A member of the Coast Guard who appeared to make a hand signal associated with white supremacist groups has been removed from the Hurricane Florence Emergency Response Team, Newsweek reports. The unnamed Coast Guard official appeared to make the “OK” hand signal, created by making a circle with one’s thumb and index finger. The meaning of the hand signal has changed from “OK” to an alliance with white supremacy and used for members of the white power movement to signal secretly to one another.
Coast Guard Lieutenant J.B. Zorn assured media outlets that the man had been removed from the emergency response task force.
“Whatever that symbol means, it doesn’t reflect the Coast Guard and our core values,” Zorn said. “It won’t be tolerated.”
The incident is under investigation. In the video, Captain John Reed answers questions about the storm and its progress in Charleston, South Carolina. In the background, the man in the red shirt makes the gesture while Reed is talking. Social media users noticed and immediately began drawing attention to the gesture.
It started as a prank on 4Chan. The pranksters on the Internet forum thought it would be funny to troll liberals by claiming the OK sign was a symbol of the white power movement. The intent was to fool liberals into believing that hardcore racists had ascended to positions of power all over the world, which would be quite alarming. However, though it began as a joke, some racist leaders began using the symbol in earnest. Richard Spencer, a popular figure in white power and alt-right groups, was seen in photographs making the symbol on election night in 2016.
Others have been accused of making the gesture to symbolize allegiance. Lawyer Zina Bash was accused of making the gesture during Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings. Bash denied the claim and her husband clarified that she is Mexican and Jewish by heritage, and not affiliated with any hate groups.
Four Jaspar, Alabama police officers were suspended from their jobs after posing for a picture with the town’s mayor to celebrate a drug bust. They were making the hand signal and subsequently suspended as a result.
It is unclear whether the hand signal was made intentionally, but the Coast Guard has said that the incident is under investigation. They are declining to name the man involved but did state that he has been removed from the emergency response team.