The Army and Navy academies are looking into hand signs flashed by students that can be associated with “white power” and were televised during the Army-Navy football game on Saturday, school officials said.
U.S. President Donald Trump took to the field during the coin toss and visited both teams' locker rooms beforehand to shake hands with the players.
Cadets at West Point and midshipmen at the Naval Academy in the stands both appeared to display the sign during the broadcast, officials with the two military academies told The Wall Street Journal. The gesture was seen during an ESPN broadcast segment.
While for many the symbol means nothing more than an "a-okay," since a meme depicting the allegedly anti-Semitic Pepe the Frog flashing the symbol began being circulated on alt-right channels on social media in 2015, the symbol has taken on more sinister undertones. Apparently, the three raised fingers form a "W" and the "P" is formed by the index finger and thumb, standing for "white power."
Pepe the Frog, a cartoon character also known as Smug Pepe, was added in 2016 to the ADL's Hate on Display database, joining the ranks of other notorious symbols associated with alt-right such as the (((echo))) symbol that began being used to single out Jewish journalists on social media.
The "a-okay" sign - which is also a popular emoji - was added to the list in 2019 and for being used as a "sincere expression of white supremacy", according to the ADL.
School officials are trying to determine what the hand signals were meant to convey, they said.
“We’re looking into it,” Lt. Col. Chris Ophardt, a spokesperson for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York, told the Journal. “I don’t know what their intention is.”
“We are aware and will be looking into it,” said Cmdr. Alana Garas, a spokesperson for the U.S. Naval Academy, in Annapolis, Maryland.
The Pentagon didn’t immediately respond to the Journal’s request for comment.
U.S. Coast Guard leaders last year reprimanded an officer who used a similar hand sign during a television broadcast.
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