The fire department in Washington, D.C., launched an internal investigation Wednesday into a photo taken last year of a group of recruits flashing what some say may have been a “white power” hand gesture, which resembles the “OK” hand sign.

But the recruits might have been playing the so-called “circle game,” in which someone flashes an upside-down OK sign below the waist and punches anyone who looks at it, District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services officials said, according to Washington's WRC-TV.


The department said it was first made aware of the photo Wednesday after it surfaced on Facebook. The photo shows several members of Recruit Class 387 and their instructors. The class graduated in April 2019. The photo is believed to have been taken in March 2019, the statement added.

"The department has immediately initiated an interview review of the photograph, which may include interviews with everyone pictured in the photograph," D.C. Fire and EMS chief communications officer Doug Buchanan said, according to Washington's WUSA-TV.

In certain contexts, three fingers extended is meant to form a “W,” and the thumb and index finger connecting is meant to form a “P,” which together stand for “white power.”

The OK symbol has had different meanings for centuries. It began to surface online in 2017 as part of a hoax on the online message board 4chan meant to make liberals and the media “overreact by condemning a common image as white supremacist,” according to the Anti-Defamation League.

The D.C. probe comes about a month after investigations by the Army and Navy ruled that U.S. Military Academy cadets and U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen were participating in the circle game during a televised football game and were not communicating racist messages as some had claimed.

Clips of the hand gestures by the students went viral on social media.


The Navy said reviews of the footage, more than two dozen interviews and background checks by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the FBI determined that the two freshmen midshipmen were participating in the “sophomoric game” with West Point cadets. The Army added that the hand gestures were “not associated with ideologies or movements that are contrary to the Army values.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.