been scrubbed from The Daily Stormer, a notorious neo-Nazi website run by white nationalist Andrew Anglin.
Furie's fight to take back Pepe started in 2017 when a former assistant vice principal in Texas published an alt-right children’s book called The Adventures of Pepe and Pede. Originally conceived as a laid back, weed smoking frog, the association of Pepe with a racist children’s book was the last straw for Furie, who lawyered up and got the text pulled. The law firm of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP is representing Furie pro bono and has previously pushed white nationalist Richard Spencer to stop using Pepe as the logo for his podcast by sending him a cease and desist letter.
The Daily Stormer is a popular neo-Nazi website and Anglin is a known agitator. He once attempted to organize a white supremacist rally on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In the wake of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year, Cloudflare—a service that offers protection from denial of service attacks—dropped The Daily Stormer as a client. Later, the site lost the support of its domain provider and email host. It then moved to the dark web where it suffered a string of DDoS attacks.
In other words, sometimes The Daily Stormer is up and sometimes it’s down. And that’s made it hard for Furie’s lawyers to pull Pepe off the site.
“The Daily Stormer has been a bit of an annoyance, frankly,” Louis Tompros, one of the intellectual property lawyers working the Pepe case at the law firm WilmerHale, told Motherboard over the phone. “For reasons separate and apart from copyright infringement, [The Daily Stormer has] been rejected and shut down by a variety of different ISPs over time.”
Pepe was featured in more than 40 articles on the site, but WilmerHale served Digital Millennium Copyright Act notices to the company it said is hosting The Daily Stormer.
“We had seen for a while that they had been using Pepe images in a few places,” Tompros said. “The problem was that they would be up and then their entire site will be down and move somewhere else and reorganize. The reason it takes us longer on this and some of the others is the day their website moves around a bunch.”
According to Tompros, the site appeared to have settled with Frantech Solutions as of July 2. “They’ve definitely used it before,” Tompros said. “For a little while they were using someone in Canada. This is exactly the problem with them. I think that they realize that they are in violation of a number of different laws. And so they're they're bouncing around from provider to provider.”
But Tompros said his team must have gotten through to The Daily Stormer because the offending images are gone. Some articles are gone entirely. Others have had the offending images of Pepe modified, removed, or replaced with a graphic explaining that the old image has been censored. The number of articles on the site featuring Pepe is now down to four.
Yet the fight over Pepe’s connection to hateful imagery is far from over. Furie’s lawyers have filed a lawsuit against Alex Jones’ Infowars over a Pepe poster it was selling online. Tompros told Motherboard that the poster has since been removed from the site, and that he thinks Infowars will move to dismiss the case.
Harder still are the hundreds of sellers who use Amazon to peddle hateful Pepe merchandise. A recent report from the Partnership for Working Families and the Action Center on Race and the Economy (ACRE), a nonprofit focused on racial justice and Wall Street accountability, noted that Amazon’s storefront is a hub of racist and anti-Semitic merchandise. Many of the assorted t-shirts, pins, and ephemera featured Pepe.
“That’s what I call the whack-a-mole aspect of this work,” Tompros said. “Amazon is great about taking those down when we notify them. We’ve used their process at least 10 to 15 times. We’re going through the process now of looking at all of the things identified in the report.”
ACRE called out Amazon for even allowing such merchandise on the storefront in the first place. “I get what they’re suggesting, that Amazon can be more proactive,” Tompros said. “But from a copyright perspective [Amazon has] done a great job responding to what we’ve asked for.”
On the whole, Tompros is positive about the future of Pepe and said that Furie is happy with the progress as well. “It’s not very often that intellectual property lawyers get enlisted into an anti-Nazi campaign,” Tompros said. “But when we do, we’re ready.”