‘Jeopardy!’ Winner Sparks Controversy After Being Accused of Using White Supremacist Gesture

Trace William Cowen
·3 min read

Image via YouTube

A recent Jeopardy! winner has responded to the controversy surrounding a hand gesture he made on the show, saying Thursday morning he condemns white supremacy “and racism of any kind.”

The statement from Kelly Donohue comes one day after an open letter was published to Medium by former Jeopardy! contestants about the gesture seen on the April 27 episode of the game show, which Donohue has since explained as an intended reference to his third win and not a white supremacy-promoting symbol.

“He held his thumb and forefinger together with his other three fingers extended and palm facing inward, and he tapped his chest,” the letter said. “This, whether intentional or not, resembled very closely a gesture that has been co-opted by white power groups, alt-right groups, and an anti-government group that calls itself the Three Percenters.”

Also mentioned in the contestants’ letter, signed by hundreds, is an incident on April 26 in which Donohue responded to a clue using a term for the Roma that’s now “considered a slur” in modern diversity style guides.

“Leaving this messaging unchecked will encourage others to attempt similar things in the future,” contestants said in the letter. “Is the production team of Jeopardy! prepared for more of this? Prepared for more attempts to disguise contempt as innocent gesturing? Prepared for the backlash and ramifications should one of those moments ever become tied to real-world violence?”

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On Thursday Donohue took to Facebook, saying he was “truly horrified” by what was being said about him across social media.

“I absolutely, unequivocally condemn white supremacy and racism of any kind,” Donohue said. “People who know me personally know that I am not a racist, but for the public at large it bears repeating: I am not a racist and I reject and condemn white supremacy and all forms of bigotry for the evil they are.”

Donohue also referenced a previous post he had shared in response to the controversy, conceding that he should have included a “forceful condemnation of white supremacy” in his initial statement.

“I deeply regret this terrible misunderstanding,” he said. “I never meant to hurt a soul and I assure you I am no friend of racists or white supremacists.”

As the Anti-Defamation League explains in their breakdown of the so-called “okay hand gesture,” the intention behind the gesture started to change around 2017, due to—at first—an online hoax positing it as a hate symbol connected with white power ideologies. This hoax, however, eventually grew to include examples of white supremacists intentionally using the gesture as a hate symbol in a non-trolling context.

Amid the controversy surrounding the Jeopardy! moment, Snopes ran a fact-checking piece stating that Donohue did not make a “white power” gesture. Notably included in their assessment was a reminder that Donohue had previously held up a single finger and two fingers as references to his number of wins. Also, per Snopes, the placement of his hand when holding up three fingers doesn’t align with how the symbol is typically used among white supremacist groups.

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