President Trump on Monday lashed out at NASCAR and driver Bubba Wallace, suggesting Wallace should apologize after a noose was discovered in his garage stall at a speedway in Alabama, and calling the incident a "hoax" after an FBI investigation found the rope had been there for months.
On Twitter, Mr. Trump questioned whether Wallace, NASCAR's only Black full-time driver, had "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!" Mr. Trump tweeted, referencing NASCAR's decision to ban the Confederate flag at races.
One of Wallace's crewmembers discovered the rope in his No. 43 garage stall at Talladega Superspeedway last month. Following its discovery, which came against the backdrop of nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice, the FBI and NASCAR opened investigations into the incident.
Wallace initially called the display a "despicable act of racism and hatred," while NASCAR said it is "angry and outraged."
The FBI concluded the noose had been in the garage stall since October 2019 and said no crime had been committed. Both the bureau and NASCAR described the rope as a noose.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany was pressed numerous times during Monday's White House press briefing to explain why Mr. Trump believes Wallace should apologize, especially since it was one of his crewmembers, not the driver himself, who found the noose in the garage stall. Wallace was also not the person who reported it.
"The FBI, as I noted, concluded that this was not a hate crime, and he believes it would go a long way if Bubba came out and acknowledged that as well," McEnany said.
But immediately after the FBI revealed its findings, Wallace issued a statement saying he was "relieved" that the probe "revealed that this wasn't what we feared it was" and thanked NASCAR and the FBI for taking the episode seriously.
"I think we'll gladly take a little embarrassment over what the alternative could have been," he said, adding the incident "should not detract from the show of unity" from the NASCAR community.
NASCAR President Steve Phelps, too, rejected the notion the discovery was part of a "hoax," saying Wallace and his team "had nothing to do with this."
Still, McEnany declined to elaborate on Mr. Trump's position and instead said the president was pointing out the "rush to judgment" from the press that a hate crime had been committed. She also said the president was "not making a judgment one way or the other" on NASCAR's ban on displays of the Confederate flag.
"The whole point of the tweet was to note the incident, the alleged hate crime that in fact was not a hate crime," she said. "At the very end, the ban on the flag was mentioned in the broader context of the fact that he rejects this notion that some NASCAR men and women who go to these sporting events were racist."
Shortly after the briefing, Wallace issued a statement of his own, addressed to "the next generation and little ones following my foot steps..."
"Your words and actions will always be held to a higher standard than others. You have to be prepared for that," he wrote. "You don't learn these things in school. You learn them from trials and tribulations, the ups and downs this crazy world provides. You will always have people testing you. Seeing if they can knock you off your pedestal."
"[A]lways deal with the hate being thrown at you with LOVE! Love over hate every day. Love should come naturally as people are TAUGHT to hate," he continued. "Even when it's HATE from the POTUS."
NASCAR also came to Wallace's defense, saying in a statement the organization commends "his courage and leadership."
"NASCAR continues to stand tall with Bubba, our competitors and everyone who makes our sport welcoming and inclusive for all racing fans," NASCAR said.
First published on July 6, 2020 / 2:50 PM
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