Topline: West Point and Naval Academy officials are investigating students who flashed a hand gesture with links to white nationalism during a live broadcast of the Army vs. Navy football game on Saturday—but officials have yet to determine the intent of the cadets involved.
During a pregame broadcast both West Point and Naval Academy students were caught displaying the “OK” hand symbol to the camera behind ESPN host Reece Davis.
The gesture involves a person making a circle with their thumb and index finger and stretching out their remaining three fingers.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, the sign was co-opted by members of online message board 4Chan and is on the organization’s list of official hate symbols.
But the OK symbol is also used to play the “Circle Game,” a harmless activity where someone makes the symbol below their waist and when another person looks down, they get punched in the arm.
“West Point is looking into the matter,” Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Ophardt, a spokesman for the military academy, said in an email Sunday to the New York Times. “At this time we do not know the intent of the cadets.” A Naval Academy spokesperson also confirmed an investigation to the news outlet.
Key background: The “OK” sign was first adopted by 4Chan users as a meme to bait left-leaning activists and the media into believing it’s a genuine hate symbol. The meme falsely claims the sign represents “white power” because someone’s fingers form “wp.”
But the ADL added it to their official list of hate symbols this year after the organization started to see white supremacists use the gesture earnestly. The Christchurch shooter, for example, flashed the “OK” sign during a court appearance after his arrest.
“They want to manufacture outrage, but at the same time when true believers are using this symbol and flashing, you have to take it seriously,” Jessica Stolzman, ADL’s assistant director of development, told Forbes.
Crucial quote: Because of the ambiguity surrounding the meaning of the “OK” sign, the ADL cautions against jumping to conclusions before an investigation is completed.
“We urge people to look at context before passing judgement,” Stolzman said. “It’s a complicated issue. It’s a murky issue. We are not discounting the emotional impact these symbols have on affected communities, but we still need to know more.”