A photo of Rio Arriba County Sheriff James Lujan posted to Instagram on Sunday shows him flashing what is considered by some people to be a symbol of white supremacy.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, most uses of the hand gesture Lujan flashed are innocuous. But after a 2017 hoax on the website 4chan, it was embraced by white supremacists as a symbol of their belief that white people are a superior race.
The photo was posted by Lujan’s wife, Julie Casados, and shows him standing with their two sons while flashing an upside-down “OK” gesture with his right hand. The picture has since been deleted from Casados’ Instagram account.
Lujan did not return phone calls or text messages asking about the gesture.
A 4chan user had posted a photo of the hand gesture in 2017 with outlines of the letters W and P over the fingers, which stood for the phrase “white power.” The 4chan member then encouraged other users of the website to claim in social media posts the gesture is a symbol of supremacy.
“Leftists have dug so deep down into their lunacy,” the person wrote on 4chan. “We must force to dig more, until the rest of society ain’t going anywhere near that.”
The hoax took on a life of its own, the Anti-Defamation League said on its website, and white supremacists began to make the sign in photographs.
The hand symbol was at the center of controversy earlier this month when Naval Academy midshipmen and West Point cadets flashed it on camera during the Army-Navy football game Dec. 14. A West Point investigation concluded the gesture was part of a childish game and was not a display of white supremacist beliefs.
Lujan has a past accusation of racist behavior that led to a lawsuit and settlement.
Former Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Marvin Armijo, who now works for the Taos County Sheriff’s Office, sued Lujan and the county in April 2015, alleging violations of the Whistleblower Protection Act, racial discrimination and sexual harassment. The lawsuit was settled out of court.
According to court records, Armijo had been working for the sheriff’s office under former Sheriff Tommy Rodella when Lujan became sheriff. Lujan immediately began telling Armijo he would fire him because of his association with the former sheriff, Armijo alleged in the lawsuit.
Beginning in October 2014 and throughout his employment, the lawsuit said, Lujan would make comments about Armijo’s dark skin color.
Before Lujan became sheriff, Armijo had requested days off work to go on a hunting trip, the suit said. Later, after Lujan became sheriff, Armijo asked Lujan if he could still take the time off. Lujan used a racial slur and told him African Americans do not know how to hunt, according to the suit.
When Armijo worked on Christmas Eve, Lujan again used a racial slur, saying only African Americans worked on that day, the suit alleged.
Armijo also accused Lujan of sexual harassment, alleging Lujan said Armijo had called Rodella “daddy” and said he performed sexual acts on him to maintain his job. The sheriff also told Armijo he was expected to perform the same sex acts on him, the suit alleged.