Following the release of a photo showing employees at the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation making a Nazi salute, several employees have been suspended while the governor is calling for all those involved to lose their jobs.
The image, which shows over two dozen trainees with Basic Training Class Number 18 posing with their right arms raised straight into the air and their faces blurred, was released Thursday by West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety Secretary Jeff Sandy.
At the top of the picture, a line of text reading “Hail Byrd” can be seen in what appears to be both a reference to their instructor and the phrase “Heil Hitler” (Hail Hitler), the words that accompanied the Third Reich-era salute.
A memo was released by the secretary shortly before the image’s release that described the photo as “distasteful, hurtful, disturbing, highly insensitive, and completely inappropriate” and demanded that copies of the picture be destroyed and taken out of circulation.
According to WCHS, the image had been printed, copied, and placed in the graduation packets of the correctional officers following their successful completion of a five-week training course.
Local religious and community leaders met with Sandy about the photo. Charleston Rabbi Victor Urecki with the B’Nai Jacob Synagogue attended that meeting. He told WCHS that the image was “deeply disturbing.” Continuing, he explained:
“It was shocking, hurtful. At first, I was speechless. Upon reflection and listening to the people that were briefing us, I recognized it can’t possibly be what West Virginians are all about. I think that’s what’s very hurtful, because that’s not the experience of, as a member of the Jewish people, what West Virginians are all about.
I don’t know the hearts and minds of everyone, obviously. If it was done out of ignorance and stupidity, perhaps it is a chance for a teachable moment. If it’s hateful, and we’re seeing the rise of anti-Semitism, racism, hatred of others, then it’s a disturbing trend that we need to, we need to address in a hurry because this country cannot afford to have things like that happen.”
Three employees have already been fired following the incident and thirty-four other employees have been suspended without pay, Associated Press reports. Sandy said:
“I cannot stress enough how this betrays the high standards and professionalism of the men and women of corrections, who successfully carry out their vital and daunting public safety mission every day and around the clock.”
Gov. Jim Justice has called for everyone connected to the scandal to lose their jobs. The Republican governor told the Washington Post:
“I condemn the photo of Basic Training Class #18 in the strongest possible terms.
I have directed Secretary Jeff Sandy of the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety to continue actively investigating this incident, and I have ordered the termination of all those that are found to be involved in this conduct.”
Nazi symbols and salutes have enjoyed a disturbing revival in the United States in recent years, with numerous scandals tying law enforcement officers to the odious racist ideology.
In 2017, Philadelphia Police Officer Ian Hans Lichterman was photographed at a #BlackResistanceMarch event sporting a tattoo of a Nazi eagle under the word “Fatherland.” The officer quit amid raging controversy in 2018.
In 2018, Bart Alsbrook resigned as interim police chief of an Oklahoma town after he was revealed to be the former Taxas coordinator of the neo-Nazi skinhead group Blood & Honour USA.
In 2015, the FBI issued a report indicating that “domestic terrorism investigations focused on militia extremists, white supremacist extremists, and sovereign citizen extremists often have identified active links to law enforcement officers.”