High School Students Accused of Raising Nazi Salute in Photo


Was it a Nazi Salute or a simple wave to the parents they’ll be leaving behind when they head off to college? A school photo has people debating what really happened. 

The man who took a photo of a group of high school seniors says accusations the teens each held up a Nazi salute are false.

The photo of about 30 Wisconsin high school students went viral because the image shows many of the boys holding up their hands in what looks like the same gesture Nazis gave to Adolf Hitler. 

The photographer says that’s not what people are seeing at all. In fact, he told CBS News that just before he snapped the photo, he told the group, “OK boys, you’re going to say goodbye to your parents. So wave.”

Honestly, that’s not an unreasonable explanation. It makes sense.

If you look closely at the photo, you can even see a little blurring in the arms and hands of  a few of the teens, which could indicate that they were actually moving their arms from side to side like an actual wave, not a Hitler salute.

But there are a few students who are raising a fist, not a hand: that’s clearly not a wave home.

On top of that, there are two curious clues that suggest that at least for some in the photo, it might have been something else.

The OK symbol

One of the students in the front row has both hands at his side, but his right hand is gesturing an “OK” sign. It’s that sign made when you connect your thumb and index finger in a circle and have your other three fingers outstretched.

For years, it has meant “OK.” Divers use it underwater to check on each other.

But a not-so-funny thing happened in 2017. An online prank flooded social media with memes claiming the familiar symbol was actually a symbol of white supremacy. It isn’t, but some believe the prank, reportedly dubbed “Operation O-KKK,” is true.

That means it’s possible that people who subscribe to that particular point of view — or, at least in a prank, want people to believe they do — might use the symbol.

That’s not, in and of itself, all that incriminating.

But when combined with the second clue, things begin to take a slightly different turn.

The tweet

That second clue comes in the form of a tweet that has since been deleted. But the tweet was screen-grabbed and posted by others. And the message is a bit curious.

The tweet read, “We even got the black kid to throw it up.”

There is a single student of color in the photo but because of the angle, it’s hard to tell if he has his hand up in the same gesture.

If it was truly understood by everyone to be an innocent wave to the parents back home, what would be significant about getting “the black kid” to join in? On the other hand, if there was some notion that white supremacy, even as a joke, might be behind the gesture, it might be an even bigger gag that “the black kid” would participate, even if he took the gesture to be a wave home rather than a Nazi salute. 

It’s difficult to come up with a satisfactory explanation of that particular comment.

Maybe there’s more than one answer here.

Maybe the photographer genuinely intended to have the teens wave home. Maybe some of the teens thought they really were waving home. But maybe — just maybe — a few of them had a different idea.

And maybe, because of a handful of people, an entire group is coming under fire.

Whether it was innocent or not, school leaders certainly wasted no time condemning the image, saying it was “not reflective of the educational values and beliefs” of the school district:

It would seem that if there was genuinely nothing untoward intended, there’s still a lot of explaining that needs to be done.

I just think it’s a shame that in 2018, anyone would possibly think a “joke” of this type would be in good taste or in any way acceptable.

Yes, anyone in the photo who might think that way could well be written off as simply “not fully thinking of their actions.”

But maybe it’s time we all grew up a bit faster.

Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.