West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has fired an entire class of cadets at the state corrections academy for taking part in an extremely ill-judged graduation photo. In the photo—which was included in graduation packs—most of the cadets can be seen making an apparent Nazi salute, NBC reports. It is captioned "Hail Byrd," a reference to instructor Karrie Byrd. State investigators found the members of Basic Training Class No. 18 made the salute starting in the early weeks of boot camp, reports the Charleston Gazette-Mail. Investigators found that Byrd "encouraged it, reveled in it, and at times reciprocated." She overruled other instructors who objected, and boasted to a secretary that cadets gave the salute "because I’m a hardass like Hitler." Byrd took the photo and gave it the "Hail Byrd" (not "Heil") caption.
Justice said Monday that all 34 cadets and three academy staff members will be fired, and four instructors suspended without pay. The report found that Byrd took the photo several times because some cadets objected to making the gesture, NPR reports. Some of them chose to raise a fist instead of giving the salute. According to the report, a secretary and two instructors raised concerns with Capt. Annette Daniels-Watts, who correctly predicted: "Well, this is going to bite us in the ass." In a statement, Justice said, "this act needed to result in real consequences—terminations and dismissals," NBC reports. Jeff Sandy, director of the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, recommended the firings but said there was a "silver lining." "The investigation showed there was no white supremacy, no neo-Nazi, just ignorance," he said. (Read more West Virginia stories.)