Twitter trolling helped Donald Trump become the US president-elect, and now it’s infecting international diplomacy. The Twitter account for Russia’s embassy in London sent a message yesterday taunting UK prime minister Theresa May, suggesting that that the prospect of closer ties between the US and Russia was worrying for Britain — catty, but accurate. The kicker, though, was that the tweet also included of a picture of Pepe, the favorite frog meme of neo-Nazis and white nationalists.
This isn’t actually much of a departure from the norm for the @RussianEmbassy account, which tends to mix traditional diplomatic soundbites and promotions of Russian culture with provoking messages aimed at Western viewers. These include tweets mocking President Barack Obama as a lame duck, and describing anyone that suggests Russia was involved in the hacking of the DNC — the judgement of both the FBI and CIA — as mere “Russian-bashers.”
It’s also not the first time Pepe has appeared in high-level politics. The meme may have started life as an innocuous character drawn by cartoonist Matt Furie, but since its rebranding as an anti-Semitic hate symbol (as defined by the Anti-Defamation League) it’s been the subject of a Hillary Clinton explainer and retweeted by Trump himself. Furie has helped start a project to try and “rehabilitate” the meme, but most internet users — including the savvy operators of @RussianEmbassy — would agree this has been unsuccessful.
Pepe’s a favorite of right-wing trolls, sure, but it’s also a dog whistle that signals to white nationalists. As this tweet shows, both these groups are now firmly ensconced in international politics.