Washington, DC – The District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services has launched an internal investigation after a photo that showed a group of recruits making the “okay” hand gesture surfaced on Facebook.
Three people in the group photo were displaying the gesture, sparking outrage from those who have deemed the sign to be a symbol of “white power,” WRC reported.
The department said that the image included members of the Recruit Class 387 and their instructors. The recruits graduated in April of 2019, and department officials said they believe the picture was taken a month earlier.
“The Department has immediately initiated an internal review of the photograph, which may include interviews with everyone pictured in the photograph,” the DC Fire and EMS said in a statement to WRC.
The department first became aware of the photo on Wednesday, according to the Associated Press.
Stand Up to Anti-Semitism spokesperson A.J. Campbell claimed that the meaning behind the recruits’ gestures is clear.
“The worst part about having anti-Semitism come up in our community would be to have it infiltrate the very structures and organizations that try to protect us,” Campbell told WRC. “Somebody is giving them the information that this is an okay thing to do, and we have to make it clear as a society that it is not.”
The investigation comes approximately one month after multiple West Point and Annapolis service academy students were seen making the “okay” gesture on live television during the 120th annual Army-Navy football game.
The goal of the viral trend, which is ingrained in military culture, is to make somebody look at your hand while making the OK sign below waist level. If they look, you can deliver a punch to their shoulder.
The myth that the okay sign actually means “white power” was started by internet trolls on 4chan, an anonymous message board, in February of 2017, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) previously said.
“We must flood twitter and other social media websites with spam, claiming that the OK hand sign is a symbol of white supremacy,” the anonymous poster wrote, according to the civil rights organization. “Leftists have dug so deep down into their lunacy. We must force [them] to dig more, until the rest of society ain’t going anywhere near that s–t.”
Users encouraged people to perpetuate the hoax using hashtags such as #PowerHandPrivilege and #NotOkay, created fake social media and email accounts, and bombarded journalists and civil rights organizations with the misinformation.
In September of 2019, the ADL said that the hand gesture “was being used in some circles as a sincere expression of white supremacy.”
The ADL added the “okay” hand gesture and 35 other images and slogans to its list of hate symbols that month.
“Even as extremists continue to use symbols that may be years or decades old, they regularly create new symbols, memes and slogans to express their hateful sentiments,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a press release at the time.
“These are the latest calling cards of hate,” ADL Center on Extremism Senior Fellow Mark Pitcavage said in the press release. “We pay special attention to those symbols that exhibit staying power as well as those that move from online usage into the real world.”