South Bend Police Union Ruffles Feathers With Santa Claus Photo Featuring Potential Offensive Symbol

Police in South Bend, Indiana, are under scrutiny over a recent Facebook post that some are reading as a subtle sign of white supremacist sympathy. The department posted a stock photo of Santa Claus on social media at the end of December, showing him wearing sunglasses and holding up both hands in "OK" signs. However, given that hand sign's recent association with white supremacist groups, some are not pleased to see the police sharing it.

The "OK gesture" — thumb and forefinger forming a circle with the other three fingers extended — was officially classified as a symbol of hate in September of 2019 by the Anti-Defamation League. By then, it had already been thoroughly adopted by white supremacist groups, including the Proud Boys, Boogaloo movement and other supporters of President Donald Trump. Some analysts believe that these groups took it in the first place because it is a gesture the president often uses during his speeches. However, many people have not had time to catch up on the insidious new connotation of the symbol, and may therefore use it without realizing.

Yep. And the last time we posted about this and tagged the South Bend FOP Lodge #36 a very special guest, Aaron Knepper...

Posted by Stop Promoting Fascism on Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The post by South Bend police could be one of those instances, but many commenters are suspicious. The post — made on Dec. 28 — reads "Santa's Elficers," and shows seven images of police delivering gifts to members of the community. It also has two pictures of police insignias, with the questionable Santa Claus taking up a full quarter of the screen.

While some commenters on the department's Facebook page tried to explain the connotation, local activists say that it should not be assumed the police didn't know what it meant. Black Lives Matter organizer Tonna Robinson of South Bend posted about the image twice in the week after it went up.

"For years now, when it is flashed and held, particularly for a camera, it is sending a symbol and then they can say, 'No, that's just the OK sign,' and then play the victim," Robinson wrote. "That's why it works so well, because people give them the benefit of that doubt."

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The vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Josh Morgan, gave a statement to The South Bend Tribune saying that the image was not "intended to offend," and that any accusation otherwise was "shameful." He went on: "Them accusing us of white supremacy is a farce, there's no legitimacy to it. It's a shameful tactic that they're trying to use to push their narrative."

The violent connotation of the "OK gesture" continues to grow in prominence, and the Southern Poverty Law Center has made note of it as well. As the association becomes more overt, it becomes harder to believe that users do not know what they're signaling when they hold the sign up.