The Washington Post's Soraya Nadia McDonald in a post published early on Wednesday pointed out that the hand signs Johnson had been making in photographs some thought were gang signs were actually fraternity hand signs.
To reiterate: Capt. Johnson is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi, a black fraternity that was formed in 1911 at Indiana University in Bloomington, and the hand sign you see in the pictures below is a Kappa greeting. The Kappas are part of the Divine Nine or the National Pan-Hellenic Council, the nine historically black fraternities and sororities that include Delta Sigma Theta, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Alpha Phi Alpha, Omega Psi Phi, Phi Beta Sigma, Zeta Phi Beta, Sigma Gamma Rho and Iota Phi Theta, none of which are gangs.
The idea that Johnson was actually displaying gang signs seem to have been rooted in a CNN iReport post that, as the Post points out, seems to have been taken down. But the idea that Johnson was a member of the Bloods or some other gang still gained momentum on Twitter.
@CNN said Ron Johnson was throwing up a gang sign, do they know that that's actually the hand sign of his fraternity. Retraction?
— Kolyer (@The_Robzilla) August 20, 2014
My 7th grade social studies teacher and "gang" member Ron Johnson throwing up their "gang" sign pic.twitter.com/diqJzgpYmE
— RandaSantana (@DearRanda) August 19, 2014
is #Ferguson capt ron johnson a member of the bloods??is he marching with the bloods and doing gang signs??? pic.twitter.com/zxb8R2cvIb
— Ev1L (@dimebagmetott) August 18, 2014
By Wednesday though people started to point out the confusion.
Wow. So this article said Ron Johnson is throwing up “gang signs”. I’m assuming they know nothing about fraternities. pic.twitter.com/HdB9a0YJHA
— True Eastwood (@true_east_) August 19, 2014
CNN stressed to TPM that the original iReport post was not a straight CNN news report:
iReport is a social network for news. A small number of user submissions are approved for use on air and online. The iReport in question had not been vetted, was labeled as "NOT VERIFIED BY CNN," and was removed shortly after being flagged by the community.
This post was updated.