A game show contestant has sparked fury after using a hand gesture that many believed to be highly offensive.
When Kelly Donohue was being introduced for an episode of US quiz show Jeopardy! on April 27, he tapped his chest with one hand, revealing three fingers and tucking the others into his fist.
The gesture has historically been recognised as a signal of white power and racism, and is used by white power groups, alt right groups, and an anti-government group in the US named the Three Percenters.
Hundreds of former contestants have since signed their names to an open letter criticising the program and the producers for not editing the controversial gesture out.
Mr Donohue defended himself in a post to Facebook, denying purposely using an offensive gesture and arguing he was simply signalling that he had won three games.
"During the taping of my fourth episode, I was simply raising three fingers to mark my third win. There was nothing more I was trying to indicate," part of his explanation read.
The letter pointed out that while Mr Donohue had "on previous episodes, indicated with one finger and two fingers that he had won one and two games", the gesture marking the third game had offensive connotations.
"This gesture was not a clear-cut symbol for the number three. He held his thumb and forefinger together with his other three fingers extended and palm facing inward, and he tapped his chest," the letter read.
"This, whether intentional or not, resembled very closely a gesture that has been coopted by white power groups, alt right groups, and an anti-government group that calls itself the Three Percenters."
The cover photo formerly publicly visible on Mr Donohue's Facebook page featured Frank Sinatra making a similar gesture, according to the author of the damning letter.
Some immediately took to Twitter following the airing of the episode, taking aim at producers for allowing the well-known "hate symbol" to make the final cut.
"Among them were people of colour who, needless to say, are attuned to racist messaging and not appreciative that the show allowed this symbol to be broadcast," the letter read.
Jeopardy! executive producer Mike Richards responded to the uproar claiming the program was "apolitical" and "that is what I want it to be going forward".
Former contestants argued the gesture was the opposite of apolitical, saying it could easily have been interpreted as a "a wink and a nod by white men about their superiority".
Mr Donohue has maintained he had no connections to white supremacists nor racists, and had been "horrified" at the outcry following his fourth episode.
"I deeply regret this terrible misunderstanding. I never meant to hurt a soul and I assure you I am no friend of racists or white supremacists," his statement read.
"I am not a racist and I reject and condemn white supremacy and all forms of bigotry for the evil they are. It’s shameful to me to think anyone would try to use the stage of Jeopardy! to advance or promote such a disgusting agenda."
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