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Coast Guard removes employee from Florence duty over alleged "white power" gesture

The U.S. Coast Guard says it removed one of its members from Florence duty after he made an alleged white power gesture in the background of a televised interview.

"We are aware of the offensive video on twitter - the Coast Guard has identified the member and removed him from the response," the agency wrote on Twitter after a clip of the gesture caused social media uproar. "His actions do not reflect those of the United States Coast Guard."

The employee, who hasn't been identified, made the sign during an MSNBC interview Friday with another Coast Guard member. The man can be seen in the background of an aid center staring directly into the camera before shaping his hands to make an "OK" sign — a move that has recently been adopted by white supremacists. He appeared to try hiding the gesture by making it look like he was scratching his face or hair.

The Coast Guard has not denied that the officer intentionally made the white supremacist sign. The agency did not immediately return messages from CBS News. 

The hand signal gained popularity in 2017 as an inside joke among white supremacists online, who wrote about tricking liberals and the media into thinking the popular "OK" gesture had been co-opted by far-right groups, according to the Anti-Defamation League. But the joke eventually turned serious as white supremacists groups and figures, such as Richard Spencer, continued to pose with the gesture in photos and spread its use on social media.

The Coast Guard controversy comes just days after social media users accused Zina Bash, an attorney and Republican operative, of making the gesture on camera while sitting behind Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearings. Bash's husband John Bash, a U.S. Attorney in Texas, said she was simply resting her hand and called the accusation "repulsive." 

"Everyone tweeting this vicious conspiracy theory should be ashamed of themselves," Bash wrote in a now-deleted tweet. "We weren't even familiar with the hateful symbol being attributed to her for the random way she rested her hand during a long hearing."