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InfoWars host Alex Jones championed Pepe the Frog as “a symbol of free speech” and more than just a meme in a deposition of his defense testimony as part of an ongoing copyright case pursued by the artist who created the character.
The comments were revealed in a 156-page court document acquired and published by Motherboard on Tuesday.
“There’s now a movement to try to then control and own symbols that have entered the public domain and public use,” Jones said. “So now I see [Pepe] as basically a tombstone of free speech and fair use in the Western world. So I see it for what it is, from the perspective of the corporate fascists.”
Jones is being sued by artist Matt Furie, who originally created Pepe as a webcomic character in 2006. Furie alleges that Jones infringed copyright by selling the image of the frog printed on posters via the InfoWars website.
Boosted by the popularity of Furie’s comic, Pepe was a mostly innocent meme for years. Jones’ posters went for sale after the character was appropriated during the 2016 presidential election cycle by pro-Trump trolls and the far right. The meme was eventually declared a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League.
In his rambling defense, Jones claimed he did not understand the Pepe meme when it first emerged and, at another point, observed that the frog’s head looks “like a butt.”
Discussing public and media reactions to his defense of using the meme, Jones did acknowledge the racist and anti-Semitic themes that became widely associated with its use.
“It’s a way of saying I’m a white supremacist,” he said. “So it’s a way of defaming me and acting like I stole something all at the same time. It’s just, God, I don’t know how people sleep at night. It’s amazing.”
Furie, in bringing the lawsuit, had initially struggled to get a handle on the hijacking of his art by anonymous internet users, and at one point had even attempted to officially kill off Pepe in a special edition of his comic. However, when right-wing social media personalities began peddling Pepe-branded merchandise, the creator was able to enforce his claim to copyright successfully.
Furie’s legal team began issuing cease and desist demands to the likes of Mike Cernovich, Baked Alaska, and neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer. Social media giants like Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit were served Digital Millennium Copyright Act notices. The move worked, except with InfoWars, which promised to fight Furie’s lawsuit for freedom of speech.
On April 8, Jones’ legal team used its summary judgements to request the dismissal of the case, citing “fair use” of the Pepe image, but Furie does not intend to back down. His lawyers say their case is ready to go to trial on July 16.
David Gilmour is a reporter who specializes in national politics, internet culture, and technology. He previously covered civil liberties, crime, and politics for Vice.