The hand gesture has evolved from its traditional use into a symbol used by white supremacists

By Rachel DeSantis
September 26, 2019 02:20 PM
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Credit: JOHN RUDOFF/AFP/Getty

The OK hand gesture, which was long used as a stamp of approval but has taken on new life as a mark of white supremacy in recent years, is among several new entries to the Anti-Defamation League’s database of hate symbols.

The organization announced the 36 updated additions on Thursday, calling the symbols the “modern calling cards of hate.”

The OK gesture, which involves putting your index finger to your thumb to make a circle, then raising your three remaining fingers, has traditionally been used to signify that all is well.

But in 2017, it took on a more sinister meaning after the internet message board 4chan spread a hoax claiming the gesture represented a “W” and a “P” for white power.

“The hoaxers hoped that the media and liberals would overreact by condemning a common image as white supremacist,” the ADL’s entry explains.

The faux ties eventually became the real deal as white nationalists actually did adopt the gesture as their own, first to “troll” left-leaning people, and then as the real thing, according to the ADL.

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“At least some white supremacists seem to have abandoned the ironic or satiric intent behind the original trolling campaign and used the symbol as a sincere expression of white supremacy,” the ADL said.

The organization cited Brenton Tarrant, the man charged in the New Zealand mosque shooting, which killed 51 people and injured dozens more. Tarrant, who pleaded not guilty, flashed the symbol during his first court appearance in March.

Despite the spread, the ADL acknowledges that many still use the OK symbol for its traditional purpose, and warns against making assumptions that the person giving the gesture is a white supremacist.

“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,” said ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt in a statement. “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.”

Other additions include the Dylann Roof bowlcut (the haircut worn by the white supremacist who gunned down nine people in a Charleston, South Carolina church in 2015), burning neo-Nazi symbols, the slogan “Diversity = White Genocide,” and the Happy Merchant meme, which depicts a drawing of a Jewish caricature rubbing his hands together.