Gesture Associated With White Supremacy Debated At City Council Seminar

Feb 9, 2021

Jacksonville City Council members are holding a series of conversations after a speaker at a recent council meeting flashed a hand gesture that is associated with white supremacists. 

The outburst came at the end of a citizen’s comment in a meeting shortly after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. 

The speaker spoke out against Mayor Lenny Curry and members of the City Council that supported the proposed Lot J deal with Jaguars owner Shad Khan, which was defeated in a 12-7 vote on Jan. 12

The speaker also aired other grievances during an approximately 3-minute speech during the Jan. 7 council meeting. Then, raising both hands in twin gestures, he said, “President Trump forever, he's my president, Joe Biden will never be my president!”

The hand gesture, with the thumb and index finger forming a circle and the middle, ring and pinky fingers extended, is commonly understood as an “OK” sign. But according to the Anti-Defamation League, the symbol is now also used by white supremacists after an online joke was taken seriously. 

Some hate symbols are obvious to everyone, said ADL senior research fellow Mark Pitcavage, a guest at a Tuesday lunch-and-learn. But others can be missed by those not in the know. 

“About four years years ago, some people on a website called 4chan decided to fool people into thinking that the okay gesture had become a hate symbol, that white supremacists had adopted it,” Pitcavage said. “This is something that people on 4chan actually do a lot. They love to take innocuous symbols and try and hoax people into thinking that they're the latest new hate symbol. And usually it completely fails. But for some reason, with the okay symbol, they actually convinced people that the okay symbol was actually being used by white supremacists.”

While Tuesday’s lunch-and-learn was meant as a learning experience for council members with no legislative agenda, attendees did discuss some possible actions. 

“There are some locations, jurisdictions that actually only allow public comment for items that are on the agenda of that legislative body, said Jacksonville Deputy General Counsel Jason Teal. “We have chosen to expand that to include public comment on anything that the speaker desires to speak about.”

Teal explained some of the case law surrounding the First Amendment, saying that council meetings are considered “limited public forums” and as such some constraints on speech are permitted. “There are cases that are out there, for example, that prohibit the wearing or the display of any political materials.”

Organizers of Tuesday’s lunch-and-learn session said their goal is to shed light on conspiracy theories like Q-Anon and reject white supremacy, while still respecting free speech. 

Additional sessions are expected, and will occur both in City Hall and online simultaneously. 

Contact Sydney Boles at sboles@wjct.org, or on Twitter at @sydneyboles.