Chet Hanks and the rise of a controversial meme

Chet Hanks and the rise of a controversial meme
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In spring 2021, Chet Hanks, son of Tom Hanks, stirred controversy by declaring it was going to be a “white boy summer.” Initially ambiguous, this phrase has since been co-opted by white supremacist groups, according to a report by the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism.

This year, the slogan has appeared in thousands of posts on Telegram, used by far-right groups to recruit, organize protests, and incite violence, particularly against immigrants and LGBTQ individuals. The phrase now symbolizes an unashamed celebration of white heterosexual masculinity, often at the expense of women and people of color.

Wendy Via, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, noted that the meme has moved from internet fringes to mainstream political discourse. Jack Posobiec, a podcaster linked to white supremacists, displayed a “white boy summer” banner at a Turning Point USA rally in Detroit, where former President Donald Trump spoke.

Chet Hanks did not respond to requests for comment. He began using the phrase in 2021 in social media posts about fashion and lifestyle advice for men. In one Instagram post, he clarified that he wasn’t referring to “Trump, white NASCAR type,” but to artists like himself, Jon B., and Jack Harlow.

In April 2021, Hanks released a music video under the name Chet Hanx, a tribute to Megan Thee Stallion’s “Hot Girl Summer.” The video, filled with profanity and offensive slurs, ends with Hanks wearing a T-shirt that reads “stop hate.”

The “white boy summer” meme is not the first to be hijacked by white supremacists. Pepe the Frog, created by Matt Furie, became so associated with hate that the Anti-Defamation League classified it as a hate symbol in 2016.

Even before this meme, Chet Hanks was criticized for using a racial slur against black people and adopting a Jamaican accent in public appearances, including at the 2020 Golden Globe Awards.

Groups like the Proud Boys and “active clubs” have adopted the “white boy summer” meme. Although mainly found on extremist platforms like Gab and 4chan, the phrase also appears on major social media sites, often with Nazi imagery.

Todd Gutnick, a spokesperson for the Anti-Defamation League, noted the meme’s spread from far-right circles into mainstream right-wing discourse. The Global Project Against Hate and Extremism report highlights that the meme is now used by extremist groups worldwide, including in France and Finland.

Despite the controversy, Chet Hanks continues to embrace the meme. In May, he posted on Instagram, “This is gonna be a #WBS,” ending with a church emoji.

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