A popular Facebook listing promoting a “Mummers” protest on New Year’s Day is peddling potentially racist and anti-Semitic imagery, raising questions about the organizers and their intentions for the event.
The images are the cover photo of the event page titled “Mummers/New Year’s Day Peaceful Protest Against Mayor Kenney.” Although the official Mummers Parade is canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, the listing’s organizers are calling on people to protest on Second Street in South Philadelphia on Jan. 1.
The doctored image shows Mayor Jim Kenney wearing white and red face makeup while holding a frog umbrella, the latter of which is potentially a reference to the anti-Semitic and racist Pepe the Frog cartoon (although the Mummers’ Froggy Carr Wench Brigade uses a frog as its symbol, too.)
In the image, Kenney is surrounded by what appear to be Mummers marching in costumes holding Jewish Stars of David on South Broad Street.
Shira Goodman, regional director of the Philadelphia Anti-Defamation League Philadelphia (ADL), said the image as a whole was very troublesome and concerning. But Goodman cautioned that more needs to be known about the organizers and why they included the imagery of Stars of David and a frog.
“We don’t want to see anti-Semitic, racist, extremist messaging affiliated with protests,” she said. “That can be dangerous. We don’t want to see groups of people being blamed for governmental decisions.”
Mummers leadership has distanced itself from any Mummers protest and backed the Kenney administration’s ban on large-scale events due to the pandemic.
Sam Regalbutto, president of the String Band Association, said Mummers leadership had no organized efforts to protest on New Year’s Day in order to abide by health protocols.
Regalbutto, who said he was speaking for the String Band Association, said he believed the protest organizers were using the Mummers to make a “political statement against the city.”
“A lot of this is outside the Mummer world being created,” Regalbutto said. “They think they’re supporting us but they don’t realize that they’re hurting us with these things,” he said, referring to calls for protest.
It remains unclear who the organizers of the protest march are. The two Facebook users who created the listing, Smelt Dank Memes and Kenney Was A Mummer Once, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The protest is billing itself as a First Amendment demonstration against Kenney’s “erroneous taxes and restrictions on our freedoms and liberties,” according to the listing, which has been up since July. More than 11,100 people have responded to the listing, including 2,800 who said they would go.
Upon first seeing the image associated with the Facebook listing, Chad Dion Lassiter, executive director of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, said it “raised a lot of flags.”
“It could be viewed as a very divisive image that’s rooted in racial attacks even if that’s not the intent,” Lassiter said.
Regalbutto recognized the Mummers pictured in the image holding the Jewish Stars of David as a recent sketch from the String Band division inspired by “Fiddler on the Roof,” a musical about Jewish tradition. The city and a local Jewish organization vetted the theme that year, he said.
The Kenney administration has no ongoing conversations about the protest with Mummers leadership and declined to comment on the image used in the Facebook listing, according to administration spokeswomen in an email.
Kenney urged people not to protest during a news conference last week. The city has not issued any permits for the potential protest but officials will not prevent Mummers from marching. Police will be deployed to ensure safety.
“Certainly people have a right to protest and we’ll try to keep them safe,” Kenney said last week. “If they would wear a mask, that would be helpful and not kind of breathe all over each other would be also helpful.”
While Pepe the Frog is not an inherently bigoted image, the white supremacist movement has increasingly used Pepe memes to espouse racist and bigoted ideas, Goodman said. The ADL has labeled Pepe the Frog a general hate symbol.
“People have been using it for racist memes and imagery and it can send a signal,” said Goodman about Pepe the Frog. “So it really depends what this organizer or these organizers are trying to do,” she said.
The user Smelt Dank Memes referenced “pepe the frog” in a Facebook post about another news organization’s coverage of the proposed protest. The user’s Facebook page also includes Pepe the Frog images and postings.
The ADL petitioned Facebook to remove the same doctored image after it surfaced this summer because it was a classic anti-Semitic image, implying Jews control the government, Goodman said.
Goodman and Lassiter noted the racist and offensive history of the Mummers Parade, which included racially derogatory skits and marchers and parade-goers wearing blackface.
Goodman also warned about supporters being duped by organizers with ulterior agendas.
“You can go to a site that you think is just about a First Amendment protest or protest about the quarantine restrictions,” she said, “but some of the people behind it may have different intent and different messages.”