A Universal Orlando Resort character has been fired after flashing a hate symbol in what was supposed to be a family-friendly photo with a young guest, a theme park official confirmed to USA TODAY this week.
Tiffiney Zinger, the girl’s mother, said the incident has left her “emotionally distraught.”
“We just wanted to take them to see the minions,” she told the outlet. “Do something special for our family and this person ruined that special warm feeling.”
Zinger, who’s Black, and her husband, who’s white, took a family vacation with their two children in March, traveling from Colorado to the popular Orlando resort. The family was attending a character breakfast at one of the theme park’s hotels when things went awry.
A photo from the incident shows the Zinger’s 6-year-old daughter, who’s biracial and has autism, posing with an actor dressed as the “Despicable Me” character Gru and her younger brother. In the snapshot, the actor is seen curling his fingers to form an upside-down “OK” sign — an offensive gesture that’s been linked to white nationalists.
Initially, the Zingers said they didn’t realize what the character had done. It wasn’t until they began thumbing through their vacation photos in August that they noticed the racist symbol.
A 28-second video taken during the same time the photo was snapped served as further evidence of the actor’s offensive act.
“It’s more than the ‘OK’ sign,” Richard Zinger, Tiffiney’s husband, told USA TODAY. “A lot of people don’t understand what that sign means.”
Last week, the Anti-Defamation League added the gesture to its “Hate on Display” database, explaining how the offensive symbol and others came to be. The otherwise innocuous “OK” sign took on a new meaning a few years back when members of the alt-right turned it on its head and started using it to represent the letters “wp” for “white power.”
The gesture was initially a hoax campaign crafted by users of the website 4Chan to falsely promote the sign as symbol of hate, according to the civil rights organization. The goal was to “flood Twitter and other social media websites … claiming the ‘OK’ hand sign is a symbol of white supremacy,” thus causing outrage among liberals and the media.
However, the hand gesture was increasingly adopted by prominent white nationalists, including Richard Spencer, as a genuine expression of white supremacy.
The gesture and its still-disputed meaning entered the political stage last year when Republican operative Zina Bash appeared to flash the symbol for an extended period as she sat behind then federal Judge Brett Kavanaugh during a Sept. 4, 2018, session of his Senate confirmation hearing that ultimately saw him elevated to the Supreme Court. The former Trump aide came under fire after cameras caught her appearing to take a text message and then discreetly form the gesture with one hand so it could be seen on camera during the nationally televised hearing. She would go on to deny both that she intentionally formed the gesture and that she would be associated with any act that has white supremacist connotations.
Zinger and her husband said they didn’t think their kids’ first brush with racism would be at a family fun park. On Tuesday, a Universal Orlando Resort spokesman confirmed the actor in question had been fired.
“We never want our guests to experience what this family did,” spokesman Tom Schroder said in a statement. This is not acceptable and we are sorry – and we are taking steps to make sure nothing like this ever happens again. We can’t discuss specifics about this incident, but we can confirm that the actor no longer works here.
“We remain in contact with the family and will work with them privately to make this right,” he added.
Earlier this year, a Chicago Cubs fan was indefinitely banned from Wrigley Field after flashing the same “OK” sign near a Black reporter’s head during a live broadcast.
“I’m still pretty upset that someone felt they needed to do this to children,” said Zinger.
Watch more in the video below.