US military academies say no 'racist' hand signals from students

The US Army and Navy academies cleared students who had been suspected of giving hand signs associated with white supremacist groups during the annual Army-Navy football game, which was attended by President Donald Trump (AFP Photo/Andrew Caballero-Reynolds)

Washington (AFP) - Two top US military academies said Friday they had cleared students suspected of flashing "white power" hand signs at the nationally televised annual Army-Navy football game last week.

The US Military Academy at West Point and the US Naval Academy both said that investigations showed the students were playing a game popular among youth called the "circle game" -- not expressing any racist views.

The Naval Academy said its investigation "determined that two Fourth Class Midshipmen (freshmen) were participating in a sophomoric game, commonly known as 'the circle game,' with West Point Cadets during the live broadcast."

"We are confident the hand gestures used were not intended to be racist in any way. However, we are disappointed by the immature behavior of the two Fourth Class Midshipmen, and their actions will be appropriately addressed," said the academy.

Similarly, West Point Superintendent Lieutenant General Darryl Williams said the cadets had no racist intent or associations.

"Last Saturday we had reason to believe these actions were an innocent game and not linked to extremism, but we must take allegations such as these very seriously. We are disappointed by the immature behavior of the cadets," he said.

Before the December 14 game, which was attended by President Donald Trump, at least two West Point cadets and a US Naval Academy midshipman were seen holding out their hands in an inverted "OK" gesture that has become popular with white supremacist groups.

The students made the hand gestures conspicuously as they stood behind an ESPN commentator speaking on live television.

The act sparked concerns that racist groups may have infiltrated the two respected schools, which train the future elite officers corps of the army and navy.

Last year, the US Coast Guard reprimanded an officer who flashed the same hand sign during a television broadcast.

Brenton Tarrant, the racist who murdered 51 people in attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15, 2019, flashed the same hand signal when he first appeared in court after his arrest.