Charleston, NC – The United States Coast Guard has removed a member of the Charleston emergency response team after a news broadcast showed him making an “okay” hand gesture.
Outrage followed from people who have fallen for a hoax that the gesture a symbol for “white power” (video below).
The 12-second clip was part of MSNBC’s live coverage on Friday, during which Sector Charleston Commanding Officer Captain John Reed provided an update regarding the Coast Guard’s response to Hurricane Florence, FOX News reported.
In the background, and unnamed team member was seen making an “okay” hand gesture, the video showed.
The hand sign is also affiliated with a viral trend known as the “circle game,” where the goal is to make somebody look at your hand ask you flash the okay sign below waist level.
Many social media users demanded that the team member be fired and accused him of making a “white power” hand sign, FOX News reported.
The myth that the OK sign actually meant "white power" was started by internet trolls on 4chan, an anonymous message board, in February of 2017, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
“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 ADL, a 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.
“No one should assume anything about the use of such a gesture unless there are other unmistakable white supremacist signifiers in that context as well,” Anti-Defamation League senior research fellow Mark Pitcavage said in a Tweet, according to The Post and Courier.
But the U. S. Coast Guard was swift to denounce the team member's actions.
“We are aware of the offensive video on Twitter,” the agency tweeted on Friday night. “The Coast Guard has identified the member and removed him from the response.”
“His actions do not reflect those of the United States Coast Guard,” the agency added.
On Sunday, Coast Guard Lieutenant J.B. Zorn said the investigation into the incident is ongoing, The Post and Courier reported.
“The Coast Guard is aware that this gesture is offensive in some circles,” Lt. Zorn said. “Whether it was displayed knowingly or unknowingly, that is of concern.”
“This doesn’t reflect any of the great work the Coast Guard is doing,” he added.
You can watch the brief news clip in the video below: