Former Trump United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley tried to rewrite the history of the Civil War—and of her own time as governor of South Carolina—when she claimed in a new appearance on the Glenn Beck Podcast that “people saw (the Confederate flag) as a symbol of “service and sacrifice” until a neo-Confederate gunman murdered nine black churchgoers in Charleston in 2015.
“Here is this guy who comes out with his manifesto, holding the Confederate flag, and he had just hijacked everything that people had thought of,” she told Beck, a right-wing provacateur who, among other things, once claimed with no evidence that then-President Barack Obama was “a racist” with a “deep-seated hatred for white people.“
After the massacre at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in June 2015, South Carolina legislators agreed to finally pass a bill to remove the Confederate flag that still flew over the South Carolina State House grounds. For decades, many South Carolinians and civil rights groups had pushed for the flag’s removal.
“We don’t have hateful people in South Carolina,” Haley told Beck. “There’s always the small minority that’s always going to be there. But people saw it as service and sacrifice and heritage. But once he did that there was no way to overcome it.”
As Haley has admitted in the past, though, the Confederate flag, which represents the Southern states’ effort to preserve slavery during the Civil War, has long been a symbol around which hate groups and segregationists have rallied. South Carolina first raised the Confederate flag in 1961 both as a show of defiance against federal public school desegregation orders and to commemorate 100 years since the Battle of Fort Sumter kicked off the Civil War.
Just a few years before, in 1957, South Carolina’s Dixiecrat U.S. senator, Strom Thurmond, had launched an infamous 24-hour filibuster on the Senate floor—the longest in history—in opposition to public school integration.
In her new interview with Glenn Beck, though, Haley spoke as if she could not understand why the national media “wanted to make it about racism.”
“And the national media came in droves. They wanted to define what happened. They wanted to make this about racism,” Haley said. “They wanted to make it about gun control. They wanted to make it about the death penalty.”
The man who committed the Charleston massacre, though, was quite clear that racism was his motivation. In a letter, he wrote that the uproar over Trayvon Martin’s killing helped “awaken” him and that he supported George Zimmerman’s 2012 slaying of the unarmed 17-year-old black teen. In the letter, the Charleston killer wrote that he hoped to start “a race war.”
The Charleston massacre happened just one day after Donald J. Trump kicked off his 2016 campaign for the Republican nomination for president with a racist rant of his own directed at “Mexicans.”
After the 2015 Charleston church massacre, Mississippi’s Republican speaker of the House, Philip Gunn, called for his state’s flag to be changed. Mississippi is the only state that retains the image of the Confederate emblem in its flag.
After Gunn’s call, conservative politicians revolted, and some, like Mississippi State Senator Chris McDaniel, even used the image of the current flag in campaign material to show their support for it.
On Friday, CNN reporter Abby D. Phillip tweeted her confusion over Haley’s about-face on the Confederate flag.
“When I talked to Haley in 2015, she was fully aware that many people in SC associated the flag with hate long before (the Charleston massacre),” Phillip wrote. “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.”
Some political observers suspect Haley’s attempt to dial back her comments on the Confederate flag may have something to do with the fact that she is considering a 2024 presidential bid of her own in a post-Trump Republican Party—one where open racism is more widely accepted than it was four years ago.
Trump has locked thousands of brown-skinned refugee children up in dog-kennel-like conditions inside makeshift concentration camps. He has done so with little pushback from his party, despite the deaths of multiple children in U.S. custody. Haley continued serving as Trump’s U.N. ambassador for five months after that policy began in mid-2018, resigning in October of that year. She has not spoken out against the administration’s actions.
After news first broke of the Trump administration’s separating of immigrant families and caging of children in June 2018, Ravina Shamdasani, a U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights spokeswoman, criticized the policy for running “counter to human rights standards and principles.”
Haley lashed back at the time, defending the monstrous policy by accusing the U.N. of “hypocrisy.”
“Once again, the United Nations shows its hypocrisy by calling out the United States while it ignores the reprehensible human rights records of several members of its own Human Rights Council,” Haley said.