Nikki Haley's remarks on Confederate flag as a symbol of 'heritage' spark fierce backlash

Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley visits “Fox & Friends” at Fox News Channel Studios in New York City, Nov. 12. (Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina Governor and erstwhile U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, who was pilloried last month for vouching for the truthfulness of President Donald Trump’s utterances, has now been slammed for saying that the true meaning of the Confederate flag was about “service, and sacrifice, and heritage” until the White supremacist, Dylan Roof, “hijacked” it.

In an interview with Blaze TV’s Glenn Beck on Dec. 6, Haley, strongly tipped to run for president in 2024, when asked how she was able to rally South Carolinians into bringing down the Confederate flag from the state Capitol in Columbia when she was the state’s governor, after Roof, on June 17, 2015 opened fire during a Wednesday night Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine people and injuring three others — all African Americans — said, “You had what was just horrible.

“Twelve people who went and did what so many South Carolinians do every Wednesday night — they went to Bible study,” she said, “But on this night someone else showed up and he didn’t look like them, he didn’t act like them and he didn’t sound like them. And they didn’t throw him out. They didn’t call the cops. They pulled up a chair and they prayed with him for an hour. And when they bowed their heads in that last prayer, he began to shoot.”

Haley said, “South Carolina fell to her knees when this happened. This is one of the oldest African American churches. These 12 people were amazing people, they love their church, they love their family, they love their community.”

Then in a controversial defense of the Confederate flag, long associated with slavery and the Southern states’ subjugation of blacks, she recalled that Roof, the killer “comes out with this manifesto, holding the Confederate flag, and had just hijacked everything that people thought of.”

Haley then declared, “We don’t have hateful people in South Carolina. There’s always the small minority that’s always gonna be there, but, you know, people saw it as service, and sacrifice, and heritage, but once he did that there was no way to overcome it.”

After the slaughter of these Emanuel African Methodist Church congregants, authorities had found that Roof also wrote a white supremacist manifesto heavily invoking the Confederate flag and other Confederate symbols.

Roof was convicted and sentenced to death over the shooting, which was prosecuted as a hate crime, in January of 2017.

Haley, who earlier had been opposed to removing the flag, was hailed when she signed the measure into law on July 9, 2015, less than a month after Roof’s massacre of the black church-goers.

But she was widely mocked on social media for her response to the question by Beck, a clip of which was first posted to Twitter by Media Matters for America’s Jason Campbell,with historian Kevin Levin calling her claims about the flag “nonsense,” and tweeting, “Tell that to the white men who in 1920 force a young African American man to kiss a Confederate flag before they lynched him.”

Comedian W. Kamau Bell who stars in the CNN American documentary television series “United Shades of America,” tweeted, “Remember that brief period of time when Nikki Haley was considered the adult in the Trump Administration? Welp, she just failed 8th grade social studies with this take.”

Some reporters also expressed confusion over Haley’s comments, with CNN correspondent Abby Phillip who covers the White House and is African American, tweeting, “When I talked to Haley in 2015, she was fully aware that many people in SC associated the flag with hate long before Dylann Roof.

“She even told me that her son had raised the issue to her before. So, I don’t understand why she wouldn’t even bother to mention that in this interview,” Phillip said.

In the Blaze interview, Haley also chastised the media for wanting to, in her words, make the shooting “about racism.”

“The national media came in droves, they wanted to define what happened, they wanted to make it about racism, they wanted to make it about gun control, they wanted to make it about the death penalty, and I pushed off the national media and said, there will be a time in place to talk about this but it is not now,” she said.

In those remarks, Haley said Roof had “a sick and twisted view of the flag. In no way does he reflect the people in our state who respect and, in many ways, revere it. Those South Carolinians view the flag as a symbol of respect, integrity and duty. They also see it as a memorial, a way to honor ancestors who came to the service of their state during time of conflict. That is not hate, nor is it racism.”

Haley added, while not explicitly mentioning slavery, “At the same time, for many others in South Carolina, the flag is a deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past.”

When the clip of Haley’s Blaze interview began circulating on Twitter and went viral, Haley also took to Twitter to defend her comments, retweeting other accounts who defended her and complained that her remarks were taken out of context.

She also linked to a New York Times transcript of her 2015 call to have the flag taken down.

Haley tweeted, “2015 was a painful time for our state. The pain was and is still real. Below was my call for the removal of the Confederate flag & I stand by it. I continue to be proud of the people of SC and how we turned the hate of a killer into the love for each other.”

Last month in all of her television appearances following the release of her book, “With All Due Respect: Defending America With Grit And Grace,” Haley was unwavering in her fidelity toward her former boss, even vouching for his truthfulness, for which she was roundly castigated by several television talk show hosts and leading columnists, and ridiculed for her craven obsequiousness and pandering to Trump, largely seen as a means of ensuring his support for her political future, including if she does decide to pursue the presidency in 2024.

In an interview with NBC’s Today show’s anchor Savannah Guthrie on Nov. 12, when asked if she ever have any doubt about the fitness of this president, she replied, “I never did.”

Haley reiterated that “I never did,” when asked if she had any doubt about Trump’s mental acuity and when pressed by Guthrie if she has any “question about his truthfulness — his ability to tell the truth,” she responded, “I talked to him multiple times and when I had issues, he always heard me out. I never had any concern on whether he could handle the job.” But, when Guthrie refused to let her off the hook and asked, “But what about his truthfulness — do you think he was a truthful person,” Haley replied, “Yes, in every instance I dealt with him, he was truthful, he listened and he was great to work with.”

CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, immediately called her out, saying, “Really? Apparently he makes stuff up in front of all of us…but speaks truth to Nikki Haley. Bless her heart…”

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, host of “Morning Joe” and a former Republican U.S. Congressman, burned her for selling her soul, and said, “This is just one of those moments where we need to just stop, and actually you can just smell the corruption in Washington, D.C., and you see the impact of Donald Trump, how he corrupts everybody that’s either close to him, in his orbit, or who want to be in his orbit. I will say, it is actually, personally, it’s very sad.

“It’s very sad for us,” he added, “because we’ve always believed that Nikki Haley actually had a chance to be something significant and she’s chosen instead to lie for Donald Trump and to say things that she knows is not true, that Donald Trump knows is not true, that Republicans know is not true and the American people know is not true.”

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