Former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley said in an interview that a man who gunned down nine worshipers at an African American church in 2015 “hijacked” the ideals many connected to the Confederate battle flag.
Ms Haley told conservative political commentator and Blaze TV host Glenn Beck that the flag had meant “service, and sacrifice and heritage” to some.
An interview excerpt on social media also drew criticism from many who said the flag represents treason and racial hatred.
As governor, following the murders at the church in Charleston, Ms Haley openly backed removal of the flag that had flown over the South Carolina Statehouse.
In the Mr Beck interview, Ms Haley, a former United Nations ambassador for President Donald Trump, praised the people who were murdered by Dylann Roof as “amazing people” who loved their church and community.
Then she discussed Roof, an avowed white supremacist who, following the killings, was seen in photos with the flag.
“And here is this guy that comes out with this manifesto holding the Confederate flag, and had just hijacked everything that people thought of — and we don’t have hateful people in South Carolina. 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,” Ms Haley said.
Critics included state senator Marlon Kimpson. “I find these comments ignorant of history and the facts,” he said on Twitter.
In response, Ms Haley posted a tweet saying she stands by her 2015 call to remove the flag. She included a link to her 2015 remarks backing removal of the flag, saying it was revered by many in the state, while many consider it “a deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past”.
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