A member of the Hurricane Florence response team was “removed” by the U.S. Coast Guard after he flashed the OK hand signal in the background of a live television news report.
The unidentified man briefly looked into the camera and then looked away and made the gesture over his shoulder.
Outrage followed on social media.
Some said it was inappropriate simply because of the seriousness of the hurricane. Others were offended because they connect the gesture to President Donald Trump and conservatives. Some leftists have claimed the OK sign is a signal of “white power.”
What was the context?
It happened in the background of a live MSNBC interview with Sector Charleston Commanding Officer Capt. John Reed, according to published reports. He was giving an update on the Coast Guard’s response to Hurricane Florence.
Social media users called for the firing of the man who made the signal. They claim it is a white power hate symbol. The government agency quickly responded and distanced itself.
“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 tweeted.
The Coast Guard also issued a statement saying the incident was a “frustrating distraction” during a hurricane that could impact more than 10 million people in the Southeast region of the nation.
"This is a frustrating distraction for the Coast Guard during our hurricane response,” the statement read. “This person has been removed from the response pending an investigation. These types of actions are not reflective of the core values of the Coast Guard."
At last count, the storm has caused seven deaths and left more than 1 million people without power.
What does the gesture really mean?
There seems to be much confusion over whether the OK hand signal is truly a hate symbol. The Anti-Defamation League, for example, has deemed that it is not.
“Has the simple thumb-and-forefinger ‘OK’ hand gesture become a white supremacist hand sign? Well, no, it hasn’t, but you are likely to hear just the opposite from social media, thanks to the latest hoax from members of notorious website 4chan,” stated a post on the anti-racism group's website.
In other circles, the hand signal is viewed as an occult representation of 666 or the Antichrist. It also can carry a vulgar connotation in some overseas cultures. The most benign meaning of the gesture is that it simply communicates everything is OK or good.