President Donald Trump characterized displays of the Confederate flag in terms of the 1st Amendment on Tuesday, saying that people can choose to fly the banner or not.
The remarks to Jessi Turnure of the Nexstar Media Group, a broadcasting conglomeration of 197 television stations across the United States, came a day after Trump criticized NASCAR's recent decision to bar such flags at its events. In a tweet, he also assailed Black NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace.
“My stance is very simple: It’s freedom of speech,” Trump said. “You do what you do, it’s freedom of speech. NASCAR can do whatever they want, and they’ve chosen to go a certain way; other people choose to go a different route, but it’s freedom of speech.”
Trump criticized Wallace on Monday, asking if he'd yet apologized for claiming that a looped rope knot on a garage door at the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama on June 21 before a race there was a noose. The discovery came amid the Black Lives Matter-led protests and riots that followed the death of a Black man in police custody in Minneapolis on Memorial Day.
Wallace had called on NASCAR, the governing body for stock car racing, to ban Confederate flags at its events, and media reports suggested the knot was meant as an intimidation tactic.
The FBI has said the knot had been at the garage for months and was not directed at Wallace or anyone else, a conclusion that has appeased some but left others, including Wallace, skeptical. In the wake of Trump's tweeting about the Confederate flags and the news matter, NASCAR issued a statement saying Wallace's concerns had been fully justified. And Sen. Lindsey Graham, frequently aligned with Trump, declared that Wallace did not have "anything to apologize for."
"Even though it was a noose created to hold the door open, in the times in which we live there's a lot of anxiety. So what did you see? You saw the best in NASCAR. When there was a chance that it was a threat against Bubba Wallace, they all rallied to Bubba's side. So I would be looking to celebrate that kind of attitude more than being worried about it being a hoax," Graham, R-S.C., told Fox News.
Trump on Monday called the incident a “hoax,” to which Wallace responded to the tweet by calling it “hate from the POTUS.”
On Tuesday, Trump said he didn’t consider the tweet “critical.”
“I’m very friendly with NASCAR, I know the people there, I know drivers, I know a lot of them,” he said. “But I view it as freedom of speech.”
Confederate flags, as well as statues representing leading figures of the slave-holding Confederacy, have come under intense fire since the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody and the ensuing protests.
Notably, a Pentagon draft policy distributed this week proposed banning the flag from all Defense Department workspaces and public areas, whether from service members or civilians.
It is not known how much traction the proposal will get. It has yet to be finalized or signed by either Trump or Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
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