In the background of a Coast Guard briefing on MSNBC on Friday evening, in a bustling aid center, a Coast Guard member flashed what some TV viewers claimed was a white-power sign at the camera.
In the clip, as an official detailed the efforts underway as Hurricane Florence tore through the Carolinas, a man with a crew cut sitting immediately behind him looked directly at the camera. Then he looked away and shaped his hand into the “okay” sign — a circle between his thumb and pointer finger, the rest raised.
He seemed to try to camouflage it by scratching his face, but the gesture was fairly flagrant to many viewers. As the clip began to circulate on Twitter, many called for the member’s firing and further investigation.
The Coast Guard was quick to apologize via tweet, saying the organization was aware of the clip and clarifying that it does not condone the flashing of the sign or what it represented.
“The Coast Guard has identified the member and removed him from the response,” the organization’s official account tweeted. “His actions do not reflect those of the United States Coast Guard.”
The man in the clip has not been publicly identified.
This comes a little more than a week after Republican operative Zina Bash ignited a Twitter controversy when some viewers thought she flashed the symbol during Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing. Some considered it a brazen public promotion of white supremacy during a high-profile government preceding, a theory that went viral in the days after the hearing. Others, like Bash’s husband, Western Texas U.S. Attorney John Bash, dismissed it is as a conspiracy theory, saying she was just resting her hand.
Later, Taylor Foy, a spokesman for the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, said there was another, innocuous explanation for this second “okay” hand sign: The signal was aimed at a judiciary staffer who fulfilled a request for the judge.
The idea that the hand sign is a secret symbol for white power owes its mainstream spread to a viral troll campaign aimed at making liberals and the media look gullible. In February 2017, 4chan’s /pol/ board discussed ongoing tactics to try to get the idea to go viral. “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 original poster of the thread wrote.
As BuzzFeed has reported, the board was gleeful when the okay hand sign started to get mainstream traction. As the campaign spread, however, the symbol was simultaneously adopted by the alt-right — an umbrella term for those on the far right who embrace white nationalist views — and the pro-Trump Internet, both of whom seem to primarily use the gesture to “trigger” liberals who believed the hand sign was a decoder ring to detect secret Nazis.