The hand gesture's links to the alt-right originated as a 4chan hoax, but is now being used unironically by extremists.
The "OK" hand gesture has now been designated as a hate symbol, according to a report by the Anti-Defamation League. It has been added along with several other symbols to the ADL's long database of slogans and symbols used by extremists. While the sign is universally recognized as one of approval or of signifying that everything is alright, the ADL explains that the sign has been co-opted by some members of the alt-right. “These are the latest calling cards of hate,” Mark Pitcavage, a senior fellow at ADL’s Center on Extremism, said in a statement. “While some hate symbols are short-lived, others take on a life of their own and become tools for online trolling.”
According to the ADL, the connection between the OK symbol and the alt-right began mainly as a hoax started by 4chan users in 2017. "The “OK” hand gesture originated as one of these hoaxes in February 2017 when an anonymous 4channer announced 'Operation O-KKK,' telling other members that 'we must flood Twitter and other social media websites…claiming that the OK hand sign is a symbol of white supremacy,'" ADL explains on its website. "The user even provided a helpful graphic showing how the letters WP (for 'white power') could be traced within an 'OK' gesture. The originator and others also suggested useful hashtags to help spread the hoax, such as #PowerHandPrivilege and #NotOkay. 'Leftists have dug so deep down into their lunacy,' wrote the poster, 'We must force [them] to dig more until the rest of society ain’t going anywhere near that s***.'" The report continues, "At least some white supremacists seem to have abandoned the ironic or satiric intent behind the original trolling campaign and used the symbol as a sincere expression of white supremacy."
The OK hand gesture — which has been co-opted by white supremacists and is routinely used in racist memes, according to the Anti-Defamation League — has been added to a database of hate symbols.— NPR (@NPR) September 27, 2019
But "context is always key," an official says.https://t.co/NDGuuqDNGJ
"We believe law enforcement and the public needs to be fully informed about the meaning of these images, which can serve as a first warning sign to the presence of haters in a community or school," Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL CEO said in a statement, according to CNN. Pitcavage explained to The Washington Post that the ADL resisted adding the gesture to its Hate on Display database for a long time. But, he added, the number of people who mean for it to signify hatred has hit a critical mass.
The "OK" hand gesture is now a hate symbol linked to white nationalism. https://t.co/S16ysSeuy3— News4JAX (@wjxt4) September 26, 2019
“What we decided was that enough white supremacists were now using it — some trolling, some sincerely — that it was justified including it in the database, albeit with all sorts of explanations,” he said. The description for the hand gesture in the database notes: “Caution must be used in evaluating instances of this symbol’s use.”