British Columbia

White supremacist symbol in ad unintentional, says Vancouver Island business

Vancouver Island business denounces white supremacy after discovering its ad contains symbols linked to hate.

Men In Kilts employee flashes hand sign in ad linked with white supremacy

Men in Kilts Vancouver Island North general manager says he is shocked and sickened that its promotional material contained symbols that are linked to white supremacy. (Campbell River Mirror)

A Vancouver Island business says it's shocked and sickened that its promotional material contained symbols that are linked to white supremacy.

For many, bringing together your thumb and pointer finger while extending the other three fingers is a hand gesture meaning OK.

But in recent years, the hand gesture has been adopted by white supremacists and online trolls.

This week, an ad for the Vancouver Island North franchise of Men In Kilts, a window and gutter cleaning company, contained an image of an employee making the hand gesture.

A Men in Kilts employee flashing the OK symbol which is linked to white supremacy. (Campbell River Mirror)

"I was sickened. Really, it made my stomach turn." said Chris Strong, general manager for Men in Kilts Vancouver Island North.

The man who made the gesture no longer works for Men in Kilts. Strong says neither he nor the former employee had any idea of the gesture's hateful meaning. Strong insists the man made the symbol as part of a game he plays with his children.

 Evolution of meaning

The game, popularized by the TV show Malcolm in the Middle that aired between 2000 and 2006, is called the "circle game." In it, participants make the OK shape with their hand discreetly and then punch the other player when they notice it.

It's also used by scuba divers to signal OK.

The adoption of the symbol by racists and online trolls to represent white supremacy is more recent.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, an American anti-hate organization that confronts bigotry and discrimination, the symbol started being used satirically in 2017 by members of the website 4chan an online imageboard, to represent white power. The three outstretched fingers representing a W and the thumb and pointer finger making a P.

The white power hand gesture. (Anti Defamation League)

The hand gesture has since become more widely used by white supremacists, capitalizing on its ambiguous meaning to both communicate their hateful message, while also allowing deniability when called out on their actions.

In 2019, the man who killed 50 people in a mass shooting at mosques in Christchurch, N.Z., flashed the hand sign in court.

'White supremacy has no place in this world'

Back on Vancouver Island, Strong said when members of the public brought the issue to his attention he self-educated and has an unambiguous message.

"White supremacy has no place in this world whatsoever. Period." 

Strong says Men in Kilts is a diverse company, with roots in the communities it serves and he is heartbroken that its advertisement contained hurtful and unintended content.

That is a message echoed by Men In Kilts Canada CEO Chris Carrier. He says its brand and relationship with customers is paramount to its success and he is thankful members of the public raised the issue.

"Once people bring it to our attention, that's all we can do is respond. So we're responding by removing the image from anything that is out there." said Carrier.

Moving forward, Carrier said Men In Kilts will be more careful about their ads and what's in them.