“OK” is not OK anymore.

I remember using the “OK” hand gesture as a kid, signaling to friends while playing games or sports, and a little later watching Eddie Murphy funnily flashing it on “Saturday Night Live.”


Harmless fun, then. Not so much today, thanks to the hateful community that has co-opted it, turning it into a symbol for the white power movement.

Obviously, the “OK" gesture is formed by touching the tip of one’s thumb to the tip of one’s index finger. That, seemingly, was making an “O.” As in, OK. But, to some, the three other fingers in that gesture form a "W" and the index finger-thumb circle supposedly is the top of the “P." As in, WP. White Power.

Many were oblivious to this until Thursday, when the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights organization, made the “OK” hand gesture one of the 36 symbols it added to its Hate on Display database, because it has been used in recent years throughout the internet, including message boards like 4chan and 8chan, to promote white supremacy.

It apparently started as a prank. According to NPR, citing the website Know Your Meme, 4chan users in 2017 launched a campaign to flood social media with posts linking the “OK” hand gesture to the white power movement. Commenters on the message board appropriated images of people posing in the White House and other locations making the hand symbol as proof that it was catching on.

But it’s not considered a prank anymore, particularly since the white supremacist accused of killing 51 worshipers at a church in Christchurch, New Zealand, flashed the OK hand gesture in court.

It is a sad sign of the times that the ADL’s “Hate on Display” is up to 214 entries. Also added Thursday was “Dylann Roof’s Bowlcut,” a reference to the haircut worn by Roof, who killed nine African-Americans at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.

The database is filled with symbols of hate, including numerous numbers. Among others, 12, 14, 23, 43, and 88 are included. To me, those numbers represent Tom Brady, Michael Jordan, Pete Rose, Dale Earnhardt and Lynn Swann. To others, though, there are specific reasons the numbers have been embraced. The site gives a brief description as to how each has taken on its hate-filled meaning.

The database is filled with various other gestures, acronyms, phrases, images and logos. Some are widely known, such as the burning cross, the hangman’s noose, the Hitler salute and Ku Klux Klan robes, while others probably aren’t so obvious to most. The swastika is, of course, on the list and many of the logos for hate groups include a swastika or a variation thereof.

And the swastika is exactly why the co-opting of the “OK” hand gesture and its inclusion on the hate symbols list has to be taken seriously.

The swastika was for thousands of years a beloved religious icon, sacred in Hinduism and Buddhism. And then Hitler and the Nazis turned it into what ADL’s hate database calls “perhaps the most notorious hate symbol in Western culture.” Old symbols, sadly, can quickly acquire new, heinous associations as they are incorporated or co-opted completely by hate groups.

“These are the latest calling cards of hate,” said Mark Pitcavage, Senior Fellow in ADL’s Center on Extremism and an expert on hate symbology, in a statement on the ADL website. “While some hate symbols are short-lived, others take on a life of their own and become tools for online trolling. We pay special attention to those symbols that exhibit staying power as well as those that move from online usage into the real world.”

The “OK” sign will always remind me of being a kid and having fun. But because of what it might remind others of, I won’t ever flash it again.

Bob Blubaugh is the editor of the Carroll County Times. His column appears Sundays. Email him at bob.blubaugh@carrollcountytimes.com.