The Jury Talks Back


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

Filed under: Uncategorized — Patterico @ 5:04 pm

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.


  1. Forgot to cross-post this until I was preparing my Sunday posts and saw it had not been done.

    Comment by Patterico — 9/8/2018 @ 5:05 pm

  2. I’m a woman and I gave her more credit for intelligence than she deserved. My bad.

    Comment by DRJ — 9/8/2018 @ 5:30 pm

  3. Also, I said I was wrong and gave credit to the people who got this right. But I still don’t understand why she used this gesture again on TV after what happened the first time.

    Comment by DRJ — 9/8/2018 @ 5:40 pm

  4. North Dallas,

    I do regret saying she was willing to do anything and I apologize for that.

    I am not a Democrat.

    Comment by DRJ — 9/8/2018 @ 6:18 pm

  5. I voted for Trump.

    Comment by DRJ — 9/8/2018 @ 6:21 pm

  6. Also, North Dallas, you may not be aware, but this blog (“The Jury Strikes Back”) has different rules than the main one.

    Personal attacks and insults directed at other commenters are not allowed here, so I doubt you have anything to contribute.

    Comment by Dave — 9/8/2018 @ 6:50 pm

  7. This is one heck of a retraction. :)

    Patterico, this sort of thing is one of the things that sets you apart from the media: when you make a mistake, you don’t try to hide it.

    As for jumping to a conclusion in the first place, that prior post made me roll my eyes. However, making a mistake merely shows you’re human. It’s how you react when you discover your mistake that counts. Well done.

    Comment by Arizona CJ — 9/8/2018 @ 6:59 pm

  8. ** sigh ** Well, I don’t know that the correct lesson is being learned here.

    The young lady used “that sign again” for one reason. She isn’t wrapped up in this ludicrous game of examining minutia for signs of the most trivial lapses that “prove” that the other is evil and one’s own tribe on the side of angels. This kind of silliness occurs because people are more wrapped up in these games. No, she instead simply wanted to communicate to someone a mundane message.

    This whole circus week has been an extraordinarily embarrassing fiasco. And the lesson is to spend less time checking boxes on the moral superiority sheets.

    Comment by SPQR — 9/8/2018 @ 10:11 pm

  9. SPQR,

    Who didn’t learn what lesson? Who are you quoting when you say “that sign again”?

    Comment by Patterico — 9/9/2018 @ 12:07 am

  10. North Dallas’s crap is deleted and he is banned.

    Comment by Patterico — 9/9/2018 @ 12:09 am

  11. Oh. I guess you’re talking to DRJ?

    I think you may be a little overly dismissive of how alt righters used that hand sign. The update makes it pretty clear. And this stuff about it being a 4chan hoax is itself a hoax.

    Comment by Patterico — 9/9/2018 @ 12:10 am

  12. Anyway, I don’t think it’s crazy for DRJ to ask why she used the sign again after what happened the day before. I understand the question, although I am no longer asking it myself. After watching the video, I’m emotionally on the lady’s side. I bet she thought “oh sh!t” right after she did it.

    Comment by Patterico — 9/9/2018 @ 12:14 am

  13. I left this comment at the main website and am leaving it here, too, primarily in response to SPQR.

    I am disappointed in myself for originally commenting on this story, because there is no upside to expecting today’s Republicans to care about how they are perceived. I am also disappointed in myself because, even though I think my comments have been accurate, I have been unkind.

    I am disappointed in Patterico for calling himself an idiot instead of simply saying he was wrong. It is not idiotic to ask questions and state opinions about topics of public interest. You can pretend like this was just a person making an ok sign, but she is no average person and this is no average event. This is a hotly contested SCOTUS nomination and she was chosen by the Administration as an important advocate for the nominee. Expecting her to act more carefully on the second day of the hearings is not idiotic.

    I am also disappointed in Reynolds, although his childish sarcasm is not surprising. He should help people try to make amends when they are sincerely remorseful, not use it to mock someone and further antagonize and alienate people who disagree with his views.

    Comment by DRJ — 9/9/2018 @ 1:25 pm

  14. No it’s passive aggressive behavior, you just hint at what you think she might be thinking why I think is something like this:

    Are these people crazy, my parents survived the holocaust and they are insinuating this, they haven’t any respect for my former boss or his, much less myself

    Comment by Narciso — 9/9/2018 @ 8:33 pm

  15. Can you explain this more? I don’t understand your comment.

    Comment by DRJ — 9/10/2018 @ 7:26 am

  16. I have found the behavior here remarkably irresponsible, yes there isn’t a direct accusation, because there is no evidence, like with this narrative being formed,

    Comment by narciso — 9/10/2018 @ 3:22 pm

  17. Maybe something with actual evidence;

    Comment by Narciso — 9/10/2018 @ 4:07 pm

  18. Ok, I give up.

    Comment by DRJ — 9/10/2018 @ 5:03 pm

  19. I think the proper course of action, would have been to apologize to miss bash, one jumps to conclusions she has nothing to do with Milo or hoft or whoever the latest here Moore is.

    Comment by Narciso — 9/10/2018 @ 5:21 pm

  20. So, since Patterico *did* apologize to Miss Bash, quite explicitly so, why do you think the behavior here has been remarkably irresponsible?

    Comment by aphrael — 9/10/2018 @ 7:13 pm

  21. Because an apology doesn’t revisit the accusation over and over.

    Comment by Narciso — 9/10/2018 @ 7:42 pm

  22. He’s mad at me, aphrael.

    Comment by DRJ — 9/11/2018 @ 8:10 am

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