DC police investigating 'Pepe the Frog' graffiti as a possible hate, bias crime

D.C. Police confirmed for FOX 5 on Sunday that they are investigating a Navy Yard-area Bernie Sanders mural defaced with that cartoon "Pepe the Frog" image as a possible hate crime.

You may have seen the cartoon image or heard its name before. What many may not know is that this carton image is now associated with the "Alt-right" or white supremacist groups. 

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It’s not clear exactly when the mural was defaced. A police report lists December 15, 2020 – January 14, 2021 as a possible period. D.C. Police were called to investigate on Saturday when a tipster suggested the defacement may have been "motivated by bias or political or religious affiliation."

"Obviously Pepe was created in a very innocent way," said Anti-Defamation League Vice President and Washington ADL office head, Doron Ezickson. 

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However, Ezickson told FOX 5 with the rise of the "Alt-Right" and other hate groups, the cartoon frog has been adopted as a meme and started appearing in racist, anti-Semitic and other bigoted context. 

"The appropriation of that symbol somehow became an expression of power by the individuals that were doing it and then it spread over the internet and different chat rooms and 8chan and Reddit and some of the places where ‘Alt-Right’ and white supremacists folks find each other and share ideas and share strategies," said Ezickson.

D.C. Police contacted the ADL about their graffiti investigation. 

The ADL shows examples of how the cartoon image is used within these groups on their website

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On Instagram earlier this week, the public page called the "411 Collective" shared a photo of what appears to be that "Pepe the frog" image, painted over Bernie Sanders’ face. Sanders is a U.S. Senator who is also Jewish. 

Ezickson tells FOX 5 this is the first he’s seeing this image in the Washington Metropolitan area. He also says it’s important to report it when you do. 

"Often times, people look to hate elsewhere and are not aware of it and are not aware of the impact of our own backyard. And the insidious part of hate is it not only targets – targets an individual perhaps or a community, but it is received by an entire community as somehow a message that they don’t have equal rights in our society, that they need to be fearful," Ezickson added. 

D.C. Police are taking the matter seriously. 

The mural has since been fixed.

It is also important to note: not every "Pepe-the-frog" image is an "Alt-Right" or white nationalist symbol. The context it appears in, is very important.  

After 2015, the total hate crime number skyrocketed in the District – hitting 205 in 2018. The city appears to now be in a downward trend.  

Ezickson says the ADL recorded their highest number of hate crimes nationwide – last year.