On Saturday, at the 120th annual Army-Navy football game, cadets from the United States Military Academy and midshipmen from the Naval Academy flashed a white power hand signal at least five times during the broadcast, as ESPN host Rece Davis reported from the stands. On Sunday, spokespeople for both military academies announced they’d be “looking into” the use of the hand gesture.
Though it resembles an innocuous “okay” sign, the symbol has developed among far-right circles on the internet as a way to signal to others familiar with the imagery of white power, while obscuring the intent in layers of irony. Memes like this symbol “mean to provoke or offend, and the meaning can come later,” Dr. Cynthia Miller-Idriss, an American University professor specializing in far-right youth extremism, told the Times earlier this year, when the hand gesture was designated a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League.
Though the ADL warns that that “someone who uses the symbol cannot be assumed to be using the symbol in either a trolling or, especially, white supremacist context unless other contextual evidence exists to support the contention,” it has also been embraced by violent white nationalists, like the Christchurch shooter who threw the sign at his first court appearance after killing 50 people at two New Zealand mosques.
It isn’t the first time this year that military brass has had to deal with a service member using the sign during a TV broadcast: In January, the Coast Guard delivered an administrative letter of censure to an officer stationed in Charleston, South Carolina, who put up the “okay” sign during a report on Hurricane Florence in September 2018. And just last week, West Point removed a slogan — G.F.B.D., or “God Forgives, Brothers Don’t” — from the football team’s spirit flag after learning that the phrase is associated with the white supremacist prison gang the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas.