A photo of about 60 male high school students from Baraboo, Wisconsin is being investigated by police and school officials because of a a purported Sieg Heil, the victory salute of Nazis, according to The New York Times.
Several of the young men in the photograph appear to be making the Nazi salute on the steps of a local courthouse in a photo taken before the Baraboo High School junior prom last spring. One student in the front row toward the center of the picture seems to make the OK sign with his thumb and index finger, a gesture that has been appropriated by White nationalists.
The controversial image went viral after it was posted to Twitter by the parody account @GoBaraboo on Sunday night. “We even got the black kid to throw it up,” was the caption provided for the image.
The image was taken by Peter Gust and was available for purchase until Monday night.
Earlier in the day, Lori Mueller, the school district superintendent, notified parents/guardians of the investigation in a letter.
“Clearly, we have a lot of work to do to ensure that our schools remain positive and safe environments for all students, staff and community,” Mueller wrote. “If the gesture is what it appears to be, the district will pursue any and all available and appropriate actions, including legal, to address the issue.”
According to the news publication, Ms. Amant, a teacher at the school, said some of the boys in the photo had graduated and the remainder are now seniors.
Amant wasn’t shocked by the image. She even said it was commonplace for a specific group of students to make offensive comments.
“I’m not surprised by them doing this,” the teacher said, “but I’m surprised that there’s so many of them doing this. Photographers were there; the parents were there; community members were there.”
There was one student, identified as Jordan Blue, who did not participate in the gesture.
I spoke with the only student who is visibly not comfortable with the “salute”, he provided this statement. pic.twitter.com/HbNBc8xLOK
— Jules Suzdaltsev (@jules_su) November 12, 2018
Journalist Jules Suzdaltsev spoke to Blue about being “uncomfortable” with the salute and shared his message on Twitter.
According to Blue, the photographer instructed the boys to make the sign. The young man also said many boys in the photo have bullied him for years and are rarely punished for their antics.
“I felt upset, unsafe, disappointed and scared. I felt unsafe because I go to school with them, I don’t believe in what they represented and the symbol they shared … they knew it was wrong, but they still did it,” Blue said.
Gust contradicted Blue’s version of events. The photographer, whose son is in the photo, explained to Madison 365 that the teens were told to wave goodbye before their celebration. A gesture that was “as innocent as the boys and girls going to the prom.”
The picture was replaced by an apology on the online photo album. It states, “Due to malevolent behavior on the part of some in society; this page has been modified. It is too bad that there are those in society who can and do take the time to be jerks; knowingly and willingly to be jerks! To anyone that was hurt I sincerely apologize.”
The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, which includes the Nazi concentration camps Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau, shared a message about the image on Monday.
“This is why every single day we work hard to educate,” they wrote in a tweet. “We need to explain what is the danger of hateful ideology rising.”
It is so hard to find words…
This is why every single day we work hard to educate. We need to explain what is the danger of hateful ideology rising. Auschwitz with its gas chambers was at the very end of the long process of normalizing and accommodating hatred. https://t.co/13AzZaMGJR
— Auschwitz Memorial (@AuschwitzMuseum) November 12, 2018
A police investigation is underway.
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Christina Santi is a news and culture writer for EBONY.com. Born and raised in the Bronx, New York, she considers herself a well-read, not so traditional feminist with a heavy interest in music, fashion and pop culture. Christina currently lives in New York City, where she refers to her Cuban & Jamaican descent often while writing about her experiences as a first-generation Afro-Latinx in America. She also devotes time writing personalized reading material for her tutees and turning ideas into words for streetwear brand, PUER By Noel Bronson.