Investigators at the Navy and Military academies came to the conclusion that cadets and midshipmen who flashed controversial hand gestures during a televised pregame show last week were playing “the circle game” and not expressing a white supremacist message. The controversy exploded on social media when three Military Academy cadets and two Naval Academy midshipmen were seen on television making the “okay” sign before the annual Army-Navy football game on Dec. 14 that President Donald Trump attended. Less than a week later, the United Sates Military Academy and the United States Naval Academy announced the conclusion of their investigations in separate statements.
The Naval Academy said that after reviewing video footage, conducting more than two dozen interviews, and background checks it concluded that two freshmen “were participating in a sophomoric game” and there was “no evidence of racist intent.” Even though the academy is “confident the hand gestures used were not intended to be racist” it is still “disappointed by the immature behavior of the two Fourth Class Midshipmen, and their actions will be appropriately addressed.”
The Military Academy agreed that the cadets who displayed the hand gesture “were playing a common game, popular among teenagers today, known as the ‘circle game’ and the intent was not associated with ideologies or movements that are contrary to the Army values.” The investigation found that the game was being played in the stands before the television cameras appeared. “We investigated this matter thoroughly,” said Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, the academy’s superintendent. “Last Saturday we had reason to believe these actions were an innocent game and not linked to extremism, but we must take allegations such as these very seriously. We are disappointed by the immature behavior of the cadets.” Those involved in the game“will receive appropriate administrative and/or disciplinary actions,” notes the Military Academy statement.
The “circle game” involves one person making a circle with their thumb and forefinger and getting another person to look at it. In some versions of the game, the person who looks at the circle can be punched in the arm. Yet the meaning of that hand gesture took a turn in 2017 after many started using the gesture to create the letters “WP,” which stands for white power. The Anti-Defamation League included the gesture in its database of hate symbols in September even as it warned that it could have multiple meanings. “The overwhelming usage of the ‘okay’ hand gesture today is still its traditional purpose as a gesture signifying assent or approval,” the ADL writes in its explanation of the gesture. “As a result, someone who uses the symbol cannot be assumed to be using the symbol in either a trolling or, especially, white supremacist context unless other contextual evidence exists to support the contention. Since 2017, many people have been falsely accused of being racist or white supremacist for using the ‘okay’ gesture in its traditional and innocuous sense.”
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