CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia government leaders are cracking down on a photo with a basic training class for the state Division of Corrections making a ‘hail’ salute often associated with authoritarians such as Nazis.
State officials released a pdf of the image this afternoon, blurring out the faces of those involved. It appears to be a posed group shot, with those pictured making the salute with outstretched arms.
The photo, shown on letterhead with the state symbol, is titled “Hail Byrd.”
No more detailed explanation was immediately given. Lawrence Messina, a spokesman for the state, said the Byrd who was referenced is an individual involved in the training program.
The salute associated with Nazis consists of raising an outstretched right arm with the palm down. Most in the photo appear to be doing that, except a few have clenched fists instead.
Jeff Sandy, cabinet secretary for the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, put out a memo on Wednesday describing a number of suspensions over the photo.
Sandy also described it as “distasteful, hurtful, disturbing, highly insensitive and completely inappropriate.”
Gov. Jim Justice’s staff issued a statement saying the governor won’t abide by the low standards associated with the photo.
“I condemn the photo of Basic Training Class #18 in the strongest possible terms,” Governor Justice stated.
“I have directed Secretary Jeff Sandy of the Dept. 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.”
The governor continued, “This will not be tolerated on my watch – within the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation – or within any agency of state government.”
WCHS-TV first reported on the crackdown over the photo but noted that the letter did not specifically describe what the photo is of, who exactly is in it, or when or how it was discovered.
Sandy’s letter says faith and community leaders have been informed of the incident.
“We have asked for their help to address it effectively, including with recommended changes or additions to our training programs,” Sandy stated.
Rabbi Victor Urecki, who leads Charleston’s B’Nai Jacob Synagogue, made a series of statements this evening on Twitter. Urecki acknowledged having been notified earlier this week and asked to review the photo.
“The photo is disturbing, shocking, and troubling. Staring at the photo, I was speechless; my hands trembled when I first held it,” Urecki wrote.
But Urecki expressed confidence that the matter, including an investigation, will be handled properly from here.
I was appreciative of the genuine concern of the Commissioner and the staff. Their faces were pained and their eyes expressed a deep anger and sadness. I felt the outrage of dedicated men and women whose faith and love for this country and state know no bounds.
— victor urecki (@CharlestonRabbi) December 5, 2019
The published photo was drawing concerned reaction from more officials, including Senator Joe Manchin.
“Based on the photo I have seen and the anti-Semitic intent it appears to show, this behavior warrants an immediate investigation and anyone who participated in any hateful and disgusting action should not be able to work for or be paid by the federal or state government and should be removed from their position immediately,” stated Manchin, D-W.Va.
“It is unacceptable and should not be tolerated whatsoever. This is not the West Virginia I know or grew up in.”
State Delegate Kayla Kessinger called the photo reprehensible.
“I am shocked beyond words at this outrageous photo,” stated Kessinger, R-Fayette.
“As someone who has worked to build bridges with our local Jewish community, I know how harmful and offensive horrible displays like this can be, and my heart breaks for my friends who will be deeply affected by this.