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Coast Guard member flashes white power hand signal on TV

The man shown in the background as a captain was being interviewed about Tropical Storm Florence was later removed from response duty, officials said.
Image: White Power Symbol, USCG
US Coast Guard support staff member (bottom left) gestures during an interview on MSNBC on September 14, 2018.MSNBC

A member of a U.S. Coast Guard team responding to Tropical Storm Florence in South Carolina appeared to flash a white power hand gesture in the background as a captain was being interviewed Friday by MSNBC.

The man has since been removed from the Florence response operations and the incident is under investigation, said Coast Guard Lt. J.B. Zorn.

The decision from the federal agency came after heavy backlash online to the apparent gesture captured on "Live with Ali Velshi."

Various Twitter users called for an investigation into the incident and others called for the member of the agency to be fired.

"Whatever that symbol means, it doesn't reflect the Coast Guard and our core values," Zorn said. "It won't be tolerated."

Coast Guard officials wouldn't identify the man and declined to discuss possible disciplinary action.

He flashed the signal as Capt. John Reed, commander of Florence response efforts in Charleston, South Carolina, was explaining a new tactic as the storm changed direction. A man in a red shirt was seen casually displaying the 'OK' hand signal against the right side of his face as he sat at a table in the background.

While the gesture appears innocuous and may have started as an online troll campaign, it has seemingly become a symbol used by alt-right supporters to "trigger" liberals with the implicit suggestion that white nationalist views have become more prominent.

The Coast Guard has been at the forefront of rescue operations in the Carolinas, where at least five people have died since the storm reached the coastline Friday morning.

"We’re not going to let one person detract from the good work the Coast Guard is doing in the region," Zorn said. "We're going to stay focused."