One of Austin’s more prolific political action committees has apologized after releasing a video ad featuring Pepe the Frog, a cartoon frog used by anti-Semitic and alt-right groups.
IndyAustin has collected thousands of dollars for several political goals, including opposing Mayor Steve Adler’s re-election and getting Proposition J on the ballot. An ad it released this morning features a scrolling banner criticizing Adler for a yet-to-be-finalized soccer stadium deal.
It alludes to the potential "$100s of millions in property tax exemptions to an OUT-OF-STATE millionaire for his ‘Sucker Stadium.’” A shell game then unfolds: One of three shells conceals a pea, the shells are mixed up and when they stop, a hand lifts one up to reveal, well, Pepe.
“We honestly thought it was a cartoon of a pea smoking a cigar,” Linda Curtis, who runs IndyAustin, wrote in an email. She apologized for the use of the offensive image and removed Pepe from the ad.
But the damage had been done.
In a statement, Bobby Epstein, chairman of the Circuit of the Americas and a big funder of IndyAustin, said he was withdrawing all financial support from the PAC. Earlier this month, he contributed $24,000 to support IndyAustin's efforts to put the stadium deal to a public vote. It was unclear whether he'd ask for that money back or was just stopping future contributions.
“I and everyone associated with COTA vehemently and unequivocally oppose the use of any and all hate speech against any person, group, or belief and will not tolerate this attack, whether it was intentional or unintentional,” Epstein wrote.
Adler’s re-election campaign also released a statement condemning the ad.
“I am troubled that a symbol used in anti-Semitic communications by members of the alt-right throughout the United States would now appear in an Austin campaign,” said Adler, who is Jewish. The ad featuring Pepe was released two days after 11 people were killed while attending services at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.
“I’d like to know why it was featured in a video produced by a PAC that is attacking me. Our community deserves to know,” he said.