A photo of West Virginia corrections officer trainees giving a straight-arm Nazi salute drew the governor's condemnation on Thursday.
Gov. Jim Justice ordered the firing of all state employees involved in the incident, which is under investigation by the state's Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety.
"This will not be tolerated on my watch - within the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation - or within any agency of state government," Justice said in a statement.
The photo of about 30 people in Basic Training Class #18, from October and November, was released by the military affairs and public safety department. The text "Hail Byrd" appears at the top of the image, a reference to someone in the training program, an agency spokesman said.
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Several employees have been suspended, said the department's Secretary Jeff Sandy. In a letter to corrections employees Wednesday, Sandy said a commissioner had ordered all copies of the photo be "destroyed, sent to this office, or otherwise taken out of circulation to keep its harm from spreading."
The state has contacted faith and community leaders for help in responding to the incident, Sandy said.
"It is distasteful, hurtful, disturbing, highly insensitive and completely inappropriate," Sandy said in the letter obtained by USA TODAY. "It undermines the high standards that have been set for our Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation. It betrays the professionalism I have seen time and time again displayed by our brave correctional employees."
Nazism included not only the genocide of Europe's Jews, Slavic people and Roma, also known as Gypsies. Nazi hatred has extended to people of color, LGBTQ individuals, people with disabilities and Jehovah's Witnesses.
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin on Thursday backed Justice's call for action.
"It is unacceptable and should not be tolerated whatsoever," Manchin tweeted. "This is not the West Virginia I know or grew up in."
A 2018 survey of 1,350 American adults found that 22% of millennials either hadn't heard of the Holocaust or weren't sure they had heard of it, double the percentage among all U.S. adults. Nearly half of millennials - only 4 percentage points more than the general population - couldn't name a single concentration camp, according to the survey by Shoen Consulting on behalf of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
Contributing: Chris Woodyard, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Nazi salute photo sparks West Virginia investigation: 'Disturbing'