Several members of the media insinuated President Donald Trump used a hand symbol controversially linked to white supremacists movements while the president talked about political opponent Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez during a speech this week.
Trump spoke Tuesday at Turning Point USA’s Teen Student Action Summit 2019 and one particular gesture he made caught the eye of Vox reporter Aaron Rupar, who provided live commentary for the speech in a series of tweets.
Trump makes a hand gesture while saying AOC’s name pic.twitter.com/2266fEvlWE
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 23, 2019
The liberal journalist pointed out that Trump made a “hand gesture” – the “OK” symbol – while he said Ocasio-Cortez’s name.
The “OK” hand sign is traditionally known as an innocuous gesture, but it is also sometimes interpreted as a white supremacist symbol.
Rupar’s observation led some left-leaning pundits and media outlets, including Rolling Stone, to ponder whether Trump intended the gesture as a racist dog-whistle.
Walter Shaub, former Director of the United States Office of Government Ethics, expressed his outrage with a curt tweet:
“What?!” he tweeted.
Shashank Bengali, a Los Angeles Times correspondent, tweeted that Trump’s use of the symbol was “not an accidental gesture.”
And some journalists, such as The Intercept’s Mehdi Hasan, went a step further, declaring definitively that Trump had “invoked” a white power symbol.
It’s a white power symbol, invoked by Trump as he mentions the name of a woman of colour.
But hey, don’t worry: Obama once saluted a Marine with a coffee cup in one hand and it was a proper controversy for days. https://t.co/44uXMpBtuT
— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) July 24, 2019
Various users on social media were similarly convinced.
“If you look close,” tweeted one commenter, “Making the circle with index and thumb forms the ”P and of course the remaining 3 fingers combined form the ‘W.'”
The “OK” sign
Many on the right have argued that progressives’ fixation on the “OK” sign as a racist symbol is absurd and evidence of liberals’ penchant for finding offense in even the most innocuous gestures. They note that liberal paragons such as former President Barack Obama and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are all “guilty” of performing the sign.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, white nationalists adopted the gesture prior to a 2017 hoax campaign by users of the 4chan imageboard site. That effort sought to troll the left by popularizing the association of the sign with the white power movement.
The progressive “hate groups” watchdog cited the early use of the gesture by alt-right figures, such as Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos. Mudding the waters further was the use of the hand sign by the white supremacist who was charged with massacring 49 people at two New Zealand mosques in March.
The Anti-Defamation League initially rejected equating the “OK” symbol with white supremacy However, the organization has since updated a blog post on their site with a more expanded discussion of the issue. According to the ADL, only “if the gesture occurs in context with other clear indicators of white supremacy can one” conclude that “such a gesture is intending or exhibiting an association with white supremacy.”
The organization noted “that the ‘OK’ gesture is a nearly universal hand gesture and most usage of it is completely innocuous.”
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