How the "OK Hand" Became a Symbol of Hate

The "OK hand" has just been declared a symbol of hate by the Anti-Defamation League. It joins a slew of once innocuous symbols that have been co-opted by the alt-right. Here's how they do it — according to journalist David Neiwert.

Adopted into right-wing culture

The simple, classic OK hand symbol has been officially declared a hate sign by the Anti-Defamation League. It’s the latest example of a seemingly innocuous symbol being slowly adopted by the so-called alt right. Journalist David Neiwart has spent years writing about modern right-wing extremism where symbols like the OK symbol, the triple parenthesis, Pepe the Frog, the flag of Kekistan and even the number 14 are used in lieu of traditional neo-Nazi symbology.

“The classic example, of this is Pepe the Frog who is an innocuous cartoon frog created by a liberal Democrat that spread widely on social media and particularly among young people. But it started getting used widely at 4 chan for creating memes and frequently people who were at 4Chan not in any kind of sort of extremist capacity. After a symbol is appropriated, its users will often say it’s being used ironically or in an attempt to trigger those who come across it. The alt-right really is, in many ways, about mainstreaming white nationalism and they have many ways of going about doing that mainstreaming work. and one of them is to actually appropriate symbols and images and talking points from mainstream rhetoric and mainstream culture that they then claim as their own,” Journalist David Neiwart tells Brut.

But the ADL says extremists also are using it as a sincere expression of white supremacy. Brenton Tarrant, the Australian man charged with killing 51 people at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March, flashed the "OK" symbol during a courtroom appearance after his arrest. The ADL also added the "Dylann Roof Bowlcut," an image of the hairstyle worn by the white supremacist who shot and killed nine black people in 2015 at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. Another addition, the "Moon Man" meme, is derived from "Mac Tonight," a character in a McDonald's advertising campaign during the 1980s. Internet trolls transformed the sunglasses-wearing cartoon moon into a vehicle for rap songs with racist and violent lyrics.