On Monday, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice fired close to 30 correctional officer trainees who posed in a Nazi salute for a class photo, following a state report into the photograph, which recommended their termination. “I condemn the photo of Basic Training Class 18 in the strongest possible terms,” Justice said in a statement. “This act needed to result in real consequences — terminations and dismissals.”
Earlier in December, two academy trainers and a cadet were fired, and 34 employees were suspended without pay as the state’s Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety conducted its investigation. At the top of the photograph is the phrase “Hail Byrd!” referring to the trainees’ instructor Karrie Byrd, who claimed in the investigation that she was not familiar with the “historical or racial implications of the gesture” and that it was “simply a greeting.”
However, after conducting over 50 interviews, investigators determined that she “encouraged it, reveled in it, and at times reciprocated the gesture” and “assured the cadets the behavior was acceptable.” One employee said that Byrd claimed the practice came about “because I’m a hard-ass like Hitler.” A third staff member who did not report the photograph will also be fired.
The scandal in West Virginia comes amidst a concerning wave of white nationalist activity, as the cellular movement feels emboldened by the Trump presidency. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, terrorist attacks from far-right actors quadrupled between 2016 and 2017, while white supremacists killed 39 people in 2018 alone. This year, the Department of Homeland Security included white nationalist violence on its list of primary threats; meanwhile, armed far-right militias worked in tandem with Border Patrol, which is under DHS purview, to illegally detain migrants.