Explaining the Alt-Right 'Deity' Behind Their 'Meme Magic
A satirical religion with a frog-headed god has become a favorite new way for white nationalists to troll liberals, while spreading their meme-driven strategy.
Who, or what, is Kek?
Kek, in the alt-right’s telling, is the “deity” of the semi-ironic “religion” the white nationalist movement has created for itself online – partly for amusement, as a way to troll liberals and self-righteous conservatives both, and to make a kind of political point. He is a god of chaos and darkness, with the head of a frog, the source of their memetic “magic
,” to whom the alt-right and Donald Trump owe their success, according to their own explanations.
In many ways, Kek is the apotheosis of the bizarre alternative reality of the alt-right: at once absurdly juvenile, transgressive, and racist, as well as reflecting a deeper, pseudo-intellectual purpose that lends it an appeal to young ideologues who fancy themselves deep thinkers. It dwells in that murky area they often occupy, between satire, irony, mockery, and serious ideology; Kek can be both a big joke to pull on liberals and a reflection of the alt-right’s own self-image as serious agents of chaos in modern society.
A 'Kekistan' banner was part of the scene at the alt-right "free speech" rally April 15 in Berkeley, CA.
Most of all, Kek has become a kind of tribal marker of the alt-right: Its meaning obscure and unavailable to ordinary people – “normies,” in their lingo – referencing Kek is most often just a way of signaling to fellow conversants online that the writer embraces the principles of chaos and destruction that are central to alt-right thinking, as it were.
The name, usage, and ultimately the ideas around it originated in gaming culture, particularly on chat boards devoted to the World of Warcraft online computer games, according to Know Your Meme. In those games, participants can chat only with members of their own faction in the “war” (either Alliance or Horde fighters), while opposing players’ chats are rendered in a cryptic form based on Korean; thus, the common chat phrase “LOL” (laugh out loud) was read by opposing players as “KEK.” The phrase caught on as a variation on “LOL” in game chat rooms, as well as at open forums dedicated to gaming, animation, and popular culture, such as 4chan and Reddit – also dens of the alt-right, where the Pepe the Frog meme also has its origins, and similarly hijacked as a symbol of white nationalism.
At some point, someone at 4chan happened to seize on a coincidence: There was, in fact, an Egyptian god named Kek. An androgynous god who could take either male or female form, Kek originally was depicted in female form as possessing the head of a frog or a cat and a serpent when male; but during the Greco-Roman period, the male form was depicted as a frog-headed man.
More importantly, Kek was portrayed as a bringer of chaos and darkness, which happened to fit perfectly with the alt-right’s self-image as being primarily devoted to destroying the existing world order.
In the fertile imaginations at play on 4chan’s image boards and other alt-right gathering spaces, this coincidence took on a life of its own, leading to wide-ranging speculation that Pepe – who, by then, had not only become closely associated with the alt-right, but also with the candidacy of Donald Trump – was actually the living embodiment of Kek. And so the Cult of Kek was born.
The main point of the whole exercise is to mock “political correctness,” an alt-right shibboleth, and deeply reflective of the ironic, often deadpan style of online trolling in general, and alt-right “troll storms” especially. Certainly, if any “normies” were to make the mistake of taking their “religion” seriously and suggesting that their “deity” was something they actually worshipped, they would receive the usual mocking treatment reserved for anyone foolish enough to take their words at face value.
Yet at the same time, lurking behind all the clownery is an idea that alt-righters actually seem to take seriously: Namely, that by spreading their often cryptic memes far and wide on social media and every other corner of the Internet, they are infecting the popular discourse with their ideas. For the alt-right, those core ideas all revolve around white males, the patriarchy, nationalism, and race, especially the underlying belief that white males and masculinity are under siege – from feminists, from liberals, from racial, ethnic, and sexual/gender minorities.