A photo showing two local far-right activists and Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, made the rounds on social media this week after supporters of Nunes challenger Andrew Janz claimed one of the men used a hand gesture related to the white power movement and white nationalism.
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The photo, taken at a private Nunes campaign event Tuesday night, shows Ben Bergquam and Josh Fulfer on either side of Nunes. Fulfer is clearly making a hand gesture, and other photos posted to Bergquam’s Facebook account show Fulfer repeating the gesture.
Bergquam, who has since taken down the photo, posted a video Thursday saying the sign represents two things for him: The “A-OK” sign traditionally associated with the gesture, and “the 3 percent” — “Those who are willing to stand up and put their lives on the line for this country if called upon.”
Bergquam slammed “leftists” who claim the gesture means otherwise. But many on social media said they believe Fulfer’s gesture had racist connotations, with several tweets racking up thousands of retweets in less than 24 hours.
The photo was taken by a photographer at the event, which had strict rules barring guests from using their personal cellphones to take photos. However, Bergquam was shooting video with his phone as the photo was taken. He later streamed Nunes’ speech on his Facebook channel.
Fulfer, of Clovis, could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Nunes’ campaign would not comment on the picture. Janz’s campaign declined to comment.
Fulfer and Bergquam are prolific activists in the Fresno area, often protesting or speaking out during Democratic events and local government meetings. Both are avid supporters of President Donald Trump.
Ryanne Brown Mancero, who lives near Sanger, was at the Nunes event and saw the photo being taken. Reached by phone Thursday, she said she was surprised to see Bergquam allowed to take images of the trio with his phone. The event expressly forbade this, and she had had to wait in line for a photo from a professional photographer.
Mancero said there were also security guards dressed in plain clothes nearby the area where photos were taken. A handler held her bag as she took a photo with Nunes just before the Bergquam photo was taken.
“I thought: Somebody saw that, right?” Mancero said. “Somebody had to see that.”
Mancero identified herself as “one of the few people at the event who was not a Devin Nunes” supporter. She said she hopes Nunes will “strongly condemn the hateful and racist spirit behind this hand gesture.”
The Anti-Defamation League has written extensively on the gesture in question, declaring it a hoax used by the so-called “alt-right” and other far-right conservative groups to rile up those on the other side of the political aisle.
The Southern Poverty Law Center also says the co-opting of the OK hand signal was designed to agitate or troll liberals, but it notes that white supremacists, Ku Klux Klan members and neo-Nazis (“alt-right”) are beginning to use the gesture to identify their racist beliefs and possibly recruit others.
The gesture has gained increasing national exposure in recent weeks as people are called out for using it: Zina Bash was accused of using the gesture while sitting behind Superior Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh; a U.S. Coast Guard member was removed from Hurricane Florence relief duty for using it; and several Alabama police officers were suspended for making the gesture.