U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, September 15, 2017.
Carlos Barria | Reuters
Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley ignited controversy Friday as a clip of her in a recent interview discussing the Confederate flag went viral.
Haley told The Blaze that South Carolina residents viewed the Confederate battle flag as being about "service, and sacrifice, and heritage" before white supremacist mass shooter Dylann Roof "hijacked" it by killing nine black church members in the state in 2015.
Those comments drew criticism from numerous people on Twitter.
"I beg you to stop pandering to racists," said one message directed at Haley.
But Haley in her own Twitter response to the criticism pointed to her statement in 2015 when, as governor of South Carolina, she called for removal of the battle flag from the statehouse grounds on the heels of Roof's rampage.
In that speech, Haley said that some people had a positive view of the flag, while others viewed it negatively.
"For many people in the state," the Confederate flag stood for "traditions of history, of heritage, and of ancestry," Haley said.
"At the same time, for many others in South Carolina, the flag is a deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past," she said.
Roof opened fire on a dozen black churchgoers in Charleston in June 2015, killing nine. Roof was convicted on 33 federal counts, and pleaded guilty in 2017 to state murder charges.
Haley ordered the Confederate flag be removed from statehouse grounds in the wake of the shooting, when photos of Roof posing with the flag and a white supremacist screed were discovered.
One of the 60 photos on the website that was registered under Dylann Roof's name.
In the interview published Thursday by The Blaze, a conservative news outlet, host Glenn Beck told Haley that he had gone to South Carolina after the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and was struck by the character of the people he met.
"When I was there, I really was overwhelmed with, that's who South Carolinians are. It's not the stereotypic [sic] redneck, kinda – it's not that," said Beck, a former Fox News television host.
"South Carolina fell to our knees when this happened," Haley responded. Roof's victims "were amazing people," she said, "and here is this guy that comes out with this manifesto, holding the Confederate flag, and had just hijacked everything that people thought of."
Haley continued: "We don't have hateful people in South Carolina. There's always the small minority that's always gonna be there. But people saw it as service, and sacrifice, and heritage, and – but once he did that, there was no way to overcome it."
Haley went on to say that the national media, which "came in in droves" after the shooting, "wanted to make it about racism."
A spokeswoman for Haley declined to comment, but directed CNBC to a 2015 speech of the then-governor explaining her decision to remove the Confederate battle flag from statehouse grounds.
A clip of Haley's most recent comments to The Blaze went viral on Twitter on Friday, prompting a barrage of criticism.
"This is a deeply insensitive and ignorant thing to say Nikki. There is no room for any defense of the confederate flag," said Meghan McCain, the daughter of late Republican Sen. John McCain, in a tweet that was apparently deleted. The tweet was reported by The Daily Caller, which published a screenshot of the tweet.
"FACT: Slavery. The Confederacy was about slavery," tweeted Playboy's White House reporter Brian Karem.
"I went to a lunch talk and came back an hour and a half later to find all of Twitter lined up to dunk on that idiotic Nikki Haley comment about the Confederate flag," wrote historian Kevin Kruse.
New York Times contributing op-ed writer Wajahat Ali tweeted Haley is "going full MAGA and racist leading up to 2024. Told ya. This is the only way for a candidate to be appreciated by the Republican Party now. No country for moderates, adults or Never Trumpers. Also the Confederate flag was for treasonous criminals who enslaved people."
Haley, who resigned last year as President Donald Trump's U.N. ambassador, had embarked on a tour last month promoting her new book. On the tour, she praised Trump as being "truthful" and "great to work with," raising suspicions from critics about her attempting to court Trump's supporters as a political play.
The Blaze's former vice president Steve Krakauer, however, pushed back on the criticism.
"The tweet makes it sound like it's Nikki Haley's opinion that the Confederate flag was about service and sacrifice and heritage, when it's clear she's saying some people saw it that way," Krakauer tweeted.
"I mean, we're talking about the person who literally removed the flag from the state house."
Haley later tweeted "thank you" to a conservative Twitter account that came to her defense. Haley "is not saying that she believes this, she is saying what she said at the time when she ordered the removal of the flag," the account wrote.
She retweeted multiple other Twitter accounts who argued her comments to The Blaze were not different than what she has previously said about the flag.
Read Haley's full response below:
"South Carolina fell to our knees when this happened. This is one of the oldest African American churches. These 12 people were amazing people, they loved their church, they loved their family, they loved their community, and here is this guy that comes out with this manifesto, holding the Confederate flag, and had just hijacked everything that people thought of.
"We don't have hateful people in South Carolina. There's always the small minority that's always gonna be there. But people saw it as service, and sacrifice, and heritage, and – but once he did that, there was no way to overcome it.
"And the national media came in 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 really pushed off the national media and said, 'There will be a time and place where we talk about this, but it is not now, we're gonna get through the funerals, we're gonna respect them and then we will have that conversation.'
And we had a really tough few weeks of debate, but we didn't have riots, we had vigils. We didn't have protests, we had hugs. And the people of South Carolina stepped up and showed the world what it looks like to show grace and strength in the eyes of tragedy."