After a weekend spent stoking division, President Donald Trump on Monday went after NASCAR’s only Black driver and criticised its decision to ban the Confederate flag at its races and venues.
Exploiting racial tensions, Trump wrongly accused Bubba Wallace of perpetrating a hoax after one of his crew members discovered a rope shaped like a noose in a garage stall to which they had been assigned. Federal authorities ruled last month that the rope had been hanging there since at least last October and was not a hate crime.
Wallace has maintained the rope had been fashioned into a noose.
NASCAR has said its investigation did not determine who put the noose in Wallace’s stall or how it got there after US investigators had separately concluded that no federal crime was committed.
“Has @BubbaWallace apologized to all of those great NASCAR drivers officials who came to his aid, stood by his side, were willing to sacrifice everything for him, only to find out that the whole thing was just another HOAX?” Trump tweeted. “That Flag decision has caused lowest ratings EVER!”
The tweet came after Trump used a pair of Independence Day speeches to dig deeper into the US’s divisions by accusing protesters who have pushed for racial justice of engaging in a merciless campaign to wipe out our history.
Has @BubbaWallace apologized to all of those great NASCAR drivers & officials who came to his aid, stood by his side, & were willing to sacrifice everything for him, only to find out that the whole thing was just another HOAX? That & Flag decision has caused lowest ratings EVER!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 6, 2020
The remarks served as a direct appeal to the Republican president’s political base, including many disaffected white voters, with less than four months to go before Election Day.
White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany defended the president’s decision to wade into the Wallace case, saying in an interview on Fox News Channel that, “The president’s merely pointing out that we’ve got to let facts come out before we jump to judgement.”
Wallace, an Alabama native, has taken an active role in the push for racial equality. He has worn a shirt saying “I Can’t Breathe,” raced with a Black Lives Matter paint scheme in Virginia and successfully lobbied for NASCAR’s Confederate flag ban.
For more than 70 years, the flag was a common and complicated sight at NASCAR races. The series first tried to ban the Confederate flag five years ago but did nothing to enforce the order.
Trump has made racial divisions a central theme of his re-election campaign as he seeks a second term. The Republican president has long courted NASCAR fans even as he and the organisation are now at odds over the controversial Civil War-era Confederate flag. His 2020 campaign is also sponsoring a NASCAR team.
While Trump claimed NASCAR’s ratings are down, they are actually up.