Patterico's Pontifications

9/8/2018

I Am an Idiot: Zina Bash’s OK Sign Was Completely Innocent After All

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 11:52 am

There’s no sugar-coating this. I was wrong about this. Badly, badly wrong. Laughably wrong. Zina Bash, the former clerk of Kavanaugh’s who made the OK sign did it for an innocent reason. [UPDATE: To be clear, I never claimed she was an alt righter. I thought she was trolling people on Day Two. That’s what I was wrong about.]

I finally found an explanation for the OK sign and it makes sense to me. It took an updated version of a story from the #FAKENEWSBEZOSPOST together with a longer clip to put it all in context. First, here’s the Washington Post:

But Taylor Foy, a spokesperson for the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, said there was an innocuous explanation for this second “Okay” hand sign as well: the signal was aimed at a judiciary staffer who fulfilled a request for the judge.

Bash texted a staffer during the hearing “to request a water glass for the judge,” Foy said. “Once it arrived, she was simply communicating her thanks.”

In CSPAN’s archive of the hearings, Kavanaugh turns around and speaks to Bash at one point. There’s a coffee cup, but not water glass, on the desk. Bash and the man sitting next to her appear to discuss whatever the judge said as Bash texts on her phone. About a minute later, Bash looks straight ahead and appears to mouth the word “glass.” Then, she gives the OK hand sign.

Shortly after that, a water glass is brought the Kavanaugh’s desk.

Now look at the full video in context. Don’t be misled: she is not mouthing the word “glass” immediately as she is making the sign. She’s saying it at 2:01, to a staffer, and then says the “O” in “OK” when the communication with the staffer is over.

I thought it was weird that she was making the symbol while looking straight forward, towards the Senators, but it’s clear in context (with the explanation) that she was making the symbol to a staffer.

The same Washington Post story does get something wrong, though, by explaining the linkage between the OK sign and the alt right as purely a function of a 2017 4chan thread:

The idea that the hand sign is a secret symbol for white power owes its mainstream spread to a viral troll campaign aimed at making liberals and the media look gullible. In February 2017, 4chan’s /pol/ board discussed ongoing tactics to try to get the idea to go viral. “To any who haven’t seen the original thread, our goal is to convince people on twitter that the ‘ok’ hand sign has been co-opted by neo-nazis,” the original poster of the thread wrote.

As BuzzFeed has reported, /pol/ was gleeful when the okay hand sign started to get mainstream traction. As the campaign spread, however, the symbol was simultaneously adopted by the alt-right — an umbrella term for those on the far right who embrace white nationalist views — and the pro-Trump Internet, both of whom seem to primarily use the gesture to “trigger” liberals who believed the hand sign was a decoder ring to detect secret Nazis.

That’s … not quite accurate. The notion that the alt right started using the symbol after the 2017 4chan thread is not correct. Here’s Richard Spencer election night 2016:

The Post’s and ADL’s “let’s all be the adults in the room” rejection of the symbol as connected to the alt right cites a 4chan thread from 2017.

Pop quiz: which came first: Spencer’s November 8, 2016 tweet? Or a 2017 4chan thread?

So maybe it’s not as obviously just trolling as you thought.

But ultimately, those of you who argued that Zina Bash’s particular use of the sign was purely an innocent and reflexive gesture were obviously right, and I was wrong. For example, Leviticus, who said this:

I have no idea who she was signaling, but it seems very clear to me from her eyes and body language that she is signaling somebody in the room in response to a text she just received on her phone.

And this:

I agree, but might the benefit of the doubt, taking all these things into consideration, indicate that this was just an automatic mindless gesture, the product of an ingrained and reflexive habit?

People have such gestures in their repertoires.

And in response to my question “why respond with a gesture rather than a text?” said this:

Because it’s faster? Because it’s more emphatic? I’ve done the same thing in very similar circumstances (not at a Supreme Court nomination hearing, but in a legislative hearing).

In context, that’s exactly what happened.

I understand why I thought this was implausible: she was looking in the direction of the camera and holding up her hand high. If she was responding to a text, why not text? But now that I know more facts, it’s obvious why. You could say she should have been more aware of making the gesture given the kerfuffle the day before. But honestly, under these circumstances, I don’t blame her. At all.

I utterly screwed the pooch on this one. I’m leaving the post up with a prominent update and a link to this post. You guys were right and I was wrong.

I think it’s important to publish this because I think very few people have seen this explanation and/or the video I linked here. In all the people calling me an idiot over this, not one person supplied the information — which doesn’t make you ill-informed, but just tells me that the real explanation has not gotten enough publicity. Here’s hoping that this post can do just a little bit to fix that.

My sincere apologies to Zina Bash and her husband for contributing to the silly noise over this issue. I feel sick about it. I think (other than my usual Sunday morning post) that I’ll take the rest of the weekend off.

UPDATE: A lot of people are claiming that a single photo of Richard Spencer from November 2016 does not disprove the oft-repeated claim that the meme originated as a 4chan troll from February 2017. With all due respect, folks, you’re wrong. The 4chan post is here and was made on February 27, 2017. Hoft and Wintrich were throwing the sign in the White House briefing room on February 13, 2017. Note the Pepe frog in the tweet:

In case you’re in doubt about the frog being Pepe:

Hoft Pepe Retweet“Meme it and it will come.”

Milo OK 3

It’s not just Richard Spencer. And all of this pre-dated the 4chan thread.

It’s an alt right symbol.

UPDATE x2: And of course many people use it just to mean “OK.” Duh. You’d think from some of the comments that I’m denying that. Good Lord. Of course I’m not.

I told a story in the previous thread about a gang that uses the thumbs up as a gang sign. Observing that this happens does not make it a gang sign for everyone. I use the OK sign and the thumbs up sign. But if I were a black male in his 20s in Rollin’ 20s territory, I would be very careful about flashing the Insanes gang sign.

I’m not denying that an OK sign generally just means OK. Calm the heck down. But when Richard Spencer used it in connection with Trump’s victory, or Jim Hoft tweeted it with a picture of Pepe making the same symbol before 4chan ever suggested making it a troll, or Milo tweeted it in connection with Trump’s victory and suggested people make it a “meme,” those people at that time were using it as an alt right symbol. Whether you like it or not, that’s a fact.

If that makes you mad, blame them for doing it — not me for pointing it out.

[Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.]


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