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Army, Navy investigating circle game symbol at football game deemed ‘white power’ symbol

U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen celebrate the Navy’s victory during the 120th Army-Navy football game. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Diana Quinlan/Released)
December 16, 2019

The United States Military Academy (USMA) and the United States Naval Academy (USNA) have assigned officers to investigate whether a student made an offensive hand gesture during Saturday’s 120th Army-Navy football game.

Students from the rival service academies were seen extending their hands in an “okay” circle shape in the background of a live ESPN broadcast, according to the Wall Street Journal. Although the circle shape is commonly associated with a “circle game,” both academies have announced they are investigating whether the hand gesture was made as some form of racist symbol.

“Based on findings of the investigation, those involved will be held appropriately accountable,” Annapolis spokeswoman Cdr. Alana Garas said on Sunday.

Lt. Col. Chris Ophardt, a West Point spokesman, also confirmed an investigation into the incident.

“We’re looking into it,” Ophardt said. “I don’t know what their intention is.”

The hand gesture in question, where the thumb and forefinger form a circle, while the remaining three fingers are splayed out, is most commonly used as the “okay sign,” however in 2017 the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) warned that the gesture may be used to symbolize “white power.”

The hand gesture has also been used as part of the “circle game” wherein if one person can get another person to see the circle, the first person gets to punch the second in the arm.

The ADL has said that the apparent ambiguity of the gesture’s meaning is part of why the hand circle has become an alleged symbol of racist extremism.

“Because of the traditional meaning of the ‘OK’ hand gesture, as well as other usages unrelated to white supremacy, particular care must be taken not to jump to conclusions about the intent behind someone who has used the gesture,” the ADL warned.

The Pentagon reportedly declined a Wall Street Journal request for comment, but did affirm regulations mandate against “participation in organizations that advocate supremacist, extremist, or criminal gang doctrine.”

A Coast Guard service member also received reprimand last year after making the same symbol in the background of a television broadcast which reportedly brought criticism against the service.

According to WPTZ, an NBC affiliate out of Plattsburgh, New York, the hand gesture took on its controversial meaning after a 4chan internet prank to get people to believe the three splayed fingers form a “W” while the thumb circle forms a “P” to mean “White Power.”

Brenton Tarrant, the man charged with killing 51 people at a Mosque in New Zealand, reportedly made the gesture during a court appearance.

The service academies will have to determine the meaning of the gesture in this particular involving their students.