An actor posing as Despicable Me character Gru has been fired after flashing the “OK” hand sign while posing with a child in a picture. The hate sign, assimilated by alt-right extremists, stands for “white power.”
On March 23, Tiffiney Zinger, a Black woman, and her husband, Richard Zinger, who is white, took a family vacation to Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida with their daughter and son.
It wasn’t until mid-August, while going through vacation photos did the Colorado family notice the costumed mascot’s racist hand sign on their 6-year-old’s right shoulder. The picture was taken during a Universal character breakfast event at the Loews Hotel.
“We just wanted to take them to see the minions,” said Tiffiney. “Do something special for our family and this person ruined that special warm feeling.”
Tom Schroder, a representative for Universal Orlando Resort said the company fired the actor in an official statement to USA Today.
“We never want our guests to experience what this family did. This is not acceptable and we are sorry – and we are taking steps to make sure nothing like this happens again,” revealed Schroder. “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.”
The child, who has autism, was planning on using the picture apart of her second grade class project.
“I’ve been emotionally distraught about it. I’m still pretty upset that someone felt they needed to do this to children,” Tiffiney said. “It can cause emotional stress on my child and her development.”
Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, explained how the symbol now used by white supremists first began showing up around 2015 as an online trolling tactic. White supremacists would also use the symbol to photobomb pictures.
“It’s a game for them to slip their hate symbols in contexts that don’t belong,” Beirich said.
At what was first considered a hoax, the number of racists using the hateful gesture has increased.
Oren Segal, director of the ADL’s Center on Extremism, pointed to the suspected white supremacist shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15, who was accused of killing 51 worshippers at two mosques. He flashed the “OK” hand gesture during an initial court appearance.
The Zilinger’s picture was taken one week after the New Zealand mass shooting.