Military officials have launched an investigation after some West Point cadets and Naval Academy midshipmen were seen on television flashing a hand sign that is often associated with “white power.” The students flashed the sign during a broadcast of the annual Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia Saturday that President Donald Trump attended. Specifically, two West Point cadets and one Naval Academy midshipman were seen flashing the sign during the pregame celebrations that were aired by ESPN. “We’re looking into it,” Lt. Col. Chris Ophardt, a West Point spokesman, said after videos and photos showing students flashing the hand sign were published on social media. “I don’t know what their intention is.”
The hand sign in question has traditionally been used to indicate “OK” but has become a white supremacist symbol. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the gesture as “the thumb and forefinger joined together in a circle, the remaining three fingers splayed out behind.” The Anti-Defamation League has said that the meaning of the previously innocuous gesture began changing around 2017, when the sign began to be used to indicate white power. Earlier this year, the ADL added the gesture to its online database of hate symbols. “By 2019, at least some white supremacists seem to have abandoned the ironic or satiric intent behind the original trolling campaign and used the symbol as a sincere expression of white supremacy,” the Anti-Defamation League says. Still, “the overwhelming usage of the ‘okay’ hand gesture today is still its traditional purpose as a gesture signifying assent or approval.” circl
That doesn’t mean people haven’t gotten into trouble for flashing the hand sign in a military setting before. Last year, the Coast Guard officially reprimanded a member who flashed the hand sign during a television broadcast.