Marketer pitches hot sauce to ‘alt-right’

Howard Cohen
Miami Herald

Jeremy Bernstein, who splits his time between Miami Beach and New York, is marketing his brand of hot sauce as “the spiciest sauce this side of the wall.”

“The wall” being one that President Donald Trump wants built to keep Mexican immigrants from crossing the border illegally into the United States.

Bernstein’s Hot Pepe’s “Over the Wall” Hot Sauce could be the first food product marketed to the “alt-right,” a political grouping or tendency mixing racism, white nationalism, anti-Semitism and populism.

The slogan on his Hot Pepe’s website reads: “Crafted with 100 percent culturally-appropriated ingredients, it’s guaranteed to produce Regressive Liberal and SJW tears. It is Muy Picante, my friends! Believe me.”

But Bernstein’s sauce, which he sells for $9.95 a bottle online, has gotten him into hot water.

Hot Pepe’s logo is a frog sporting all the accoutrements of a Mexican stereotype: a sombrero, a thick black mustache and a taco in its hand. The problem is, it bears too close a resemblance to a cartoon frog created by cartoonist Matt Furie in a 2005 comic called “Boy’s Club.”

Furie’s green anthropomorphic frog grew into a popular internet meme on websites like Tumblr and 4chan by 2008. But over the past year, it has been appropriated as a symbol of the alt-right movement.

Furie is furious that Bernstein, a former writer for the pro-Trump website Big League Politics who filmed himself at a march at an alt-right, anti-Islam rally in New York in June and posted the video to YouTube, has used his character to market a product to the alt-right.

Miami New Times reports that Furie’s legal team WilmerHale sent Bernstein a cease-and-desist letter to demand he stop using Furie’s copyrighted amphibian.

“I got cease-and-desisted by WilmerHale,” Bernstein told New Times in late November. “But Furie doesn’t have a trademark on it. They can’t cease-and-desist me. They tried. But he never trademarked it.”

Apparently, they can. Furie, who doesn’t want his cartoon character used as symbol of racism and intolerance, aggressively enforces his intellectual property, the media site Motherboard/Vice reports.

In August, Furie’s lawyers settled with Eric Hauser, a former assistant principal in Texas who appropriated Pepe the Frog’s image for use in an Islamophobic children’s book.

Furie’s lawyers forced Hauser to stop selling the book and made him donate his profits to the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Bernstein claims that Pepe the Frog is public domain but told Miami New Times that his lawyer “buddy” told him he couldn’t trademark the image.

Despite Hot Pepe’s image on the product and its website ad tagline — “Over The Wall is Made In The USA and endorsed by Vladimir Putin’s longest-living chef. Be a bad hombre on the right side of the wall” — Bernstein told New Times that his product wasn’t a symbol of racial intolerance. Instead, its inspiration comes, Raw Story reports, from a 4chan meme that mocks autistic people.

Bernstein told New Times that the sauce was intended to be used on chicken tenders, in reference to the 4chan “chicken tendies” meme. On that lengthy meme, people post stories about an autistic, overweight character complaining about “normie” people and who demands chicken tendies.

Bernstein, New Times reported, offered to ship the alt-weekly a free sample. New Times declined.