President Trump has drawn fire for his use of a hand symbol that has been embraced by the alt-right. (Photo: Screengrab, Fox News)

OK or KKK? Trump gesture fuels debate over ‘white power’ symbol

When is “OK” not OK?

US President Donald Trump has once again come under criticism this week after appearing to display a white power hand gesture at a teen summit for conservative non-profit organisation, Turning Point USA.

The gesture, which has the appearance of the ‘OK’ hand gesture of bringing thumb and forefinger together, will seem innocuous to many, but has a recent history of being a dog-whistle symbol for racism in the alt-right.

Trump flashed the gesture as he mentioned the name Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic congresswoman, who along with three other congresswomen of colour was told by the president last week to “go back to from where they came”. Three of the women were born in the US, while the fourth is a citizen  who has lived there since was 12.

One of these congresswomen, Ilhan Omar, being the target of the now infamous “Send her back” chants at a Trump rally in North Carolina last week, an incident which some critics, such as presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke,   likened to the Nuremberg rally in Nazi Germany.

The symbol may have been used simply to illustrate the ‘OK’ sign for many years now,  but it started taking on a different meaning as a result of a hoax by the website 4chan, designed to falsely promote the gesture as one of hate.

As explained by the Anti-Defamation League, this symbol was selected because the shape the hand forms supposedly represents the letters ‘WP’ for ‘white power’.

What started as a joke, however, has now taken on more sinister meanings. Famous examples include Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination hearing, where Republican operative Zina Bash repeatedly flashed the symbol over the shoulder of Kavanaugh, knowing she was within frame of television cameras.

The white supremacist charged with carrying out the Christchurch massacre was also seen flashing the same symbol as he was held in court.