The “OK” hand gesture has been hijacked by white supremacists and is now a hate symbol, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Earlier this week, the ADL revealed that alt-right groups are using the “OK” gesture to denote “white power.”
“We believe law enforcement and the public needs to be fully informed about the meaning of these images, which can serve as a first warning sign to the presence of haters in a community or school,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the ADL said.
Since the seventeenth century, the hand sign has been used to show that things are going well. According to the ADL’s Oren Segal, the organization was reluctant to add the “OK” gesture to its database of hate symbols because it’s meant everything is “OK” for hundreds of years.
Placing the thumb and forefinger together to show all is food is a sign frequently made in most English-speaking countries, by divers, and by the hearing-impaired community. The “OK” sign is also used by Donald Trump and his supporters but doesn’t necessarily have any negative meaning.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Linking the “OK” Gesture With the Alt-Right Started as a Hoax
According to the ADL, the “OK” gesture’s link to the alt-right started out as a hoax several years ago. Posts began to appear on the 4chan website claiming that flashing the “OK” sign was a symbol of white supremacy. The posts were meant to bait media and liberals into believing that placing the thumb and forefinger together is a symbol of white power and make them look foolish.
But the joke became a reality when members of the alt-right began using the “OK” gesture in earnest. “At least some white supremacists seem to have abandoned the ironic or satiric intent behind the trolling campaign and used the symbol as a sincere expression of white supremacy,” the ADL said on its website. The gesture is now seen as alt-right rallies and is frequently used by members of the Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer.
“I think people should be careful about when and where they decide to make that symbol because they could be accused of doing it for white supremacist purposes, ADL Senior Research Fellow Mark Pitcavage told the Chicago Tribune.
2. The OK Gesture Was Used in the White House Press Room
In February 2017, Jim Hoft, publisher of the alt-right blog Gateway Pundit, and contributor Lucian Wintrich, were photographed flashing the “OK” sign while standing at the podium in the White House press room. Hoft later tweeted the photo and included the hashtag #Pepe along with a frog emoji, references to Pepe the Frog, a cartoon character who has now come to symbolize the alt-right movement.
Soon after the Hoft and Wintrich photo was taken, two journalists came under fire for making the “OK” gesture in the same spot. Freelance journalist Mike Cernovich and Cassandra Fairbanks, a reporter for the Russian news outlet Sputnik were photographed posing behind the podium in the briefing room while flashing the “OK” sign.
“Just two people doing a white power hand gesture in the White House,” Fusion senior reporter Emma Roller tweeted. Fairbanks shot back by noting that she is of Puerto Rican descent.
3. White Supremacist Brenton Tarrant was Seen Using the Symbol in Court
Australian white supremacist Brenton Tarrant was photographed using the “OK” symbol in the courtroom. Tarrant is accused of killing 51 people at two Christchurch, New Zealand mosques on March 15, 2019. He has pleaded not guilty.
Tarrant,28, made a brief court appearance after the shooting. While standing in the courtroom, Tarrant smirked and flashed an inverted “OK” hand sign before being led out of the courtroom in handcuffs.
Tarrant was described by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison as an “extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist,” Al Jazeera reported. A manifesto reportedly written by Tarrant showed he was enmeshed in white power culture and often used symbols and gestures associated with hate groups.
4. A Chicago School Reprinted Their Yearbooks After Students Flashed the “OK” Sign in Photos
In May 2019, Oak Park and River Forest High School reprinted all of the school’s yearbooks for the 2018-2019 school year after several students flashed the controversial hand sign. The cost of the reprint was $53,794.
It’s believed that the students’ who made the “OK” gesture were referring to the “circle game.” The game involves one player covertly making the “OK” sign. If another player takes notice, the first player can hit the player who looked. The “circle game” was created by Matt Nelson in the early 1980s who claimed he devised it as an excuse to punch his friends. It became popular when millions of television viewers saw the “circle game” on the November 15, 2000, episode of the TV show, Malcolm in the Middle.
A message was sent to parents after the decision was made to reprint the yearbooks. The email acknowledged that the gesture has many harmless meanings but had also been co-opted by white nationalists. “Regardless of intent, the potential negative impact of this gesture has led us to decide we cannot distribute the yearbook as is,” the school wrote.
5. A Chicago Cubs Fan Was Banned for Life for Using the Gesture
A Chicago Cubs fan angered the team when he made an inverted “OK” signal behind the back of African-American sports reporter Doug Glanville. Glanville was live on air covering a Chicago Cubs-Miami Marlins game when a man sitting behind him in the stands flashed the hand sign. The incident resulted in the fan being banned for life from Wrigley Field.
“The incident last night is truly disgusting,” Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein told the media. “It gave me shivers to watch that, to see that take place at Wrigley Field.”
The fan was not identified but was cited for violating the Cubs’ Guest Code of Conduct. Cuts President of Team Operations Crane Kenney noted the man will face criminal prosecution for trespassing if he returns to Wrigley Field.
Kenney said that “no one should be subjected to this type of behavior,” and added that “such ignorant and repulsive behavior is not tolerated at Wrigley Field.”