Cadet Hand Gesture Controversy: Media Pundits Push Worst Possible Explanation

Navy midshipmen look on as Army cadets march on the field before the Army-Navy game at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pa., Deceomber 14, 2019. (James Lang/USA TODAY Sports)

Cadets and midshipmen were smeared by a conspiratorial media class.

A collection of conspiratorial cable pundits, news outlets, progressive activists and a celebrity actress spent last weekend accusing cadets and midshipmen of flashing white nationalist symbols during the Army-Navy game while live on television.

Their evidence for the charge? The young men were seen making the “Ok” sign with their hands in a manner that has become associated with online racists who construe the gesture as signifying the first initials of “white power.”

The cadets and midshipmen pictured during the broadcast were actually engaged in the so-called “circle game,” according to a statement released Friday by the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Military Academy, which includes a description of the game that anyone with a brother will recognize.

“The evidence strongly supports a finding that the cadets were playing the ‘circle game,’ an internationally recognized game in which people attempt to trick someone else into looking at an okay-like hand gesture below the waist,” the service academies said in a report released Friday. “Sworn statements from all three cadets convey that their intention was to play the ‘circle game’ in order to garner attention from a national audience as well as surrounding cadets.”

“We are confident the hand gestures used were not intended to be racist in any way,” Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Admiral Sean Buck said in a statement.

Public figures ranging from actress Chrissie Teigen to ABC the Anti-Defamation League’s Jonathan Greenblatt informed their audiences that the support of white nationalism was the most plausible explanation for the gesture and declined to share the alternate “circle game” theory.

“Let’s pretend for a second these people really are doing the white power/white nationalism hand gesture,” Teigen wrote to her 12.1 million followers. “What does it even do for anyone? Do you get points for each time it’s seen like? Is there a boss out there keeping score? Or is it like paging someone?”

Several large accounts belonging to liberal activists and journalists began propagating the sinister explanation for the hand gesture.

“Superintendents of @WestPoint_USMA and @navalacademy, Are you going to discipline the cadets & midshipmen who flashed white power signs at the Army Navy game?” Pulitzer-winning journalist David Cay Johnston tweeted, proposing “Expulsion?” as a possible solution.

Huffington Post contributor Bryan Behar suggested the hand gesture may have been an ironic attempt to provoke an outraged reaction, but added that, if true, this wouldn’t exonerate them.

Tom Nichols echoed Behar’s sentiment, labeling the young men “stupid,” a description he said would apply regardless of the explanation for their behavior.

Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman connected the brazen show of white supremacy to the malign influence of President Trump. “Trump emboldens this trash. He absolutely does. These guys should be kicked out immediately,” he demanded.

MSNBC legal analyst Maya Wiley was also convinced the hand gesture was in some way inspired by the Trump administration, specifically the continued service of Stephen Miller’s in the White House. (A group of Senate Democrats called for Miller to be fired earlier this month after the Southern Poverty Law Center published a cache of his official White House emails in which he shares content from the white nationalist websiter VDare with Breitbart News, in an attempt to shape coverage of immigration issues while working as an aid to then-senator Jeff Sessions.)

Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League welcomed the display as an opportunity for “a conversation about issues of tolerance, issues of respect, issues of diversity, issues of equity,” and praised the universities for their willingness to investigate.

George Stephanopoulos told his Good Morning America viewers the young men were “under scrutiny” for flashing “what looked like a white power sign,” but stipulated that “there might be a different meaning at the military academies then what we normally see over the internet.”

Feminist activist Amy Siskind was alone in celebrating the apparent show of white supremacy.

NAACP Legal head Sherrilyn Ifill shared the story. As did Rolling Stone’s Jamil Smith. “Clips of the signals went viral because of their well-known and documented association with ‘white power,’” he explained.

The country’s major newspapers dutifully reported that the hand gesture was being investigated as a potential display of white supremacy, citing the Anti-Defamation League’s description of the white power sign.

“Military Investigating Suspected ‘White Power’ Hand Gestures Flashed at Game,” The New York Times stated. “Academies looking into students’ hand symbols during pregame broadcast,” USA Today explained. The Philadelphia Inquirer joined in as the game was held at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

While they were cleared of flashing white power signs, the cadets and midshipmen will be still sanctioned for their “immature behavior.”

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