Last week, the Flyers introduced Gritty, a seven-foot-tall bearded entity in a hockey jersey, as their new mascot. On Tuesday, President Donald Trump visited the city to speak at a conference center, where protesters outside marched with pro-Gritty, anti-Trump flags.
“GRITTY SAY G.T.F.O. OF PHILLY” read one massive banner, which showed the hockey mascot waving an antifa flag and wearing a jersey with an anarchist symbol.
The banner had made the rounds on Twitter earlier in the week, after Philadelphia-based writer George Ciccariello-Maher tweeted a picture of it hanging in a Philly backyard, with two masked anti-fascists posing in front. Other Twitter users had previously attempted to co-opt the googly-eyed beard monster into leftist politics. A viral thread of Gritty photoshops depicts him dancing above pro-labor slogans and haunting Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings.
“Gritty is a worker,” the socialist magazine Jacobin tweeted two days after Gritty’s launch. Someone made a Gritty parody account in which the mascot is a member of the Industrial Workers of the World.
The tangerine humanoid’s absurd appearance was a natural fit for meme culture.
“This is a joke people have been making for a while,” Ciccariello-Maher told The Daily Beast. “Since Gritty’s appearance, people have, half tongue-in-cheek, joke about Gritty being a queer or trans icon and a radical spokesperson. These are always half jokes, but they’re also things people are putting some real politics behind as well.”
But the plush orange mascot also taps into Philly’s fighting spirit, Ciccariello-Maher added.
“Philadelphia is an underdog city. That really impacts and runs through a lot of the politics, particularly the sports spirit throughout the city,” he said. “So when you see the launch of this mascot Gritty, who is by all accounts a sort of hideous monster, the response from an underdog city is to say, ‘yeah, but he’s our hideous monster and if you don’t love him then fuck you.’”
The Gritty-as-antifa meme found its way offline on Tuesday when Trump visited Philly. Demonstrators marched behind the Antifa Gritty banner, some carrying homemade Gritty signs of their own.
“This town only has room for one orange asshole,” read one.
“Fuck Trump,” a hand-drawn Gritty announced on another.
The Liberation Project, a Philadelphia-based social justice group, said Gritty is inherently antifa.
“Gritty is a symbol of Philadelphia,” the group told The Daily Beast. “It's not that he's an anti-fascist character, it's that he's representative of the people, and the people of Philadelphia are grittily anti-fascist.”
Sure, Antifa Gritty is sort of a joke. He’s a corporate mascot for a moneyed sports league, adopted by activists whose work usually falls into the more sobering realm of countering the city’s record of police brutality and mass incarceration. But now that the left has recruited Gritty, Ciccariello-Maher says they’re not giving him back.
“Lots of people had been making these statements for a while,” he said, “and claiming Gritty as their own as a way to seize him away from the sports complex, to seize him away from the right wing and insist that he’s going to be a symbol of resistance. It’s really been astonishing.”
The Philadelphia Flyers did not return a request for comment on Gritty’s political alignment.