Posted on July 7, 2024

How Tom Hanks’s Son Spawned a Hateful Meme Online

Steven Lee Myers, New York Times, July 2, 2024

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 refrain that caused confusion, not to mention a fair bit of cringing. He declared 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 on Tuesday by the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, an organization that tracks the spread of racism.

Thousands of posts using the slogan “white boy summer” have appeared on the Telegram app alone this year. It’s been used by far-right groups to recruit new followers, organize protests and encourage violence, especially against immigrants and L.G.B.T.Q. people, the report said.

For many of those who use it now, the phrase represents an unapologetic embrace of white heterosexual masculinity, often at the expense of women and people of color.

Increasingly, the meme has moved from the fringes of the internet into the political mainstream in the United States and elsewhere around the world, one of the group’s founders, Wendy Via, said.

Jack Posobiec, a podcaster whom the Southern Poverty Law Center has linked to white supremacists, waved a banner with the words “white boy summer” on it at a gathering for 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 something like this can go viral and the impact it has,” Ms. Via said of the phrase that 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, but after this article appeared he posted a statement on Instagram condemning use of the phrase in any bigoted way.

“White boy summer was created to be fun, playful, and a celebration of fly white boys who love beautiful queens of every race,” he wrote. “Anything else that it has been twisted into to support any kind of hate or bigotry against any group of people is deplorable and I condemn it.”


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

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

While more prevalent on fringe sites populated by extremist content, including Gab, Rumble and 4chan, the phrase also appears regularly on X, Instagram, Facebook and other major social media platforms, often with Nazi images. The phrase and its various hashtags appear to skirt policies that prohibit hate speech in part because it is often used euphemistically or ironically.


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