Suspected Christchurch terrorist flashed 'OK' sign in court in nod to irony, meme culture & white nationalism

The Circle Game.

Belmont Lay | March 17, 2019, 01:08 PM

Suspected terrorist Brenton Harrison Tarrant, 28, flashed an upside down "OK" sign in New Zealand court on Saturday, March 16, 2019.

He had allegedly carried out massacres in two mosques in Christchurch a day before on March 15.

Smirked in court and made "OK" hand gesture

While flanked by police in court, Tarrant used his shackled hand to make an “OK” symbol.

What does the upside down "OK" sign mean?

This has drawn the attention of the media as the symbol has been adopted by white nationalists and neo-Nazis “to signal their presence to the like-minded".

The backstory about the sign is unwieldy, but it has been eloquently written about by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has explained at length the nuances of the gesture, its origins and its self-perpetuating nature.

How to read the supposed innocuous symbol in its most racist form?

Due to the way the fingers are positioned, the sign can be read as symbolising the letters "W" and "P", which can be construed as "white power".

As with plenty of internet memes, trolls have been encouraged to co-opt and use it to proliferate the gesture both as a form of irony and to get a reaction out of anyone who knows its meaning -- while also pretending that it is innocuous.

The tendency is for people who are not steeped in internet culture to simply take the symbol at face value as the good old, universally accepted "OK" sign.

The symbol has over the years, since at least 2015, been turned into a meme flashed in photo ops, in officious settings and even in courts.

"OK" symbol appeared in the 2018 Singapore NDP

The "OK" symbol made it onto the live telecast of the 2018 Singapore National Day Parade -- but more as a prank or game.

GIF via Toggle

There was nothing shown on television that suggested those performers who deliberately flashed the symbol were displaying it in a racist way.

This also explains the staying power of the symbol in its diluted form.

Circle Game

This flashing of symbol at any moment is also based on a thing called the “Circle Game”, where one makes a circle with the index finger and thumb.

The aim is to trick your friends (or in this case, the viewer) to look at your hand -- if they see the circle, they lose.

This game has been around for years, and naturally enough, made its way into memes.

Whether online or offline, the game is intended to frustrate the viewer but amuse the creator or executor.

Updates to Christchurch shooting

As of March 17, the death toll from the Christchurch shootings has risen to 50 from 49.

Tarrant is an Australian personal trainer.

He was charged with one count of murder in connection with the mass shootings that left 50 people dead and dozens more wounded.

Several remain critically injured and authorities do not rule out more deaths from the attack.

Authorities said more charges will be coming.

His court-appointed attorney did not apply for bail, and he will be jailed until his next appearance on April 5.

The public was not allowed into the courtroom, which was packed with media.

Tarrant did not seek a suppression order that would have prevented media from using his name in New Zealand.

Top photo via Getty