“Thank you for calling in with a Jeapardy concern [sic] The candidate will blink, which you think is a white power hand sign, ”wrote Aaron Ahlquist of the ADL according to a text sent to the group by the candidate who emailed the group to the group. “We checked the tape and it looks like he’ll just hold up three fingers when they say he’s a three-time champion. We do not interpret his hand signal as an indication of an ideology. However, we are grateful for raising your concerns and please do not hesitate to contact us in the future should this be necessary. “
The ADL’s response sparked anger among former candidates who signed the letter.
“Does anyone else feel gas-lit?” asked a two-time champion according to the screenshots. “We saw it. We know we did. But a lot of people (including the goddamn ADL) tell us we didn’t. This is classic gas lighting. “
I want to reiterate that these are some nice, thoughtful people. I found them mostly on LinkedIn, where they have well-curated profiles and avatars of themselves against the blue background of the show. The signatories of the letter I spoke to seemed convinced that Mr. Donohue was showing a white power sign. They were especially concerned that the producers had missed it – and that the show, which hangs on the death of legendary host Alex Trebek, may be “in decline,” as a 2007 Northern Canadian champion Brett Chandler told me.
Mr. Chandler was one of several letter signers I spoke to who remained convinced that the other traces of Mr. Donohue’s online presence, as well as his use of the word “gypsy” in an earlier episode, meant that he was sending a coded signal . Many said so, although they recognized how unlikely it seemed.
“He didn’t know he was going to win three so the logic falls a little apart,” said Chandler.
The main co-authors of the letter asked not to be named because they feared harassment on social media. One, a lawyer, said in a LinkedIn message that the “overall point of the letter is that production workers should have averted this controversy” by working out the gesture. This interpretation requires a fairly careful reading of the letter, which began with a focus on Mr. Donohue and included speculation about the meaning of a photo of Frank Sinatra on his personal Facebook page.
I should reiterate that these are smart people who have generally been more polite than the journalists who are reluctant to take my calls most weeks. And that’s the point here in my opinion. In the candidate’s investigation into Mr Donohue, all the signaling traits of a normal social media hunt had gone wrong – mostly that you were drawing your conclusion and looking for evidence. And they followed the deep partisan grooves of contemporary politics, in which the Liberals believed the absolute worst of a Trump supporter. But they also contained a thread of real conspiracy thinking – not only that racism is a source of Trumpian politics, but that apparently common people communicate using secret signals. It reflects a deep alienation among Americans in which our warring tribes blink each other through the fog to see mysterious and absurd signs of malice.
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