Military officials are launching investigations after some West Point cadets and Naval Academy midshipmen were apparently seen on television flashing a hand sign that can be linked to the “white power” movement.
The hand signs were captured amid an ESPN broadcast ahead of the annual football matchup between Army and Navy on Saturday. As ESPN anchor Reece Davis talked about the rivalry while surrounded by a group of students, some flashed the "OK" hand symbol.
The sign, in which the thumb and forefinger create a circle while the other three fingers are extended, has become popular among far-right extremists in recent years. Several Twitter users shared posts noting its appearance on the ESPN telecast. NBC News noted that two West Point cadets and one Naval midshipmen were seen making the hand gesture.
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."
"Department of Defense regulations mandate that military personnel reject active participation in organizations that advocate supremacist, extremist, or criminal gang doctrine," a Pentagon spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill, pointing to the academies for further information.
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.
--This report was updated on Dec. 16 at 3:31 p.m.