It happened after a Twitter user asked if Wendy's had "any memes," according to screenshots captured by NBC News' Kyle Griffin. Wendy's replied to the user with a meme of Pepe styled with pale skin and red pigtails:
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) January 4, 2017
Wendy's replied to Griffin's screenshots claiming that its community manager was unaware of the "recent evolution" of the meme. The original tweet containing the meme was quickly deleted.
@kylegriffin1 Our community manager was unaware of the recent evolution of the Pepe meme's meaning and this tweet was promptly deleted.
— Wendy's (@Wendys) January 4, 2017
For the uninitiated, Pepe began as a playful meme drawn from a comic that was popular on Reddit. It soon took a turn and became a symbol of the "alt-right," a loose group of white nationalists, misogynists and anti-Semites, as many of the movement's adherents drew Pepe as Hitler or near gas chambers. Pepe even appeared in a photoshopped image tweeted out by Donald Trump, Jr. Eventually, the Anti-Defemation League declared Pepe a hate symbol.
Later in the day Wednesday, the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer published a post endorsing Wendy's as "The Official Fast Food Chain of the Alt-Right." In the post, filled with nostalgia from the site founder's trips to Wendy’s as a child, Andrew Anglin wrote that despite its clarification tweet he believes Wendy's knew exactly what it was doing by posting the meme.
"Note that this is not an apology," he wrote. "And of course, everyone knows that Pepe is a Nazi frog. The entirety of 2016 was spent talking about this frog, as he was declared a 'hate symbol' by the Christ-killers at the Anti-Defamation League. This was a frog whistle, straight up. And we need to embrace them for it."
The dustup came as Wendy's Twitter had received some viral acclaim this week for a snarky tweet exchange it had with another user over its claim of using "fresh, never frozen, beef." The user in question has deleted his account since the exchange went viral.
@NHride You don't have to bring them into this just because you forgot refrigerators existed for a second there.
— Wendy's (@Wendys) January 2, 2017