Former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley told conservative radio host Glenn Beck on Friday that the Confederate flag represented “service, sacrifice and heritage” for people in her state before mass murderer Dylann Roof “hijacked” its meaning.
Roof murdered nine African-American churchgoers during an evening Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015. He was an avowed white supremacist, who posed for photos with the Confederate flag.
A week after the massacre, Haley, then the governor, announced her support for removing the Confederate banner from statehouse grounds.
“I think the more important part is it should have never been there,” she said at the time. “These grounds are a place that everybody should feel a part of. What I realized now more than ever is people were driving by and felt hurt and pain. No one should feel pain.”
She also said she asked for it to come down because “I couldn’t look my children in the face and justify it staying there.”
Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants seen as a Republican rising star, was widely celebrated after taking a stand that would be unpopular with some people in her state. She later served as President Donald Trump’s U.N. ambassador and is widely discussed in GOP circles as a potential presidential candidate.
In discussing the issue with Beck on his podcast, Haley seemed to suggest that the Confederate flag was not a symbol of hate before Roof made it so.
“Here is this guy who comes out with his manifesto holding the Confederate flag and had just hijacked everything that people thought of,” Haley said, according to a video of the interview on BlazeTV. “We don’t have hateful people in South Carolina. There’s always the small minority who are always going to be there, but people saw it as service, sacrifice and heritage. But once he did that, there was no way to overcome it.”
Haley also blamed the “national media” for “wanting to define what happened.”
“They wanted to make this about racism, they wanted to make it about gun control, they wanted to make it about the death penalty,” Haley said.
Haley responded on Twitter to what she calls the mischaracterization of her remarks.
Haley wrote that “2015 was a painful time for our state. The pain was and is still real.”
She linked to a transcript of her 2015 remarks as governor about removal of the flag and said: “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,” she wrote.
In her book about her time at the U.N., published last month, Haley said the flag decision was clear to her soon after the killings. She wrote about attending the funerals of all nine victims and said she was later diagnosed with post -traumatic stress disorder.
Roof was found guilty of 33 counts of federal hate crimes in December 2016 for the slayings, and was later sentenced to death.
A South Carolina state senator who represents Charleston condemned Haley’s remarks to Beck and challenged her role in getting the Confederate flag removed.
“As the Senator who represents Mother Emanuel & one of the floor leaders to remove the flag, I find these comments ignorant of history & the facts. The General Assembly removed the flag with 2/3rd votes in multi-week debate. Haley was a sideline Mon morning cheerleader at best,” Sen. Marlon Kimpson, a Democrat, tweeted.
State Rep. JA Moore, another Democrat, whose older sister was slain in the church shooting, retweeted Kimpson and added his own rebuke of Haley.
“@KimpsonForSC – as you know, my sister was tragically murdered in the Mother Emanuel AME Church tragedy. Your leadership & friendship was extremely important to myself and my family. Let’s be clear @NikkiHaley continued use of this tragedy for political reasons is disgusting,” Moore tweeted.
Haley has frequently sought to strike a balance in her comments about the Confederate battle flag.
In her 2015 address to South Carolinians about removing the flag, Haley defended those who see the flag as standing “for traditions that are noble. Traditions of history, of heritage and of ancestry.”
But in an interview with The Washington Post that year, Haley also said she did not hesitate in deciding to back removal of the flag after the massacre.
“I didn’t even have to think hard about it,” Haley said. Referring to her two children and her South Carolina hometown, she said: “It is looking at my kids, knowing where I had come from in Bamberg. I just want them to feel it moving forward. I want them to feel as much of a change as I do.”