Contextual Hate Symbols

Symbols that have been co-opted by hate-promoting groups and ascribed with contextual meaning. We define each symbol as a meme, a coopted symbol, or a conspiracy theory. We use a broad definition of meme, which includes slogans and codes, in addition to image macros found online.

Bonhomme Carnaval - (Coopted symbol)

Bonhomme is the mascot of the Québec Winter Carnival. Similar to Pepe the Frog, Bonhomme is an inoffensive symbol that has been intentionally reappropriated as a symbol of white nationalism on fringe websites like 4chan. Most appearances of Bonhomme online are not hateful, but in some spaces his likeness is edited to promote antisemitism and other forms of racism. Bonhomme is a culturally significant icon in Québec, which is a major reason why he was chosen to symbolize Canadian white nationalism.

Nazi Bonhomme Meme Example
Example of far-right Bonhomme meme

Burger King Crown - (Coopted symbol)

Some Burger King restaurants give out free cardboard crowns. The promotional give-away has become a contextual hate symbol after an individual wearing a paper Burger King Crown was ejected from an October 2020 flight after shouting racial slurs at a Black passenger. The crown has since been used online as a semi-ironic symbol of praise for one’s hateful rhetoric, particularly in the context of anti-Black racism. It is often paired with other symbols like the skull mask or Pit Viper sunglasses.

Burger King Crown
Photograph of incident that Burger King Crown meme emerged from

Canada is Collapsing/Lord Humungous - (Meme)

A meme that emerged from 4chan using food price disinformation to promote an accelerationist collapse narrative. Memes that included Lord Humungous, a minor character from Mad Max 2 (1981), challenging users to post real food prices are commonly posted to these threads, which are common enough that Lord Humungous now appears in other memes. Although the character Lord Humungous and the Canada is Collapsing narrative are not inherently antisemitic, they are regularly posted alongside antisemitic content.

Lord Humungous
Example of a Lord Humungous meme

Carillon Sacré Coeur - (Coopted symbol)

An early version of the current day flag of Québec which includes both nationalistic and religious imagery such as the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It was used by French Catholic nationalists from 1903 to 1935. It continues to find use with contemporary ultra-nationalist, traditionalist Catholic groups who view it as a symbol of Québec’s past. The flag often appears online with images of past Québec Premier Maurice Duplessis, or hung on the walls of far-right content producers.

Like other Canadian flags that have been appropriated, the Carillon Sacré Coeur is not an inherently hateful symbol, and continues to be used by some mainstream civil society institutions in Québec today. Context must be taken into account when evaluating its appearance.

Carillon Sacre Coeur
Carillon Sacre Coeur

Celtic Cross - (Coopted symbol)

A specific version of the Celtic Cross has its origin as a white supremacist symbol in the 1930s and 1940s. After the Second World War, several white supremacist organization and movements adopted the symbol. It is still used by a variety of white supremacists today. Stormfront, the Internet’s first white supremacist forum, notably used it as part of its logo. Because it is used across different subcultures, not all uses of the Celtic Cross are hateful.

The symbol was originally a sun wheel, but has since been reinterpreted as a crucifix. Not all appearances of Celtic Crosses are hate symbols, and the term can refer to a variety of symbols used by Christians, pagans, and Celtic nationalists featuring a cross encircled by a ring.

Celtic Cross
Celtic Cross

Day of Action - (Meme)

Term used by some accelerationists, particularly neo-Nazis, to describe mass killings. It is used both in praise of mass killers like Anders Breivik and Alexandre Bissonnette, as well as to encourage new mass killings. The term is also widely used by political parties and other advocacy-oriented organizations - as such, hateful usages of the term are highly contextual and must be evaluated carefully.

See also: Sainthood

Example of a Sainthood meme listing individual mass killers’ Days of Action
Example of a Sainthood meme listing individual mass killers’ Days of Action

Death Rune - (Coopted Symbol)

The Death Rune is a flipped variation of the Life Rune. Like the Life Rune, it was used by the SS to signify death. After the Second World War the Death rune continues to be used by Neo-Nazis and white supremacists, particularly in the context of celebrating fallen allies.

Not all uses of the Death Rune are hateful, and context has to be carefully taken into account. The symbol is not to be confused with Death Runes from the popular RuneScape video game.

See also: Life Rune, Schutzstaffel Runes

Death Rune
Death Rune

Early Life - (Meme)

A meme used by antisemitic groups and individuals to call attention to the Jewish ethnicity of prominent individuals by pushing users to look at the ‘Early Life’ section of their Wikipedia page in the hopes of finding that the individual grew up in a Jewish family. It is most often used to spread antisemitic notions that Jews form a global world elite that is responsible for all of the world’s problems, and is used in similar ways to the triple parentheses symbol. However, it is also a popular meme in Jewish Internet culture, and not all of its uses are hateful.

Early Life Meme
Example of an Early Life meme

Honk Honk - (Meme)

Honk Honk is a slogan associated with ‘Clown World’ memes on 4Chan and Reddit used to convey absurdist nihilism. Honk Honk’s initials ‘HH’ are a common code for Heil Hitler and it is a common catchphrase of Honkler, a nihilist clown-themed version of Pepe that espouses extreme bigotry.

In early 2022 Honk Honk became strongly associated with Canada’s “Freedom Convoy”, a convoy of anti-vaccine and anti-government activists that used vehicle horns as a symbol of their eventual occupation of Ottawa. Its resurgence was due to both the widespread use of car and truck horns as a protest tool, and by a concentrated effort from white supremacists involved in the convoy.

Most individuals sharing Convoy memes that include "Honk Honk" do not mean to express support for Hitler, but there are those that do, and the memes being shared by those that don’t utilize imagery and vocabulary associated earlier, bigoted expressions.

Honk Honk Meme
Example of a Honk Honk meme from the Ottawa Occupation

Life Rune - (Coopted Symbol)

Also known as: Elhaz Rune, Algiz Rune

The Life Rune was a name given to the Algiz or Elhaz Rune appropriated by the Nazis. In the context of Nazi pseudoarcheological beliefs it came to symbolize “life” and was widely referred to as the Life Rune in Germany. The symbol was used in Nazi uniforms and iconography, including by the SS body responsible for the “Lebensborn” racial birth program responsible for promoting “Aryans” and the Sturmabteilung. The Life Rune has an inverted counterpart, the Death Rune.

After the Second World War the Life rune continues to be used by neo-Nazis and white supremacists. In Canada, the Heritage Front used a Life Rune in their logo.

Not all uses of the Life Rune are hateful, and context has to be carefully taken into account.

See also: Death Rune, Schutzstaffel Runes

Life Rune
Life Rune

Noose - (Symbol)

The noose is a symbol of lynching in North America and in British contexts often means killing local pedophiles. As a symbol it occasionally makes appearance at political gatherings to threaten opponents, such as the gallows constructed during the insurrection at the United States Capitol on January 6.

The appearance of a noose, even in extreme spaces, isn’t always explicitly hateful. There are numerous memes indicating suicidal feelings or intent that do not target hate against any community.

Image of noose-tying instructions used in memes
Image of noose-tying instructions used in memes

"Okay" Hand Gesture - (Coopted Symbol)

In 2017, alt-right activists on alternative social media sites like 4Chan began a deliberate campaign to spread the use of the single-handed gesture. In theory, three fingers form a ‘W’ while the index finger and thumb form a ‘P’ - the acronym for White Power.

The gesture was chosen because of its resemblance to a popular gesture representing “okay”, in the hopes that people would eventually become polarized over whether or not the signal was necessarily racist. In 2019, The Anti-Defamation League officially recognized the gesture as a hate symbol, but emphasizes that “use of the okay symbol in most contexts is entirely innocuous and harmless.”

Example of "Okay" meme
Example of "Okay" meme

Othala - (Coopted Symbol)

Also known as: Odal, Homeland Rune

Odal, also called Othala, is a runic letter appropriated from ancient Germanic alphabets by Nazi Germany. The rune represents “home” or “homeland” and most often appears as one of two different iterations: that with hooked “legs” and that without.

Odals were used as the main iconography on the insignias of multiples divisions of the Waffen SS, Nazi Germany’s paramilitary wing. Since the Second World War, the Odal Rune has been a lasting, prominent symbol in a variety of white supremacist movements and appears in mediums including hate group logos, flags, tattoos, and internet memes.

The Odal, like other Germanic runes, is not always a symbol of hate. It is still used in Pagan culture for its original purposes and appears in popular culture representations of Nordic culture and mythology.

The variation of the Odal Rune with serifs has no non-hateful uses and is banned in Germany.

See also: Schutzstaffel Runes

Othala Rune with Serifs
Othala Rune with Serifs

Pepe and Canadian Variants - (Meme)

An early symbol of the alt-right, Pepe was appropriated from a comic book character of the same name. The comic’s creator, Matthew Furie, has repeatedly denounced white supremacists’ use of the character. Pepe is a versatile character whose smile is used to demonstrate ill intent in a wide variety of hate memes. Pepe’s face is often adapted to become an offensive caricature.

Alterations of Pepe based on Canadian iconography originated on the /pol board of 4Chan. Pepes imposed with Canadian flags or merged with visual representations of Canadian stereotypes are used to represent extremism, the alt-right, or 4Chan users in Canada.

Pepe sometimes appears in memes that are not hateful. Memes made prior to 2016 involving Pepe often lack a hateful context, while there are many examples of Pepe memes made after that are also not hateful. For example, in 2019 Hong Kong activists used Pepe as a mascot for pro-democracy demonstrations. However, non-hateful uses of this symbol are especially rare in Canada, and Pepe’s appearance should be viewed with suspicion.

Canadian Pepe
Example of a Pepe the Frog meme

Pit Vipers - (Coopted Symbol)

Distinctly branded line of sunglasses, often used as part of an unofficial uniform of white nationalist movements. Pit Vipers are used in hate memes, often alongside other contextual symbols like skull masks, to represent white supremacist accelerationism.

Pit Vipers are popular sunglasses within subcultures outside of hate movements. Their use is not explicitly hateful, and the company has denounced the use of their products by hate groups.

Pit Vipers
Pit Vipers

Red Ensign - (Coopted Symbol)

The Red Ensign was the civil ensign, nautical ensign, and unofficial flag for Canada from 1892 until 1965. In recent years, the Red Ensign has become a frequent fixture of rallies organized by hate groups, who view it as a symbol of Canada’s pre-multicultural and colonial past. Many memes referencing the Red Ensign often feature modified versions of the flag, for example by changing its colours.

Like other Canadian flags that have been appropriated, the Red Ensign is not an inherently hateful symbol. Context must be taken into account when evaluating its appearance.

Red Ensign, Canada
Red Ensign

Roman Statue - (Coopted Symbol)

Roman statues are used by followers of fascist movements and white nationalists to convey artistic achievement in a “Western” society. Roman architecture and art are also used to represent white nationalism under the false pretense that Rome was a white ethnostate.

Roman statues are most commonly represented in neofascist movements in Fashwave images and as display pictures on social media. Roman statues were used in vaporwave imagery before their appropriation in fashwave.

Example of a Roman Statue meme
Example of a Roman Statue meme

Schutzstaffel Runes - (Coopted Symbols)

Schutzstaffel head Heinrich Himmler was obsessed with the occult and pseudoarcheological interpretations of Germanic history, and sought to use symbols and rituals to root the organization in his views. Some runes had already been used by members of the SS and its predecessor organizations prior to Himmler’s adoption, but he systematised it. The SS used several runes drawn from the mystic Guido von List’s Armanen Runes as organizational symbols. The symbols in List’s work, which he claimed came to him in a vision during a period of temporary blindness, were inspired by the historic Norse Younger Futhark runes. In addition to runes from List’s work, the SS also appropriated other esoteric symbols like the Wolfsangel.

The SS bolts were adapted from the Sowilo rune that the Nazis coopted.

SS Runes, including the SS bolts, continue to be used today by neo-Nazis and white supremacists. However, not all uses of real or pseudohistorical runes is hateful, and context has to be carefully taken into account.

See also: Death Rune, Eif Rune, Ger Rune, Hagal Rune, Life Rune, Odal Rune, Sowilo Rune, Tyr Rune

The Sowilo Rune in the SS Logo
The Sowilo Rune in the SS Logo

Skull Mask - (Coopted Symbol)

Balaclavas and bandanas displaying the lower jaw of a skull over the wearer’s mouth, often dubbed ‘skull masks’, are the unofficial uniform of the modern far-right accelerationism movement. Their use in extremist circles was popularized by white supremacist groups associated with the Iron March Network, such as Atomwaffen Division, who featured it extensively in their propaganda.

In memes, they can be added to characters as an endorsement of far-right accelerationism, or to signify one’s status as an extremist. Despite their widespread use by white supremacist groups, skull masks are sometimes used in non-hateful video games and as part of Halloween costumes.

Skull Mask
Skull Mask

Sowilo - (Coopted Symbol)

Also appears as: "S" Rune

The “Sowilo” rune represents the sun in Germanic writings preceding the Roman alphabet. In Nazi Germany it was appropriated as a placeholder for the letter ‘S’, most notably in the logo of the SS (Schutzstaffel). Sowilos, especially in pairs, are a commonly used rune in neo-Nazi movements. Both historic and modern neo-Nazi movements are known to incorporate both runes and representations of the sun into their symbolism.

Following the Second World War, Sowilos used in place of the letter ‘S’ were popular in heavy metal and biker subcultures as a method of adding shock value to iconography. This use of the rune was largely ironic and not necessarily indicative of Nazi beliefs. In online spaces, Sowilos are often represented in screen names using lightning bolt emojis.

Sowilo Rune
Sowilo Rune

Tyr - (Coopted Symbol)

Also known as: Tiwaz Rune

The Tyr Rune is an appropriated symbol that was widely used in Nazi Germany and was adopted by a Waffen-SS unit.

The symbol is associated with a pagan God by the same name, and is used by neo-pagans in worship. Not all uses of the Tyr rune are hateful, and context has to be carefully taken into account.

Tyr Rune
Tyr Rune

White Boy Summer - (Meme)

White Boy Summer was a slogan coined by actor/rapper Chet Hanks in 2021 to celebrate a summer with fewer COVID-19 restrictions in the United States. Though not hateful in intent, the slogan has been co-opted by white nationalists, oftentimes to celebrate what they view as victories for the white race or in opposition to the Black Lives Matter Summer in 2020. The term came to such prominence that it is often referenced without the use of text. It is often used in conjunction with other symbols like Pit Viper sunglasses or a Burger King crown.

White Boy Summer Meme
Example of a White Boy Summer meme

Wolfsangel - (Coopted Symbol)

The Wolfsangel symbol was traditionally used on German family coats of arms. It is said to be based on the design of a Germanic wolf trap. It was adopted by Nazi Germany and notably used on the insignias of many military divisions.

The Wolfsangel’s use predates fascism. Its appearance is not always explicitly hateful, but it should be viewed with suspicion. It continues to be a popular symbol in neo-Nazi movements. It is currently the centerpiece of the insignia alongside a Sonnenrad for the Azov Special Operations Detachment, a contingent of the Ukrainian National Guard associated with neo-Nazism. The Wolfsangel is also used in emblems for groups such as Aryan Nations and is a common neo-Nazi tattoo.

Wolfsangel
Wolfsangel

These lists are continually updated, and should not be considered comprehensive. Suggestions for future inclusions can be sent to neuberger [at] ujafed.org

French translations of each symbol will be available in November 2022.

Hatepedia was produced by the Online Hate Research and Education Project, which is an initiative of the Holocaust Education Centre. For more information, please visit our website or contact us at neubeger [at] ujafed.org.

Hatepedia and OHREP have been made possible in part by the Government of Canada.

Hatepedia et OHREP a été rendu possible en partie grâce au gouvernement du Canada.