Military officials have launched an investigation into what appeared to be white supremacist hand signs made by students before the Army-Navy football game on Saturday.
Pregame festivities broadcast live on ESPN showed cadets on both sides of the annual football matchup — two West Point cadets and one Naval Academy midshipman — making gestures as a camera focused on a sideline report from ESPN anchor Rece Davis.
At least one of the gestures resembled a white supremacist symbol described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “the thumb and forefinger joined together in a circle, the remaining three fingers splayed out behind.” The sign has become popular among far-right extremists in recent years.
Several Twitter users shared posts noting its appearance on the ESPN telecast.
— Looky Yonder (@YonderLooky) December 14, 2019
A West Point spokesman has said that the U.S. Military Academy has yet to determine the intent behind the symbols.
“We’re looking into it,” Lt. Col. Chris Ophardt, a West Point spokesman, told The Wall Street Journal. “I don’t know what their intention is.”
Annapolis spokeswoman Cmdr. Alana Garas added to the newspaper that officials were aware of the incident and that they would be “looking into it.”
The Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center have defined the “OK” hand sign as hateful symbols with messages linked to white supremacy. The ADL, a Jewish civil rights group, earlier this year added the symbol to its online database of hate symbols.
The group has noted that the symbol in 2017 acquired a “new and different significance thanks to a hoax by members of the website 4chan to falsely promote the gesture as a hate symbol, claiming that the gesture represented the letters ‘wp,’ for ‘white power.'”
But the ADL also emphasizes that the “traditional meaning of the ‘okay’ hand gesture” means that people should use caution before jumping to conclusions when they see it. The sign is also used in what is known as the “circle game,” wherein someone flashes the hand symbol with the goal of tricking someone into looking at it. If they do, that person gets punched in the arm.
In 2018, the U.S. Coast Guard announced that a member had been removed from a hurricane response team after making the sign on television.
— Fella (@BruthaManTho) December 14, 2019
Navy Veteran and Democratic Candidate for Congress in North Carolina’s 8th Congressional District, Scott Huffman, tweeted: “Today I witnessed shameful behavior at the Army/Navy game. Several Army & Navy Cadets displayed the white supremacy symbol on TV. As a #Navy #Veteran I am ashamed these young men have violated their tenets of military code of conduct. I will not repost the images.”