Black West Point cadets are under fire for a photo that appears to show them holding up their raised fists.
The photo, which shows 16 female African-American cadets, was posted online last in April 2016, drawing ire at the elite military training academy.
“We can confirm that the cadets in this photo are members of the U.S. Military Academy’s Class of 2016,” Lt. Col. Christopher Kasker said in a statement obtained by NBC News. “Academy officials are conducting an inquiry into the matter.”
The women are among 1,000 cadets slated to graduate on May 21. They haven’t spoken publicly about the photo, or what it means.
A former soldier, John Burk, stoked criticism against the women, slamming the photo on his blog.
“This overt display of the black lives matter movement is not, in itself wrong, but to do so while in uniform is completely unprofessional and not in keeping with what the USMA stands for,” he wrote.
— Sue Fulton (@suefulton) April 27, 2016
“There’s a tradition at West Point for seniors where they pose and they have a very stoic look on their face intended to be a throwback to the old days,” Anthony Lombardo, who is the editor of the Army Times, told ABC News.
The photo, he said, is “different” because “everyone is kind of doing the pose but then there is the clenched fist in the air. If these men and women are in uniform, and they’re making a political statement, they could afoul of the Defense Department regulation, and they could be in serious trouble for that.”
After that, military members expressed support for the women.
“I know these young women. They love West Point and they love the Army,” said Brenda Sue Fulton, who is a 1980 graduate and also serves as the chairwoman of the academy’s Board of Visitors.
“I am old enough to know that it would be interpreted negatively by many white observers. Unfortunately, in their youth and exuberance, it appears they didn’t stop to think that it might have any political context, or any meaning other than their own feeling of triumph,” she said, explaining why she chose not to share the photo.
The raised and clenched fist salute is most famously associated with the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s. However, it has been used as an expression in a number of causes.
Mary Tobin, a graduate, said that she is a mentor to some of the women in the photo. She said she’s spoken to them since West Point launched an inquiry.
“They weren’t doing it to be aligned with any particular movement or any particular party. It was, ‘We did it and we did it together,'” Tobin told CNN.