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US attorney defends wife after ‘white power’ sign accusations

Zina Bash, center, listened during the hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court Tuesday in Washington, DC.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP
Zina Bash, center, listened during the hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court Tuesday in Washington, DC.

Did the wife of a US attorney flash a “white power” hand gesture while seated behind Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court nomination hearing before the Senate’s Judiciary Committee Tuesday?

No, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

The controversy focused on Zina Bash, a former White House staffer and the wife of John Bash, the US attorney for the western district of Texas, who was seated behind Kavanaugh during his hearing with lawmakers.

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In a video clip from the session, Bash could be seen making what looked like an “OK” gesture with her hand — her thumb and forefinger forming a circle and two other fingers extended.

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And some Twitter users erupted: one claimed she used “the white power sign.”

“They literally want to bring white supremacy to the Supreme Court. What a national outrage and a disgrace to the rule of law,” wrote another.

“Zina Bash is the Nazi of the day!” wrote a Twitter user.

The invective directed at Bash — who clerked for Kavanaugh and Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito — led John Bash to deliver a broadside against Twitter users who claimed his wife displayed a “hateful” hand gesture.

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He called the attacks on his wife “repulsive” and said everyone who is “tweeting this vicious conspiracy theory should be ashamed of themselves.”

“We weren’t even familiar with the hateful symbol being attributed to her for the random way she rested her hand during a long hearing,” John Bash said on Twitter.

John Bash wrote that his wife was born in Mexico, and her grandparents were Holocaust survivors. Bash and her husband met while attending Harvard, where they both graduated, according to a marriage announcement in The New York Times.

“We of course have nothing to do with hate groups, which aim to terrorize and demean other people — never have and never would,” John Bash wrote.

So how did the modest “OK” hand gesture — one so feel-good that it spurred Coca-Cola to launch a line of OK-branded soda back in the 1990s — become a symbol for white supremacy?

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Easy: It never did.

The OK-sign-as-a-white-power symbol is a long-running Internet hoax that connected the thumb-and-forefinger symbol to hate groups, the ADL said in a statement posted to its website.

The hoax, nicknamed “Operation O-KKK,” began when an anonymous user on the 4chan website said that “‘we must flood Twitter and other social media websites . . . claiming that the OK hand sign is a symbol of white supremacy,’” according to the ADL.

The poster also suggested social media tags, #PowerHandPrivilege and #NotOkay, to help perpetuate the hoax.

“‘Leftists have dug so deep down into their lunacy. . . . We must force [them] to dig more, until the rest of society ain’t going anywhere near that s***,’” the 4chan user wrote, according to the ADL.

4chan was also the source of other white supremacy hoaxes, such as drinking milk or using a polar bear emoji on text messages, the ADL reported.

The surge in interest in white supremacy comes following the 2016 presidential election, and a willingness by those on the left to believe that the Trump administration is “full of hardcore white supremacists,” the ADL said in its statement.

Mark Pitcavage, the senior research fellow at the ADL’s Center on Extremism, said in a statement that it takes a long time for white supremacists to adopt a sign or symbol.

“If someone presents you with a symbol and says it is the big new white supremacist symbol, you should be appropriately skeptical,” Pitcavage said.

John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.