“Based on findings of the investigation, those involved will be held appropriately accountable," Cmdr. Alana Garas, a spokeswoman for the academy in Annapolis, Maryland, said via email. “It would be inappropriate to speculate any further while we are conducting this investigation.”
Lt. Col. Chris Ophardt, a spokesman for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York, said officials there were also looking into the matter.
“The United States Military Academy is fully committed to developing leaders of character who embody the army values,” said Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, West Point’s superintendent. He said he has appointed an officer “to conduct an administrative investigation into the facts, circumstances, and intent of the Cadets in question.”
Several West Point cadets and Naval Academy midshipmen in the stands appeared to display the hand sign during an ESPN broadcast segment Saturday. The gesture is similar to the one used to indicate “OK,” with the thumb and forefinger in a circle and the three other fingers splayed out behind.
U.S. Coast Guard leaders reprimanded an officer who used a similar hand sign during a television broadcast last year.
The Anti-Defamation League recently added the sign to its database of hate symbols. It started as a trolling campaign on the internet message board 4chan, which tried to dupe viewers into thinking the fingers of the “OK” sign formed the letters “W” and “P” to mean “white power,” but the league said extremists had adopted it as a sincere expression of white supremacy.
Brenton Tarrant, the Australian man charged with killing 51 people at New Zealand mosques in March, flashed the symbol during a courtroom appearance.