Illustration for article titled West Virginia Cadets Fired After Flashing Nazi Salute in Class Photo
Photo: West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety

Hail Hitler? Hell, no!

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced Monday he has approved the recommendation to fire all of the corrections cadets who participated in a Nazi salute during a class photo taken in November.

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The report, conducted by the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, revealed that cadets of Basic Training Class 18 of the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation gave the Nazi salute after their class trainer, “Instructor Byrd,” instructed them to.

Although Byrd, another trainer and one cadet were fired in early December, the fate of the remaining cadets remained unclear until now, according to NBC News.

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“As I said from the beginning, I condemn the photo of Basic Training Class 18 in the strongest possible terms,” Justice said in a statement. “I also said that this act needed to result in real consequences—terminations and dismissals. This kind of behavior will not be tolerated on my watch in any agency of State government.”

The picture of Basic Training Class 18 shows about 30 uniformed cadets “posing with their right arms raised, most of them with their hands also extended,” NBC reports. The phrase “Hail Byrd!” sits at the top of the picture.

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The report indicates that although some of the cadets understood “the connotations associated with the gesture,” they participated anyway because they perceived it to be an order from Byrd and “feared they would not graduate, or would be disciplined for failure to follow the order of a superior.”

Byrd, however, maintains that she was unaware that the salute and phrase carried any racial significance—a position contradicted by the report.

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When asked about the photo by a secretary after it was printed, Byrd reportedly said, “there is nothing wrong with it, we have people of all colors and backgrounds in the picture and every one of them are participating.”

As if.

Then, when asked about the phrase printed on the photo, Byrd told the secretary that the students often say that to her “because I’m a hard-ass like Hitler.”

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Wow.

The cadets of Basic Training Class 18, who graduated in November, “would have gone on to work as correctional officers within the Bureau of Prisons and Jails, in work-release programs with the Bureau of Community Corrections and with young people within Bureau of Juvenile Services,” said Lawrence Messina, a spokesman for the Division of Correction and Rehabilitation.

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Instead, they must find a new career path and question the parts of themselves that enabled them to participate in such abysmal behavior. They must ask themselves why they didn’t hold themselves to the highest level of integrity necessary if they are to serve our country’s many-hued citizens with justice, equity and respect.

And the military must ask itself what in its culture allowed some of its cadets to participate willingly, and others to feel it was more prudent to “fall in line” than to stand up for what they knew to be right.

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Thankfully, these cadets won’t work as corrections officers in jails and prisons already unjustly overpopulated by black and brown bodies, because if this photo reveals anything, it’s that the people who need correction and rehabilitation are the instructors and cadets captured in it.

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