The U.S. Military Academy at West Point determined that cadets seen on camera during the Army-Navy college football game flashing a thumb-to-forefinger sign were playing the “circle game” and not making a hand sign that has become popular among white supremacists.
As CBS News reported, the military academy said on Friday that it conducted an internal investigation after the cadets were seen making a circle sign with their fingers and flashing it to the camera during a pregame live spot. The academy said that they were playing a game where one person holds the sign below their waist and tries to make the other person look at it.
“We investigated this matter thoroughly,” said Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, the superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy. “Last Saturday we had reason to believe these actions were an innocent game and not linked to extremism, but we must take allegations such as these very seriously. We are disappointed by the immature behavior of the cadets.”
As the report noted, the U.S. Naval Academy said it also conducted an investigation after midshipmen were seen making the sign, and also concluded that they were “participating in a sophomoric game.”
The video of the cadets and midshipmen making the symbol went viral during the game, with many accusing the students of making what has become known as the “white power symbol.”
The recent usage of the “OK sign” is steeped in controversy. As the Anti-Defamation League noted, what has become known as the “white power” symbol first started as a prank among far-right users on the image-sharing site 4chan. They originally wrote about an idea to fool news outlets into reporting that the commonly used symbol had a racial connotation, with the thumb and forefinger forming the letters “W” and “P” for “white power.”
— Fella (@BruthaManTho) December 14, 2019
While the gambit didn’t seem to work, as news outlets accurately reported on the origin of the symbol as a far-right attempt at a prank, it soon gained actual popularity among racist groups. New Zealand mass shooter Brenton Tarrant was seen flashing the symbol in his first appearance in court after killing 49 people in attacks on two mosques.
“It is possible that some of the hoaxers were racists or white supremacists themselves, as parts of 4chan are something of a haven for them, and the site itself has been a source of adherents of the alt right segment of the white supremacist movement,” the Anti-Defamation League noted in a report on the symbol. “Reaction to the ‘OK’ symbol hoax was so widespread in the spring and summer of 2017 that a number of people on the far right began deliberately to use the gesture — typically making the sign while posing for photographs uploaded to social media — in order to continue the trolling and spread it further.”
The organization added that it is important not to assume that someone making the symbol is using its new racist connotation rather than the traditional usages as the “OK sign” and “circle game.”
It was not clear what discipline the West Point cadets or Naval Academy midshipmen could face for using the symbol.