Circuit of Americas Pulls Support of Austin MLS Stadium Petition Over Controversial Video

Austin FC stadium

A use of the controversial Pepe the Frog by a political action committee prompted Circuit of Americas, whose chairman is majority owner of USL’s Austin Bold FC, to withdraw its support of an Austin MLS stadium petition.  

The group IndyAustin has been conducting a petition to force a vote on a proposed new MLS stadium at McKalla Place. Currently, the city is in negotiations with current Columbus Crew SC investor-operator Anthony Precourt about a project that calls for a new stadium to open at the city-owned site in 2021 (rendering shown above).

A potential Austin MLS squad has been viewed in some circles as a competitor to the Bold, a club backed by chairman Bobby Epstein that will launch next year in USL Championship (as Division II USL will soon be known) in a new stadium at Circuit of Americas. Circuit of Americas had recently announced that it was supporting IndyAustin’s petition drive, but later pulled its support after the controversial Pepe the Frog was featured in a video criticizing Austin mayor and MLS stadium project proponent Steve Adler. Pepe the Frog was originally created as a comic strip character in 2005 and later emerged as an Internet meme, but has since become increasingly associated as an online symbol for alt-right and white nationalist groups. (Its use in this context received considerable attention from the national press during the 2016 Presidential Campaign.)

After discovering its use in a video criticizing Adler, who is Jewish, Circuit of Americas withdrew its support of IndyAustin. In a statement, Epstein–who had donated $24,000 to IndyAustin–condemned the group’s use of the symbol and stated that the financial support was being withdrawn. More form KXAN:

“I and everyone associated with COTA vehemently and unequivocally oppose the use of any and all hate speech against any person, group, or belief and will not tolerate this attack, whether it was intentional or unintentional,” wrote Epstein, “We have therefore withdrawn all financial support from IndyAustin.”

IndyAustin re-edited the video to remove Pepe, issuing an apology and saying that did not initially understand the meaning behind the symbol and that the clip was taken from another online video. Adler, for his part, said he was “troubled” by the group’s use of Pepe. From KXAN:

Mayor Adler is Jewish. This controversy comes days after a gunman shot and killed 11 in a Pittsburgh synagogue.

“I am troubled that a symbol used in anti-Semitic communications by members of the alt-right throughout the United States would now appear in an Austin campaign,” Mayor Adler said in a statement from his campaign, “And I’d like to know why it was featured in a video produced by a PAC that is attacking me.”

The group IndyAustin issued an apology on Monday saying it did not know the meaning behind the symbol and changed the video.

“We honestly thought it was a cartoon of a pea smoking a cigar, taken from a video online, not ours,” wrote the group in a press release,” again, our apologies.”

Rendering courtesy Precourt Sports Ventures.

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