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What is the Proud Boys’ signal? Did Trump make a hand sign during the debate?

Bruno Cooke October 22, 2020
proud boys signal
Photo by MARANIE R. STAAB/AFP via Getty Images

What is the Proud Boys’ signal? President Trump’s “stand back and stand by” comment, made during the 29 September US presidential debate, was met with consternation, alarm bells and celebration. We wrote about it here. But did he give another signal too?

The Trump administration has received vocal support from Europe’s nationalist movements. The incumbent has presided over a reported 55 per cent increase in white nationalist hate groups. But is there any evidence of actual collusion with members of groups such as the Proud Boys?

Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images

And what is the Proud Boys’ secret signal?

The hand signals of white supremacists: When “ok” is not ok

On 13 July, Snopes fact-checked a claim that long-time Trump ally Roger Stone was photographed making a “white power symbol” with members of the Proud Boys. The image circulated on Facebook and other social media sites from 12 July.

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The symbol, formed by connecting thumb and forefinger in a circle and raising the three remaining fingers, has been used variously for 2,500 years or more. By the early 19th century, it was affiliated with its modern meaning. It has since been a benign signifier for “ok”.

Photo by MARANIE R. STAAB/AFP via Getty Images

Since 2017, however, it has been used differently. In February 2017, 4chan users launched Operation O-KKK. The aim was to “flood Twitter and other social media websites” with posts that claimed the ok hand symbol was a “symbol of white supremacy”.

What is the Proud Boys’ signal?

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which monitors extremists, has described the Proud Boys as “violent, nationalistic, Islamophobic, transphobic and misogynistic”. Other hand signals associated with the sentiments that underpin the group include a more literal, two-handed W P sign.

Snopes’ analysis of the Roger Stone photograph found it “true”. The ADL’s explanation runs like this:

In 2017, the ‘ok’ hand gesture acquired a new and different significance thanks to a hoax by members of the website 4chan to falsely promote the gesture as a hate symbol, claiming that the gesture represented the letters ‘wp’ for ‘white power’.”

ADL – Okay hand gesture

Did Trump make the ok hand sign during the debate?

When asked to condemn white supremacy during the US presidential debate on 29 September, Trump faltered. He told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by”, then changed the subject to antifa.

However, he made no visible gestures along the lines set out by the ADL as associated with white supremacist groups.

While much has been made of Trump’s body language in the past, especially his idiosyncratic hand movements, the universality of the ok symbol makes it impossible to pin specific sentiments to its use after the fact.

The Twitter takeover: Proud Boys vs gay pride

In a new development, LGBTQ members of the Twitter community have opted to take over the #ProudBoys hashtag. Many have flooded it with images depicting smiling homosexual couples kissing and holding hands.

Enrique Tarrio, leader of the Proud Boys, said he found it “hysterical”. In an interview with CNN, he stated: “This isn’t something that’s offensive to us. It’s not an insult. We aren’t homophobic. We don’t care who people sleep with. People think it’s going to bother us. It doesn’t.”

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Bruno is a novelist, amateur screenwriter and journalist with interests in digital media, storytelling, film and politics. He’s lived in France, China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, but returned to the UK for a degree (and because of the pandemic) in 2020. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Forge Press and The Friday Poem, and most are readable on Medium or onurbicycle.com.