A professor from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln compared conservative students to the New Zealand mosque shooter Friday on social media by falsely accusing them of displaying a “white power symbol,” despite the targeted students having not displayed a symbol representing white power.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln associate professor Ari Kohen compared conservative students and activists to the New Zealand mosque shooter by promoting a hoax in which internet trolls attempted to conflate the popular and commonly-used “OK” hand gesture with “white power.”
Professor Kohen posted a photo of the conservative students making the “OK” hand gesture at a June 2017 conference to Facebook and Twitter, alongside a March 2019 photo of the New Zealand mosque shooter flashing the popular gesture inside a courtroom.
“This is a serious question for Congressman Don Bacon,” began the professor, who tagged Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE) in his posts, “why are some of your former staffers and interns the kind of people who take photos in which they are flashing the same White Power symbol as the New Zealand mass murderer?”
The commonly-used “OK” hand gesture, however, is not a symbol for “white power.”
Just as President Trump’s signature “thumbs up” has become a popular gesture among his supporters, the “OK” hand gesture had also become popular among conservative youth during the 2016 election, and has been used since as a tribute to the president’s expressive nature, as it is a gesture frequently seen made by the president during his speeches.
In 2017, a 4chan hoax attempting to fool people into confusing the “OK” hand gesture with a “white power” symbol went viral among some circles on the Internet. The hoax was later promoted by Left-wing activists seeking to label conservatives as white supremacists.
With regards to the New Zealand shooter, many in the media concluded that he had designed his manifesto with the intent of it going viral — citing everything from socialism, to environmentalism, to ethno-nationalism, to personalities on YouTube, and even a popular video game — likely aimed at reaching many different types of people while derailing a global conversation.
Therefore, one could easily surmise that the shooter flashing the popular gesture in a courtroom was an added ruse to his 74-page manifesto — a gesture that seemed to successfully galvanize professor Kohen to dig through social media and find a 2017 photo of the students to post it alongside the courtroom photo, further spreading the propaganda. His attack on students over the “OK” symbol is similar to the 2017 case in which the Daily Mail accused a White House intern of white nationalism for making the gesture.
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Professor Kohen had also posted a third photo to Facebook, which showed Rep. Bacon with University of Nebraska-Lincoln student Katie Mullen and Turning Point USA field director Malia Shirley.
Shirley told Breitbart News that she was dismayed to see Mullen targeted by a professor at her school, especially because Mullen had recently been in Washington, D.C. one day earlier to attend the president’s signing ceremony for his executive order regarding free speech on college campuses.
“I find it unfortunate that upon Katie returning to campus after giving some amazing remarks at the White House in support of President Trump’s executive order for free speech on college campuses, that this is the rhetoric and attitude that she is met with, from her very own professors,” said Shirley.
Mullen — along with several other students throughout the country who had been harassed by professors or school staff for exercising free speech — was invited to the White House to deliver remarks at the president’s signing ceremony last Thursday.
In August 2017, Mullen was harassed during a professor-led protest against her at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln while she was recruiting members for the school’s Turning Point USA student group, which she was the chapter president of at the time. The incident was caught on video.
“What happened to me is common on universities today,” said Mullen at the White House on Thursday, just one day prior to professor Kohen posting the photo of Mullen to social media, “Students are getting shut down and silenced on campus — it’s important that our universities are a place where we can speak freely and have healthy respectful dialogue on campus.”
Professor Kohen did not respond to Breitbart News’ inquiry as to why he feels it is appropriate for a professor to compare conservative students to terrorists on social media.
Kohen did, however, take to Twitter posting comments that seemed to be in response to Breitbart News’ queries. In his tweets, Kohen doubles down on his claim, insisting that the five individuals in the photo — four of whom were students — are “having fun winking at white nationalism.”
“Missing in ALL of this is why these people took this photo,” said Kohen, “This hand gesture has a clear message, one that people use to signal to one another. The guy who worked for TPUSA got fired for racism. They’re having fun winking at white nationalism/white supremacy. That’s the story.”
“It’s sad that professor Kohen is trying to paint an image of white nationalism, when the truth is simply that we made the OK gesture after hearing President Trump and VP Pence speak at the conference we were at,” said Shirley to Breitbart News, “We were in good spirits, and with how expressive Trump is, he’s always making the OK sign when he speaks.”
“We took the photo with that in mind,” continued Shirley, adding that Mullen even “had to Google what professor Kohen was talking about,” as she had never heard of the OK hand gesture being associated with white power before the professor posted the propaganda to social media.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln did not respond to Breitbart News’ request for comment.