ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. - An Orange County sheriff's deputy has been placed on administrative leave for wearing symbols associated with extremist groups on his uniform at Costa Mesa's protest against police misconduct on Monday.
Sheriff's officials were made aware of the incident through a video posted on Reddit and Twitter, according to Carrie Braun, a department spokeswoman.
An internal probe has been launched, she added. The symbols are associated with the "Three Percenters" group, which got its name from the erroneous belief that 3% of colonialists revolted against Britain in the Revolutionary War.
Another symbol appears to reference the "don't tread on me" movement, which also appears to be associated with extremist militia groups.
Sheriff's officials said the symbols were not approved by the department and are prohibited.
"This deputy's decision to wear these patches, and the implication of his association with an extremist group, is unacceptable and deeply concerning to me," Sheriff Don Barnes said in a statement.
"Any symbol can have multiple meanings and is open to interpretation, which is why wearing of-approved symbols and patches is strictly prohibited.
Instances like this can forge a wedge separating law enforcement from the community we serve, especially during these turbulent times."
Peter Levi, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League OrangeCounty-Long Beach, praised Barnes' swift action.
"I'm pleased with law enforcement's response, opening up an internal affairs investigation so they can get to the depths and understanding of this situation," Levi said.
It is important the sheriff determines "the threat of this ideology in their ranks," Levi said.
The "Oath Keepers" wing of the Three Percenters movement actively recruits law enforcement and military members, Levi said.
He called them an anti-government group that swears an oath to its interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and instructs its members to disobey orders they do not believe conform to their view, Levi said.
There is often some "cross-fertilization" with white nationalist and bigoted organizations, Levi said.
On its website, the group rejects the militia label.
"The Three-Percenters Original is a national organization made up of patriotic citizens who love their country, their freedoms, and their liberty. We are committed to standing against and exposing corruption and injustice," the site says.
"We are NOT a militia. However, we do have meetings on local levels. These meetings are to help members network together and to learn from each other."