A Coast Guard emergency response team is down one crew member after a Coastie allegedly flashed the “OK” hand signal increasingly associated with white supremacy while the team’s captain was being interviewed on MSNBC.
Coast Guard Capt. John Reed, the head of hurricane response efforts in Charleston, South Carolina, appeared on “Live with Ali Velshi" to discuss the changing path of Hurricane Florence and the tactics used to account for the system’s unpredictability.
But as Reed explained his team’s operations, a crew member sitting at a table in the frame’s background looked directly at the camera and appeared to make the “OK” gesture as he moved his hand across the right side of his face.
The alleged “white power” gesture, one that originated as a hoax, was quickly spotted by Twitter users everywhere who immediately called for punitive measures.
The service’s response to the incident was swift, as the crew member in question was immediately reassigned and an official Coast Guard statement condemning the alleged offender was subsequently released.
“We are aware of the offensive video on twitter - the Coast Guard has identified the member and removed him from the response,” the Coast Guard’s official Twitter announced. “His actions do not reflect those of the United States Coast Guard.”
The incident remains under investigation.
The origins of using the “OK” hand gesture as a symbol of white supremacy can be traced back to a 2017 troll campaign on the popular 4chan board “/pol/ — Politically Incorrect,” an effort aimed at inciting outrage on the part of liberals and media.
“To any who haven’t seen the original thread, our goal is to convince people on twitter that the ‘ok’ hand sign has been co-opted by neo-nazis,” the prank’s original poster wrote on the board.
But despite its inception as a prank to trigger fury and “own the libs,” the gesture has been embraced by members of America’s alt-right, a section of the far right with well-established white nationalist ideologies.
The gesture’s use by members of the alt-right illustrate the symbol’s evolution, according to Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism.
The ADL recently modified its classification of the “OK” gesture to include potential use as white power symbolism, though many other obvious connotations predate its use by white supremacists.
“We are changing it to reflect its evolution since its origination,” Pitcavage tweeted on Sept. 4, “but also to stress that it is not a reliable signifier 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.”
The hand gesture has come under great scrutiny of late, most notably after attorney Zina Bash was accused of flashing the sign during Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing.
In July, four Alabama police officers were suspended without pay after making the gesture in an official photo.
Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.