WASHINGTON - A prestigious military college in the United States suspended eight students and launched an investigation after photos emerged of cadets posing in all-white outfits reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan, an official said Friday.
Hillary Clinton also weighed in on The Citadel college, where the Confederate battle flag flies, tweeting: "Symbols of hate create more hate. It's time for the Confederate flag to come down at The Citadel."
The flag was the focus of renewed impassioned debate in June after a suspected white supremacist shot dead nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina - the same city where The Citadel is based.
The cadets were pictured dressed in white and with white pillow cases over their heads with two holes for the eyes, in haunting similarities to the infamous Ku Klux Klan, a white hate group.
"Eight cadets have been suspended and went home this morning," Citadel spokeswoman Kim Keelor told AFP.
Retired Lieutenant General John Rosa, the academy's president, said the cadets had been singing Christmas carols as part of a "Ghosts of Christmas Past" skit.
The photos - which were splashed across social media - were "offensive and disturbing," he said in a statement, ordering an investigation.
"These images are not consistent with our core values of honor, duty and respect." The furor drew attention to the Confederate flag flown on campus - seen as a racist symbol by many Americans.
Keelor told AFP that the Citadel was not immediately able to remove the flag due to a state law known as the Heritage Act that "prevents its removal as it is part of a memorial collection of antique flags."
She said the college's board of visitors voted nine to three in June to remove the flag and subsequently made a formal request to the relevant legislators asking that it be permitted to remove the flag.
Only South Carolina's legislature has the authority, by a vote, to decide that the flag be taken down, according to Keelor.
The Heritage Act itself may be reconsidered by legislators when they convene in the New Year.
In a website attributed to him, accused Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof espoused racist views toward African-Americans and, in photos, posed with firearms and the Confederate flag.
There are currently between 5,000 and 8,000 Ku Klux Klan members, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.