Media Outlets Reported That Army and Navy Cadets Made ‘White Power’ Sign, but Investigation Debunks Claim

December 20, 2019 Updated: December 20, 2019
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A slew of reporters claimed that Army and Navy cadets made a “white power hand symbol” before the Army-Navy game on Dec. 14 but an investigation by West Point found that they were wrong.

The controversy revolved around cadets making the “okay” hand sign, which progressives claim has become a white nationalist hand sign.

In a growing number of cases, people are claiming that white people making the hand sign are making a “white power” symbol.

Ben Kesling of the Wall Street Journal wrote that officials were probing a “possible ‘white power’ hand sign.” USA Today’s Mike Brehm claimed that the students “appeared to make the White Power hand symbol.” Kevin Bohn and Greg Clary with CNN claimed that a “controversial hand gesture” was “captured on video” and wrote that “some are interpreting it as white nationalist.” Johnny Diaz of the New York Times said authorities were probing whether Army cadets and Navy midshipman “flashed hand symbols associated with hate groups.”

The paper cited the controversial Southern Poverty Law Center, which is one of the groups claiming the hand sign has been adopted by “white nationalists.”

A slew of progressive commentators and activists spread the claim that the cadets were using a white nationalist hand sign, and many—along with some reporters—neglected to state what the actual “symbol” was, leaving out crucial context.

The U.S. Military Acadamy at West Point said in a statement on Dec. 20 that there was no evidence to support the claims that cadets intended to make symbols connected to certain ideologies or movements.

Trump stands for the Pledge of Allegiance
President Donald Trump stands for the Pledge of Allegiance before the start of the Army-Navy college football game in Philadelphia, Pa., on Dec. 14, 2019. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo)

“The investigating officer concluded that the cadets were playing a common game, popular among teenagers today, known as the ‘circle game’ and the intent was not associated with ideologies or movements that are contrary to the Army values,” West Point said in a statement.

“We investigated this matter thoroughly,” said Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, 60th superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy, in a statement. “Last Saturday we had reason to believe these actions were an innocent game and not linked to extremism, but we must take allegations such as these very seriously. We are disappointed by the immature behavior of the cadets.”

“The investigator found that the game was being played in the stands before the ESPN host moved into the crowd. Based on the results of the investigation, those cadets involved will receive appropriate administrative and/or disciplinary actions,” the statement added.

James McConville, chief of staff of the Army, said the probe came about because of media reports suggesting the cadets had used the symbol as a form of racism.

“The United States Military Academy ordered this investigation after reports suggesting racist gestures may have been displayed by cadets at the Army-Navy game. Racist statements, gestures, and symbols have no place in our Army. The investigation determined there was no racist intent by cadets,” he said in a statement.

James Gagliano, a CNN law enforcement analyst, was among those apologizing for initially claiming the students intended to be racist.

“Owe cadets in question apology for my knee-jerk reaction, questioning their actions before Academy’s investigation & fair hearing of the facts,” he said in a statement.

“Guilty of serving as Twitter judge w/my *hot take*, immediately presupposing something nefarious. I was wrong.”

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber