A US Coast Guard member assigned to respond to Hurricane Florence has been removed after making a gesture on television which some viewers alleged was a white power symbol.
“We are aware of the offensive video on Twitter – the Coast Guard has identified the member and removed him from the response,” the US Coast Guard said on its official Twitter account. “His actions do not reflect those of the United States Coast Guard.”
The organisation is one of the federal agencies responding to Hurricane Florence which has since weakened to a tropical storm and killed at least 11 people in the south-eastern United States.
US Coast Guard on hand gesture seen used by a support staff member (bottom left) during an interview on @MSNBC this afternoon:
"The Coast Guard has identified the member and removed him from the response. His actions do not reflect those of the United States Coast Guard." pic.twitter.com/jjwZmCFFBI
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) September 15, 2018
The incident occurred during an MSNBC interview on Live with Ali Velshi, during which Coast Guard captain John Reed discussed the natural disaster from Charleston, South Carolina.
In the background sat another member, with short hair, who turned to notice the camera before turning away and moving his right hand alongside his head. His thumb and index finger approached each other while the other fingers were straight and upright.
The gesture sparked an online backlash, with some Twitter users interpreting it as a racist message. “Did you all see this guy flash White Power on TV?” Jan Gobble wrote, calling for an investigation.
Coast Guard Lieutenant J B Zorn said the incident was being investigated: “Whatever that symbol means, it doesn’t reflect the Coast Guard and our core values. It won’t be tolerated.”
Coast Guard officials have refused to identify the man or discuss possible disciplinary action.
Racial tensions have intensified in the US since President Donald Trump assumed office early last year.