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West Point opens investigation into controversial hand gestures flashed by Army, Navy cadets

The West Point superintendent has launched an administrative investigation into hand gestures used by a few cadets during the Army-Navy Game on Saturday that are sometimes associated with white supremacists.

The “OK” hand sign was seen flashed by both Army and Navy cadets at the game in Philadelphia this weekend. The symbol has long been used to signal understanding and compliance or that “everything is OK."

However, it recently came to be associated with white supremacists after an internet hoax denoting it as such was adopted by actual white supremacists.

“I have appointed an Investigating Officer according to Army Regulation 15-6, to conduct an administrative investigation into the facts, circumstances, and intent of the Cadets in question,” said Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, 60th superintendent, U.S. Military Academy. “The United States Military Academy is fully committed to developing leaders of character who embody the Army Values.”

The investigation is necessary to determine if administrative actions will be required, West Point spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Ophardt said in a statement.

A Navy cadet was also reportedly seen flashing the hand symbol. Cmdr. Alana Garas, a spokesperson for the U.S. Naval Academy, previously said that Annapolis officials “are aware and will be looking into it."

A Coast Guard officer was previously chided for using the hand gesture on live television in September 2018. An administrative reprimand sent to the officer appeared to show that his motivation for using the sign wasn’t racist, just juvenile and premeditated, according to Navy Times.

The “OK” symbol became associated with white power following a 2017 hoax by members of the website 4chan.

“The ‘okay’ gesture hoax was merely the latest in a series of similar 4chan hoaxes using various innocuous symbols; in each case, the hoaxers hoped that the media and liberals would overreact by condemning a common image as white supremacist,” according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Although the overwhelming use of the symbol is still in-line with its traditional meaning, some white supremacists did ultimately adopt it, the ADL notes.

Australian white supremacist Brenton Tarrant, for instance, flashed the “OK” symbol in court after his arrest for allegedly murdering 50 people during an attack on Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Still, the use of the symbol itself “is not a reliable signifier" on its own that someone is a white supremacist, Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the ADL’s Center on Extremism, previously said over social media.

And “no one should assume anything about the use of such a gesture unless there are other unmistakable white supremacist signifiers in that context as well," Pitcavage added.

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