Austin PAC says they mistakenly used 'racist' frog in ad against Adler

An online ad from local political action committee Indy Austin advocating against the re-election of Austin Mayor Steve Adler has resulted in the group apologizing to the Mayor.

Linda Curtis is co-founder of Indy Austin.  The group fights for transparency, open government and the right to petition.

"And to stop, you know, our local city governments from handing over hundreds of millions of tax dollars without even so much as a peep, much less a vote of the people," Curtis said.

During the recent City Hall discussion about allowing a Major League Soccer team to build a stadium on city-owned land, Indy Austin fought against it and they're currently pushing to put the deal on a ballot.

That's where the Mayor Adler "Shell game" ad came in.  

"It's a shell game where they're trying to hide the pea and the pea is hundreds of millions of dollars in giveaways to a soccer stadium deal that will be inked after the election and will not even receive a vote of the City Council," Curtis said.

The problem is: the animation Indy Austin found on the internet to use in their social media ad is no pea.  It's "Pepe the Frog."

"We thought it was just like a pea with a face on it.  It turns out, somebody pointed out 'Hey did you know that's Pepe the Frog?'  ‘Ok, who is Pepe the Frog?’" Curtis said.  

Renee Lafair is Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League.  She says the character started off in the mid-2000's as just a happy-go-lucky frog.

"Well a few years ago what happened is the alt-right kind of co-opted the meme and turned the meme into racist and anti-Semitic pictures of the frog," Lafair said.

Lafair says Pepe has an undertone of hate when used by those groups.

"It's really important to determine the context under which it was used, who used it and it's not always bad but sometimes it's used and it's used for bad things.  It's used to spread bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism and that's what the alt-right has been using for the past several years," Lafair said.

"It's sometimes seen as a racist kind of symbol, we said 'Oh my God, we absolutely need to take that down,' so we took it down and re-did the ad, we had no idea," Curtis said.  

Austin Mayor Steve Adler, who is Jewish, sent out a statement saying in part "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." 

Bobby Epstein is Chairman of Circuit of the Americas, home to a United Soccer League team.  Epstein himself recently donated $24,000 to Indy Austin according to the latest campaign finance report.  Epstein tweeted a statement  condemning the attack on Adler, whether it was intentional or unintentional, and announced they were pulling financial support from the group.

"It was definitely our mistake and fault and we apologized and did what we had to do," Curtis said.