November 15, 2017

HNH explains… the cult of Kek

By David Lawrence, Researcher

One of the Alternative Right’s most widely spread memes is “Kek”, an ancient Egyptian frog-god supposedly remaking the modern world.

The meme, like the Alternative Right as a whole, is simultaneously utterly puerile and dangerous.

Both wings of the broader Alternative Right – the ‘Western chauvinist’ (heavily jingoistic) alt-light and the openly racist, white nationalist alt-right – are deeply rooted in troll culture and express themselves through a versatile iconography, much of which originated as images and ‘inside jokes’ on the image sharing platform 4chan.

These icons, of which there are endless variations, are of central strategic importance to the Alternative Right: they are used to antagonise opponents and to signal in-group status, their ironic humour allowing hateful ideologies to appeal to new recruits online.

Kek

The icon most closely associated with the Alternative Right is Pepe the Frog, an anthropomorphised cartoon frog originating from Matt Furie’s comic series ‘Boy’s Club’ in 2005 and popularised by 4chan.

The meme gained an association with racism following increasing variations using far-right imagery, despite the efforts of the cartoon’s creator to disassociate the cartoon from racism.

4chan drew on gaming culture to germinate the Kek variation of the Pepe meme; the acronym “LOL” (widespread slang for “laugh out loud”) translates into “Kek” in one faction of World of Warcraft, the popular multiplayer fantasy role-playing game.

Ceasing upon the coincidence, 4chan reimagined Pepe as a modern-day incarnation of the frog-headed Egyptian god Kek, a bringer of chaos, bent on reshaping the modern world through figures such as Donald Trump.

In the parlance of the Alternative Right, this deity uses “meme magic” to achieve “real world” influence. Its adherents therefore “shitpost” – spread pointless and often offensive content online – with the goal of achieving national attention and “triggering” (upsetting) the largest possible number of people.

The denunciation of Pepe the Frog by Hillary Clinton as a “symbol associated with white supremacy” was widely celebrated by the Alternative Right as the pinnacle of their trolling achievement – until Trump’s shock election, that is.

A variation of the Kek meme

Kekistan

According to Know Your Meme, the notion of “Kekistan” – a home for Kek worshipping shitposters – had its origins in 4chan as early as December 2015, but was popularised early in 2017 in part to its adoption by Carl Benjamin (aka Sargon of Akkad), a YouTube commentator popular among sections of the online sceptic, anti-feminist and gaming communities. Benjamin has disavowed the racist elements of the alt-right.

British alt-light figure Luke Nash-Jones, founder of the oddball People’s Charter Foundation and YouTube channel Make Britain Great Again, took the joke even further, founding a website that allowed people to enlist as a Knight of Kekistan with a full list of mock-chivalric ranks.

Even some denizens of 4chan have begun to find the overuse of the meme tedious, deriding compulsive Kek posters as “autists” (an ableist slur referring to those considered obsessed and socially awkward).

A post on 4chan’s /pol/ board

The “humour” of the childish cartoon obfuscates the real world consequences of the Alternative Right.

The meme can also be used to provide a light-hearted sheen to tragedy, especially when regarding the more extreme alt-right. According to the Southern Poverty Law Centre, Andrew Anglin of the nazi website Daily Stormer credited Kek for the killing of more than 30 people in a fire at an artists’ collective in Oakland.

Alt-right racists designed Kekistan’s green, white and black banner to mimic a German imperial war flag. The banner has been flown at several alt-right rallies in the United States which have been marred by increasing violence. This includes the rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August which left peaceful counter-protester Heather Heyer dead.