White supremacists have successfully hijacked the “OK” hand gesture.
The Anti-Defamation League officially added the gesture — along with other symbols — to its database of hate signs on Thursday. In a sign of the strange times, other new entries to the online "Hate on Display" database — filled with things like burning crosses, swastikas, and KKK robes — include a bowl-cut and a cartoon moon wearing sunglasses, the AP reported.
The latest additions to the database, which contains more than 200 entries, show how racists can use memes to take mundane things and completely shift their meanings. For instance, the “OK” hand gesture began as an ironic, fake symbol of hate that white supremacists invented to try to trick people into making false accusations of racism.
But, as things tend to go with memes, the meaning of the hand gesture morphed over time, and now it’s a hate symbol some white supremacists use in earnest. The Australian white supremacist who is accused of killing 51 people at a two mosques in Christchurch in March flashed the “OK” sign during a court appearance.
“Even as extremists continue to use symbols that may be years or decades old, they regularly create new symbols, memes and slogans to express their hateful sentiments,” Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement.
The ADL did note that most uses of the “OK” hand gesture are by non-white supremacists. It can mean lots of things, and context matters.
“Because of the traditional meaning of the 'OK' hand gesture, as well as other usages unrelated to white supremacy, particular care must be taken not to jump to conclusions about the intent behind someone who has used the gesture,” the ADL wrote in its write-up in the database.
The ADL did not immediately respond to request for further comment.
It’s not uncommon for hate groups to co-opt the meaning of everyday things. The bowl-cut, for instance, became a symbol of hate for supremacists emulating South Carolina mass shooter Dylann Roof. And the cartoon moon is taken from a McDonald’s commercial with a rapping moon: Racists meme the character rapping violent, hateful lyrics.
They have also turned Pepe, a cartoon frog, into a hateful caricature, and turned the number 1488 into shorthand for a white supremacist credo and a tribute to Adolf Hitler.
"These are the latest calling cards of hate," said Mark Pitcavage, senior fellow in the ADL's Center on Extremism, according to CNN. "We pay special attention to those symbols that exhibit staying power as well as those that move from online usage into the real world."
Cover: Activists of Pakistan civil society hold candles during a vigil for the victims of Christchurch mosques shooting, in Lahore, Pakistan, Wednesday, March 7, 2019. Many people were killed in a terror attack at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 15. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)