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Charleston Coast Guard member removed from post after flashing hand sign during broadcast

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Coast guard OK symbol

The U.S. Coast Guard has removed a member of its Hurricane Florence emergency response team in Charleston after he flashed an "OK" hand symbol during an interview on MSNBC Friday. The Coast Guard says an investigation has been opened into the incident, since the symbol has been associated with white supremacists. Please note the culprit is not the man in the foreground, but the guy in the back. Screenshot. MSNBC.

A member of the Coast Guard's emergency response team in Charleston was taken off his post after he appeared to flash a hand gesture some associate with white supremacy while the team's captain was interviewed on MSNBC Friday. 

The incident remains under investigation, Coast Guard Lt. J.B. Zorn said Sunday.

"The Coast Guard is aware that this gesture is offensive in some circles. Whether it was displayed knowingly or unknowingly, that is of concern," Zorn told The Post and Courier.

"This doesn't reflect any of the great work the Coast Guard is doing," Zorn said.

The service member has not been identified by the Coast Guard due to the ongoing investigation. He was working on the emergency response to Hurricane Florence at the command post in North Charleston while Coast Guard Capt. John Reed gave an interview on "Live with Ali Velshi."

As Reed spoke about Charleston's response efforts while Florence headed toward North Carolina, the unidentified Coast Guard member glanced at the camera and then appeared to flash the "OK" gesture, holding the symbol up briefly across the right side of his face.

When social media users spotted the gesture, outrage ensued. Some Twitter users called for the service member to be fired.

The Coast Guard responded with a tweet of its own Friday evening, in which the Coast Guard apologized.

"We are aware of the offensive video on twitter - the Coast Guard has identified the member and removed him from the response. His actions do not reflect those of the United States Coast Guard," the agency posted just before 6 p.m. Friday.

The sign is formed by making the "OK" sign with thumb and forefinger, while keeping the other three digits upward.

The Anti-Defamation League, an organization focused on combating anti-Semitism and bigotry, notes that the "OK" symbol has been used by known white supremacists and members of the alt-right movement to covertly signal each other.

However, the latest assessment from the ADL is that the otherwise innocuous hand sign is largely used as a "trolling gesture" and its meaning is continually evolving.

"No one should assume anything about the use of such a gesture unless there are other unmistakable white supremacist signifiers in that context as well,"  Mark Pitcavage, an ADL senior research fellow, tweeted Sept. 4.

Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-937-5590 and follow her on Twitter @MaryCaitlinByrd.

Political Reporter

Caitlin Byrd is a political reporter at The Post and Courier and author of the Palmetto Politics newsletter. Before moving to Charleston in 2016, her byline appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times. To date, Byrd has won 17 awards for her work.

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