Saturday, July 20

Chet Hanks and the Rise of a Controversial Meme

In the spring of 2021, Chet Hanks, son of Tom Hanks, sparked controversy by declaring that it would be a “white boy summer.” Initially ambiguous, the 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 Telegram posts, used by far-right groups to recruit, organize protests, and incite violence, particularly against immigrants and LGBTQ individuals. The phrase now symbolizes an unabashed 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 the fringes of the Internet to mainstream political discourse. Jack Posobiec, a podcaster with ties to white supremacists, held a banner reading “white boy summer” 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 an Instagram post, he clarified that he was not referring to “Trump, NASCAR white guy,” but to artists like himself, Jon B., and Jack Harlow.

In April 2021, Hanks released a music video under the name Chet Hanx, an homage 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 the hate.”

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

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

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

Todd Gutnick, a spokesman for the Anti-Defamation League, noted the meme’s spread from far-right circles to mainstream right-wing discourse. The Global Project Against Hate and Extremism report notes that the meme is now being used by extremist groups around the world, 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,” concluding with a church emoji.