Jan. 21–FORT WORTH — The Tarrant County Young Republicans apologized after a member made a hand gesture associated with white supremacy in a photo at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Fort Worth.
The Tarrant County Republican Party, which originally posted the photo, removed it from their Facebook page.
The photo showed a group of about 20 people posing with a Tarrant County Republican Party banner at Monday’s parade. In the background, a man is making the OK symbol, which the Anti-Defamation League recognizes as a hate symbol.
Robert Coe was identified as the man in the photo. He is the precinct chairman for precinct 1111 in Fort Worth, and Tarrant County Young Republicans named him “Young Republican of the Year” in December. Precinct chairs oversee voter registration and are elected every two years.
When asked about the photo, Coe told the Star-Telegram “that situation has already been taken care of.”
“There is no need to report on it,” he said. “The situation has been resolved.”
Coe hung up the phone and did not respond to further questions.
In response to a tweet about the photo, the Tarrant County Young Republicans tweeted, “It’s not a real white power symbol, he does that b/c he thinks it’s funny how crazy leftists get over a fake symbol. Nonetheless it was inappropriate/dumb, and we’ll be talking w/ him. Rest assured though, he is no white supremacist. Bit of a troll perhaps…but a good kid.”
In response to tweets condemning Coe’s actions, the group also tweeted, “That’s fair, and at this point he realizes how dumb, inappropriate, and offensive it was and is very sorry.”
The group removed posts from their Twitter and Facebook pages where they named Coe as the “Young Republican of the Year.”
Derrick Wilson, the Young Republicans chairman, said over the phone that he could not comment further on the situation.
Tarrant County Republican Party Chairman Rick Barnes said he spoke with Coe after seeing the photo, and the 20-year-old told him he did the symbol “as a spoof.”
“He denies any misgivings, but our position is that we were down here to support the parade and support the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and anything that did not fall in line with that, we consider to be absolutely wrong,” Barnes said.
Barnes said he does not think the symbol means anything, but said it was inappropriate for Coe to make it at the parade. He said the group had a conversation with Coe about “being mature and acting responsibly.”
What does the symbol mean?
The symbol, which looks like the OK hand gesture, became linked with white supremacy in recent years. Members of the website 4chan started to falsely claim it was a gesture symbolizing white power in which three fingers make a “W” and the thumb and index finger create a “P,” according to the Anti-Defamation League.
While the symbol seemed to begin as a trolling mechanism, the gesture took on a more negative meaning as notable alt-right figures and groups, such as Richard Spencer and the Proud Boys, began using it. In March, the avowed white supremacist accused of killing 51 people in a New Zealand mosque flashed the symbol at a court appearance, the Washington Post reported.
Pamela Young, lead organizer for the Tarrant County Coalition for Community Oversight, said the symbol showed “blatant disrespect” and is not a joke.
“It’s not about the white power sign; it’s about what’s behind it,” she said, adding the symbol represents bigotry and racism.
Young posted the photo on her Facebook and wrote, “Tarrant County Republican Party, your policies speak for themselves, but this alt right/white power sign drives the message home. Change (your policies, not just the hand signs,) or stay home next year.”
She said the Young Republicans’ response showed they did not take the issue seriously because they made excuses for Coe.
“They issued some kind of explanation but said he’s just a kid, he was just joking around,” she said. “White power is not a hoax. It should always be taken seriously.”
Roderick Miles Jr., who organized the MLK parade, said the symbol and “that type of imagery fly in the face of everything that Dr. King stood for.”
“We don’t support anything that would promote racism or anti-unity,” he said. “We stand vehemently opposed to anything that would try to divide us or separate us as a community.”
Miles, who is a staffer for Tarrant County Commissioner Roy C. Brooks, said he hopes the Young Republicans will discipline Coe or condemn his actions publicly.
Young said Coe’s actions may not have reflected the views of everyone in the photo, but showed that Republicans should examine their policies and party values such as economic equity, justice and welcoming the stranger and refugees.
“Don’t come to the parade next year if your values don’t align with Dr. King,” she said. “And not the ones that you cherry pick, that are docile, but the ones that he was murdered for.”
Kaley Johnson is a breaking news and enterprise reporter. She majored in investigative reporting at the University of Missouri-Columbia and has a passion for bringing readers in-depth, complex stories that will impact their lives. Send your tips via email or Twitter.