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How A Leftist Finnish Meme Became A White Supremacist Comic Strip

Basically: Anti-Semitism is complicated, but bears are always funny.

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Le American Bear is a sunglasses-wearing, morbidly obese cartoon brown bear, dressed in an American flag t-shirt, who loves hamburgers and freedom, cannot speak in complete sentences, and gets around in a mobility scooter because walking is too hard.

He's a blunt parody of American excess, one who might not be out of place on South Park.

Except for one thing. He's the credulous foil to and perpetual victim of pro-Israel, anti-America conspiracies by "Jew-bwa-ha-ha.gif" (the internet's favorite anti-Semitic cartoon), and the White Supremacist internet absolutely loves him:

On dozens of white supremacist and white nationalist news sites, message boards, and chans, Le American Bear comics are shared, where they're used to humorously punctuate arguments about Jews' control over white Americans too stupid and gluttonous to notice. It's among the most popular, if not the most popular, cartoons in this dark basement of the internet.

But it doesn't come from there.

Anti-Semitism makes for unlikely bedfellows, a point you might infer from the strange history of "Jew-bwa-ha-ha.gif" (also known as "Le Happy Merchant"), the derogatory Jewish caricature beloved in equal measure by message board white supremacists and just-for-the-lulz trolls, and in fact created by a 90s version of the latter for a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

And now, to that noxious brew, add another ingredient: the Finnish internet.

Yes, Le American Bear can be traced back to Finland's answer to 4chan, a now-defunct image board called Kuvalauta. It was here, in 2008, that the popular meme Spurdo Spärde, the progenitor of Le American Bear, was born. According to Know Your Meme:

Spurdo Spärde is a poorly drawn character based on the sprite image of Pedobear. It was originally conceived in the Finnish imageboard Kuvalauta to mock the newcomers who often flooded the site with hackneyed reposts, one of the main materials being images of Pedobear. The character is coarsely drawn on purpose and accompanied by captions that are misspelled and stylized in all cap.

In other words, Spurdo Spärde is a simpleton, a rube, an all-purpose boob. And it wasn't long before Finnish chans starting dressing Spurdo up in costumes. One of those costumes was Le American Bear:

Le American Bear seems to have started out as simply a parody of Americans: He's stupid, he's addicted to hamburgers, he thinks drinking Diet Coke is good for his health, and he's willing to protect his freedoms with a gun.

Quickly, however, the main dynamic of the comic was established: "Le Happy Merchant", who Le American Bear uncritically accepts as his "greatest ally", repeatedly tricks Le American Bear into acts of violence and self-harm that either enrich Le Happy Merchant, serve Israel, or both. It's a modern version of a centuries-old trope, a Der Sturmer cartoon run through a chan filter. The fact that the cartoons are funny, in the internet-culture way, is the scariest thing about them.

Le American Bear is also a kind of perfect meme culture replication of the crankish, extreme anti-Zionism of the Western and Northern European far left, whose arguments about America, Israel, and the Middle East can be ungenerously summed up with the following cartoon:

Of course, no vision of a Jewish conspiratorial global order is complete without a truther version of 9/11:

That a rhetorical strain in European political thinking would express itself in vile web comics isn't surprising. What is surprising is the way these cartoons have drawn together the left elements of social democracies, which are devoted to equality, and the white supremacist internet, which is... not, and which has gleefully adopted Le American Bear as its own.

In a post from April of last year, a writer for the popular white supremacist site Daily Stormer introduces Le American Bear as

a DIY cartoon series mocking the modern decadent and depraved American mainstream, presented without comment.

Today, Le American Bear is a mainstay on white supremacist chans like Freedom Board and blogs like the charmingly titled EldersofZyklon. It's catnip to Red Pill audiences, who think the "American mainstream"—white and male, naturally—is blind to a centuries-old global conspiracy to reduce their power and take advantage of them. The irony that these "Freedom" loving supremacists are among the group being satirized by the European cartoons is apparently lost.

The strange history of Le American Bear offers a bracingly clear example of the way anti-Semitism can give common cause to the most disparate political positions — and yet more proof that the socialism of fools is alive and well in web culture, and making new friends.

Joe Bernstein is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Bernstein reports on and writes about the gaming industry and web culture.

Contact Joseph Bernstein at joe.bernstein@buzzfeed.com.

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