Philadelphia, PA – Service-academy students from Annapolis and West Point are now under investigation for flashing “OK” hand gestures on national television during the Army-Navy football game on Saturday.
Annapolis midshipmen and West Point cadets were both seen displaying the gesture during live broadcasts, sparking outrage from those who have deemed the sign to be a symbol of “white power,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
U.S. Military Academy officials said they have not determined what the intent behind the gestures may have been, but that internal investigations are underway to ascertain whether or not “administrative actions will be required,” according to The Wall Street Journal.
“We’re looking into it,” West Point spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Chris Ophardt said. “I don’t know what their intention is.”
Annapolis spokesperson Commander Alana Garas said that a preliminary inquiry officer has been appointed to conduct an internal investigation into the incident.
“Based on findings of the investigation, those involved will be held appropriately accountable,” Commander Garas noted.
The Pentagon didn’t specifically address the incident, but noted that military personnel are mandated to “reject active participation in organizations that advocate supremacist, extremist, or criminal gang doctrine,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
In September, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) added the “okay” hand gesture and 35 other images and slogans to its list of hate symbols.
“Even as extremists continue to use symbols that may be years or decades old, they regularly create new symbols, memes and slogans to express their hateful sentiments,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a press release at the time.
“We believe law enforcement and the public needs to be fully informed about the meaning of these images, which can serve as a first warning sign to the presence of haters in a community or school,” Greenblatt added.
The myth that the okay sign actually means "white power" was started by internet trolls on 4chan, an anonymous message board, in February of 2017, the ADL previously said.
“We must flood twitter and other social media websites with spam, claiming that the OK hand sign is a symbol of white supremacy,” the anonymous poster wrote, according to the civil rights organization. “Leftists have dug so deep down into their lunacy. We must force [them] to dig more, until the rest of society ain’t going anywhere near that s--t.”
Users encouraged people to perpetuate the hoax using hashtags such as #PowerHandPrivilege and #NotOkay, created fake social media and email accounts, and bombarded journalists and civil rights organizations with the misinformation.
The ok sign is also part of a viral trend known as the "circle game," where the goal is to make somebody look at your hand while making the OK sign below waist level.
The game is ingrained into military culture.
But in 2019, the ADL said that the hand gesture “was being used in some circles as a sincere expression of white supremacy."
"These are the latest calling cards of hate," ADL Center on Extremism Senior Fellow Mark Pitcavage said in the press release. "We pay special attention to those symbols that exhibit staying power as well as those that move from online usage into the real world."