Military Investigating Cadets and Midshipmen Who Appear to Make "White Power" Hand Gesture on Live ESPN Army-Navy Pregame Show

The Military officials are “looking into” an incident in which several cadets and midshipmen appeared to make “White Power” hand gestures during an ESPN pre-game segment prior to the 120th playing of the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia.

With ESPN college football “Gameday” host Rece Davis standing in front of a large group of both West Point cadets and Annapolis midshipmen, several of them can be seen flashing the hand gesture that has found its way into the background of live TV shots across the country. The game, which was won by Navy, was attended by President Trump, who took part in the opening coin toss and was on the field for the playing of the national anthem.

With thumbs and forefingers pressed together forming a circle, and the other three fingers spread out in a typical “OK” hand gesture, several students can be seen doing the hand gesture.The circle and fingers form a “W” and a “P” for "white power". One midshipman can be seen first reaching into the frame doing the hand gesture from the right side of the screen with a black glove on before removing the glove and doing it again before another gloved hand pushes the hand away.

A cadet, behind Davis, reaches around other cadets to extend the hand gesture down into the frame upside down. And yet another cadet, whose face is clearly visible before the camera closed in on Davis, also reaches into the frame from behind Davis with a gloveless hand to do the symbol, also pointing it downward, right next to a cadet of color. That same cadet who held up the offensive hand gesture held up an Army flag just prior to doing the hand gesture. In September the Anti-Defamation League labeled the hand gesture a hate symbol.

“We’re looking into it,” Lt. Col. Chris Ophardt, a West Point spokesman, told The Wall Street Journal. “I don’t know what their intention is.” And a U.S. Naval Academy spokeswoman also said it was looking into the matter, according to the Journal.

In January, theU.S. Coast Guard suspended one of its members for using the symbol in the background of a TV broadcast during Hurricane Florence. And in July, 2018, members of the Jasper, Ala. police department appeared to be making the hand gesture while posing with the town’s mayor.

Anyone comfortable using the hand gesture on live TV is cause for concern, but what about the future leaders of our military who will have Black and Brown men and women under their command? It's even more troubling when you consider that, "Racial and ethnic minority groups made up 40% of Defense Department active-duty military in 2015, up from 25% in 1990," according to a Pew Research Center report. And considering Blacks are over-represented in the military, making up 17% of the armed forces, despite being just 13% of the country's total population.

As the revamped upside down “OK” hand gesture began spreading about the country, with known white supremacists such as Richard Spencer adopting it, the Southern Poverty Law Center addressed the issue in September of last year.

“The problem, of course, is that there are white nationalists, neo-Nazis and Klansmen who have increasingly begun using the use of the symbol both to signal their presence to the like-minded, as well as to identify potentially sympathetic recruits among young trolling artists flashing it. To them, the configuration means WP, for ‘white power’” wrote the SPLC.

The SPLC notes that the hand gesture’s similarity to the “OK” hand gesture has added to the confusion about its usage.

“It’s used ‘ironically’ by a number of Trump supporters at far-right rallies. It’s been particularly prominent among far-right street protesters such as the Proud Boys and the Northwest-based Patriot Prayer, whose members have prominently displayed the sign in group photos and during street protests.”