How Tom Hanks’ Son Created a Hateful Meme Online

In the spring of 2021, Chet Hanks, the singer, actor, and son of Tom, posted a series of statements and a music video with a chorus that caused confusion, not to mention a fair amount of cringe. He declared that it was going to be a “white boy summer.”

Whatever exactly he meant at the time, the phrase has since mutated into a slogan for white supremacists and other hate groups, according to a report published Tuesday by the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, an organization that tracks the spread of racism.

Thousands of posts with the slogan “white boy summer” have appeared on the Telegram app this year. It has been used by far-right groups to recruit new followers, organize protests and encourage violence, particularly against immigrants and LGBTQ people, the report said.

To many who use the term today, it represents a shameless embrace of white heterosexual masculinity, often at the expense of women and people of color.

According to Wendy Via, one of the group’s founders, the meme has increasingly moved from the fringes of the internet into the political mainstream.

Jack Posobiec, a podcaster who has been linked to white supremacists by the Southern Poverty Law Center, waved a banner with the words “white boy summer” at a rally of Turning Point USA, a conservative group, in Detroit last month. Former President Donald J. Trump was the conference’s keynote speaker, along with several members of Congress.

“It’s really about how quickly and how devastatingly can something like this go viral and what impact does it have,” Ms. Via said of the phrase Mr. Hanks coined. Extremists, she added, “are hurting people all over the world in the name of this thing.”

Mr. Hanks, 33, did not respond to numerous requests for comment through his social media accounts and the talent agency that represents him. He began using the phrase in a series of social media posts in 2021 about fashion and other advice for men. In one of those posts, he appeared to anticipate that the meaning of the words would require some explanation.

“Take it how you want,” he said in an Instagram post in March. “I ain’t talking about, like, Trump, NASCAR-type white people,” he continued, saying he meant people like himself and two other white R&B artists, Jon B. and Jack Harlow. “Let me know if y’all can relate to that. And get ready, because it’s me.”

Its music video — produced under the name Chet Hanx — was released a month later. It was a tribute of sorts to Megan Thee Stallion’s hit two years earlier, “Hot Girl Summer,” featuring Nicki Minaj and Ty Dolla $ign.

It’s filled with foul language, sexist and racist slurs, but it also ends with an image of Mr. Hanks wearing a shirt with the words “stop hate” on it.

“White boy summer” is not the first artistic creation that white supremacists have hijacked and used for hate speech online.

Pepe the Frog, a cartoon character created by Matt Furie, became so popular in racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic memes that the Anti-Defamation League classified it as a hate symbol in 2016. Furie killed off the character a year later, but it continues to circulate in ways he never intended.

Even before the meme, Mr. Hanks had been criticized for using and defending a racial slur against black people. He has also been accused of cultural appropriation after he began using Jamaican patois as an affectation in public appearances, including at the 2020 Golden Globe Awards, where Tom Hanks received the Cecil B. DeMille Award.

As a meme and hashtag, “white boy summer” has been embraced with each passing summer by groups like the Proud Boys and “active clubs,” groups that combine racist ideologies with martial arts and other activities.

While the term is more common on fringe sites with extremist content like Gab, Rumble, and 4chan, it also appears regularly on X, Instagram, Facebook, and other major social media platforms, often with Nazi imagery. The term and its various hashtags appear to skirt policies prohibiting hate speech, in part because it is often used euphemistically or ironically.

“While this trend/meme originated on the far right, it is definitely now creeping into more ‘mainstream’ right-wing discourse,” said Todd Gutnick, a spokesman for the Anti-Defamation League, which documented the slogan’s spread early on.

The Global Project Against Hate and Extremism report said the meme is now being used by extremist groups in countries around the world.

A group in France created stickers with the phrase — in English — for members to distribute, while another group in Finland held an annual festival last month with the phrase as its name. Bellingcat, a research organization, wrote of last year’s event that participants “watched far-right bands perform, participated in martial arts, and mingled with other hate group members in hot tubs.”

“The far right is adept at bringing their hateful ideologies into the mainstream, particularly through the use of social media,” the report said, “and the already viral ‘white boy summer’ has provided the perfect gateway to spread their bigotry to a wider audience.”

Mr. Hanks, who also previously performed as Chet Haze, has had well-publicized drug problems and allegations of domestic abuse that have contributed to his rebellious persona as a performer. “He’s a grown man,” his older half-brother Colin, also an actor, said in a 2016 radio interview, when asked if he had ever stepped in with advice. “He’s going to do what he wants to do.”

Tom Hanks has not appeared to publicly comment on his relationship with Chet Hanks, though the son recently posted an intergenerational exchange of text messages with him about the recent feud between rappers Drake and Kendrick Lamar. In a 2019 interview with The New York Times, the father described his experience as a parent.

“Somewhere along the line I figured out that the only thing a parent can do in the end is say, ‘I love you, there’s nothing you can do wrong, you can’t hurt my feelings, I hope you’ll forgive me sometimes, and what do you want me to do?’” he said.

Despite the controversy over its spread, Mr. Hanks continues to embrace the meme. “I consulted with the heavens, felt a west wind, walked outside a strip club and saw my shadow…” he wrote on Instagram in May. “This is gonna be a #WBS.” He ended the post with a church emoji.

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