The photographer at the center of a Wisconsin high school Nazi salute controversy says there is actually a much more innocent explanation for the now infamous photo.
This week, an image circulated of boys at the junior prom at Baraboo High School giving what appeared to be a Nazi salute. The image drew considerable controversy and led the school district to speak out against it, but the Independent says the photographer who took the photo never intended the gesture to be offensive.
Pete Gust had taken the photo of boys before the prom last year, and said he simply asked them to take a funny photo with a very specific — and not at all racist — intention.
“The last picture that I shot, I said, ‘All right boys, you’re on the steps … give me a high sign, a wave that you’re saying goodbye to your parents’,” he told local news outlet Madison 365.
“And I called it high five, ‘Give me a high five.’ … And so I stuck my hand up, and I said, ‘This is what I want.'”
Gust raised his arm to show students how he wanted the photo to look, and the end result made it appear as if students were giving a Nazi salute. As the Independent noted, Gust has since taken the picture down from his website and apologized to anyone who was hurt by it.
The Wisconsin community had been at the center of racial tension before. Last month, some residents in Baraboo reported that someone had left white supremacist literature in their mailboxes. The incident took place just days after a gunman entered a Pittsburgh synagogue, killing 11 people.
As the Baraboo News Republic reported, the incident left many local residents feeling frightened and frustrated.
“It’s here. We’re part of this mess,” Russ Schider, a resident who received the flyer, told the news outlet.
“Those people who are doing this are feeling empowered right now. It’s intimidating.”
There had been considerable pushback nationwide to the photo of Baraboo High School students appearing to give a Nazi salute, and a number of students reported racial tensions within the school. One student told journalist Julez Suzdaltsev that some of the students in the photo had openly expressed racist beliefs at school, casting doubt on the explanation that salute was innocent.
Adding a few more messages from students who have reached out in the past few hours. pic.twitter.com/jERndlSgbh
— Jules Suzdaltsev (@jules_su) November 12, 2018
Another student told the Independent that even if the photographer had asked them to wave, some students were still knowingly giving a Nazi salute.