UPDATED: 2:06 pm. EDT, Dec. 20 —
At least one well-known military veteran said he has doubts that the Army cadets and a Navy midshipman shown on live national TV flashing the white power hand sign were, well, flashing the white power hand signal.
Montel Williams, the former talk show host who also has a decorated past as a member of the highly regarded Navy SEALS, has injected himself into the fray following this past weekend’s annual football game between Army and Navy that featured at least three young military students gesturing with their hands to form what looks like a classic “OK” sign behind a sportscaster broadcasting live. Even though it has become widely recognized as a white power hand symbol, Williams has insisted that there is no “evidence” the gestures were inspired by racism.
“Both West Point and Annapolis are investigating, and it strikes me as defamatory that some in the media have branded these young people as racists without a shred of evidence,” Williams tweeted on Monday as part of a brief statement. “I understand that a handful of racists (perhaps living in their parents’ basements) attempted to co-opt the ‘OK’ sign as a symbol of white power … but that is not evidence that these kids were motivated by racial animus.”
Williams, who served in both the Marines and the Navy, went on to call it “immature conduct in uniform” but hedged when it came to deciding “whether to hold them accountable – it’s what to hold them accountable for (racism or garden variety immaturity).”
On Friday the Navy and West Point, not surprisingly, agreed with Williams’ sentiment, the Associated Press reported. The students, the Navy and Army said in separate statements, must have simply been playing what’s called the circle game, which is played when one person forms the OK hand sign in an attempt to make someone else look into the circle. The person who looks then gets punched. (Of course, the students were holding the OK sign for the TV cameras to televise to the nation, so it was unclear how that version of the game would work with no one to punch. But nevermind that.)
Either way, the opinions of Williams and the Army and the Navy didn’t match up with those of the social media masses, which instantly recognized the gestures to be a symbol that the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said “became a popular trolling tactic on the part of right-leaning individuals, who would often post photos to social media of themselves posing while making the ‘okay’ gesture.”
That didn’t stop Williams from tweeting a since-deleted tweet out of apparent vindication while taking a swipe at NewsOne. A screenshot preserved the tweet.
And while the ADF does go on to say that “particular care must be taken not to jump to conclusions about the intent behind someone who has used the gesture,” chances are that the anti-hate organization didn’t just randomly decide to list the “okay hand gesture” on its “Hate Symbols Database,” which “provides an overview of many of the symbols most frequently used by a variety of white supremacist groups and movements, as well as some other types of hate groups.”
Considering the above and given the racism and white supremacy that’s been flourishing on all levels of the American military as of late, it was still unclear what kind of “evidence” Williams as well as the Army and Navy would need to be convinced of what a resounding number of people on social media said they immediately recognized as being a racist hand sign. A closer look at recent history showed that the military members’ apparent white power hand sign at the football game was far from an isolated incident.
And while there is no single conclusive evidence that the OK sign is racist every single time it’s seen, the Washington Post duly reminded readers on Monday that “real white supremacists use it to get our attention,” which sure seemed to be what was happening on Saturday. And so it followed that the Post also noted that “actual white supremacy has crept out of the shadows,” an assertion proven recently when a photo showed a group of corrections officers unabashedly throwing up celebratory Nazi salutes.
But perhaps more “evidence” is needed there, too.
CLARIFICATION: 2:06 pm. EDT, Dec. 20 — This story has been updated to include an additional portion of the ADL’s explanation behind what it calls the “Okay Hand Gesture,” which can be found on what the ADL calls its “Hate Symbols Database.” The text has been updated to reflect this clarification.