WASHINGTON (AP) — Hand gestures flashed by West Point cadets and Naval Academy midshipmen during the televised Army-Navy football game were not racist signals, military investigations have concluded.
A Navy probe of the event found that the students were participating in a “sophomoric game” on Saturday and had no racist intent. An Army statement Friday also rejected any racist overtones, saying the hand gestures were “not associated with ideologies or movements that are contrary to the Army values.”
The Navy said officials are, however, disappointed in the immature behavior of the students and “their actions will be appropriately addressed.” There were no details about their exact punishment, but a Navy report on the investigation said the two midshipmen should face “administrative action” for “failure to use good judgment.”
Clips of the hand gestures by the students went viral on social media and immediately raised questions about whether they were using a “white power” sign. But others suggested it was part of what's called the “circle game,” in which someone flashes an upside-down OK sign below the waist and punches anyone who looks at it.
The Navy said that reviews of the footage, more than two dozen interviews and background checks by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the FBI determined that the two freshmen midshipmen were participating in the “circle game” with West Point cadets.
The investigation added that the two naval academy students “exhibited genuine shock” and said they were not aware of the racist connotation of the hand gestures. It said interviews with friends, roommates and other commanders also found no links to the white power movement.
Navy Adm. Mike Gilday, chief of naval operations, said sailors are expected to conduct themselves with integrity and character at all times.
“To be clear, the Navy does not tolerate racism in any form," said Gilday. "And while the investigation determined there was no racist intent behind these actions, our behavior must be professional at all times and not give cause for others to question our core values of honor, courage and commitment.”
The Navy investigation also made a number of recommendations to better coordinate and screen midshipmen who may be in high visibility areas for major events such as the game day. And it said there should be more training for the students on how they should conduct themselves.
The U.S. Military Academy at West Point reached similar conclusions. Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, West Point superintendent, expressed disappointment in the cadets' immature behavior. The cadets involved also will receive “appropriate administrative” or disciplinary actions, West Point said. No details were provided.
“The American people trust our Soldiers to do the right things the right way," said Gen. James McConville, chief of staff of the Army. "We must be mindful of behavior which brings that trust into question and ensure our actions meet the high ethical and professional standards our nation expects the American Soldier to uphold.”
The circle game, around for generations, was featured in the early 2000s sitcom “Malcolm in the Middle” and has made a resurgence as a photo bomb prank in sports team photos--along the same line as “bunny ears” fingers. In more recent years, it became an internet meme in a online game of “gotcha."
But the Anti-Defamation League said the gesture, with the thumb and forefinger touched in a circle and the other fingers outstretched, has also been appropriated as a signal for white supremacy. That started as a hoax perpetuated on the online message board 4chan. The original idea was to take an innocent and common gesture and arbitrarily transform it into something that would enrage liberals.
The campaign was so successful that the gesture came to be used semi-sincerely by Neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klansmen and other white nationalists to signal sympathizers in public places.
In 2018, the U.S. Coast Guard suspended an officer who appeared to be making the hand sign during a Hurricane Florence television broadcast.
RELATED: KKK throughout history
Ku Klux Klan (KKK) throughout history
Ku Klux Klan (KKK) throughout history
1866: A wood engraving depicting two members of the Ku Klux Klan. The white sheet and hood were supposed to represent the ghosts of Confederate soldiers risen from the dead to seek revenge. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 01: Kayne Township. Ku Klux Klan Wedding In New Jersey. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Long Island, NY-Ku Klux Klan with hands raised in oath during night meeting.
20th March 1922: Members of the white supremacist movement, the Ku Klux Klan standing by an aeroplane, out of which they dropped publicity leaflets over Washington DC. (Photo by General Photographic Agency/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) 1/4/1923-Homestead, FL: Photo shows gathering of the Ku Klux Klan, members of the invisible empire, at Homestead, FL., thirty miles South of Miami, and within three miles of the Southern most point of the mainland of the United States. The Imperial Wizard of he Klan is somewhere in the group. But, he just won't make himself known.
Ku Klux Klan members hold a march in Washington, DC, on August 9, 1925.
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 01: Ku Klux Klan Ritual At Atlanta In Usa During Thirties (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Over 100,000 people are expected in Washington for the Klan parade and gathering. Government buildings are all guarded in case of disorder. Photo shows members of the Women's K.K.K. of Virginia marching down Pennsylvania Ave.
5/07/98 PHOTOGRAPHER: Susan Biddle - TWP Wheaton, Md. BRIEF DESCRIPTION: Darryl Davis and his KKK collection Davis, a blues pianist, meets as many KKK guys as he can to find out why they are as they are. He has a collection of robes and other KKK items such as this medallion. (KU KLUX KLAN) (Photo by Susan Biddle/The Washington Post/Getty Images)
A young protester argues with Thom Robb during a Ku Klux Klan rally in Stephenville, Texas. Robb is the national director of the Arkansas-based Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. (Photo by ?? Greg Smith/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
The Imperial Wizard of the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Don Black, wearing a suit and tie, with white-gowned Klan members in the background.
UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1754: Ku Klux Klan members supporting Barry Goldwater's campaign for the presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention, San Francisco, California, as an African American man pushes signs back: 12 July 1964. Photographer: Warren K Leffler. (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1754: Parade of the Ku Klux Klan, in regalia and carrying the stars and stripes, through counties of Virginia bordering on the District of Columbia, America, 1926. (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)
Ku Klux Klan members march through downtown Houston under heavy police protection. (Photo by Greg Smith/Corbis via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) The Ku Klux Klan failed to make good its threat to parade through the streets of this town today and instead had a small parade in Neptune City and Neptune Township. Less than 3,000 men, women, and children marched in the parade, headed by Arthur H. Bell, Grand Dragon of the Realm of New Jersey. Some of the Klansmen were robed and masked, others wore their robes with hoods lifted. (Photo by George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images)
Members of the Ku Klux Klan attend a demonstration in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. They are protesting against the Martin Luther King holiday. (Photo by mark peterson/Corbis via Getty Images)
Demonstration of the Ku Klux Klan (Photo by F. Carter Smith/Sygma via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 23: Jeffery Berry, national imperial wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (l.), Grand Dragon James Sheehy (nursing his would after being attacked), and other Klan members hold a rally at Foley Square near the New York State Supreme Court House. (Photo by Budd Williams/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
VALLEY FORGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 25: A Ku Klux Klan member shows off his tattoo during an American Nazi party member during American Nazi Party rally at Valley Forge National Park September 25, 2004 in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Hundreds of American Nazis from around the country were expected to attend. (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)
SHARPSBURG, MD - SEPTEMBER 07: Members of the Confederate White Knights hold a flag during a rally at the Antietam National Battlefield September 7, 2013 near Sharpsburg, Maryland. The Rosedale, Maryland Ku Klux Klan group held the rally to protest against the administration of President Barack Obama and the U.S. immigration policies. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - JULY 18: Ku Klux Klan members take part in a Klan demonstration at the state house building on July 18, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. The KKK protested the removal of the Confederate flag from the state house grounds, as law enforcement tried to prevent violence between the opposing groups. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
Demostrators take part in a protest against asylum seekers brought to stay at a former army barracks in the Hennala district in Lahti late September 24, 2015. Demonstrators threw stones and launched fireworks at a bus full of asylum seekers arriving at a reception centre in Lahti in southern Finland, late on Thursday, Finnish media reported on Friday. Between 30 and 40 demonstrators, one in a white robe like those worn by the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan in the United States, waved the Finnish flag and shouted abuse at the bus. Picture taken September 24, 2015. REUTERS/Heikki Ahonen/Lehtikuva ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. FINLAND OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN FINLAND.