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President Trump says Bubba Wallace should apologize, calls noose incident a ‘hoax’

President Trump gave the traditional “Gentlemen, start your engines” command to start NASCAR's Daytona 500 in February. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

President Trump said Monday on Twitter that NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace should apologize to those who stood beside him after his racing team discovered a noose in his garage stall at Talladega Superspeedway on June 21, describing the incident as a “hoax.” Trump added an assertion that the Wallace incident and NASCAR’s ban on the Confederate flag at its races have led to historically low television ratings for the stock-car circuit.

The tweet was the latest in a string of racially tinged overtures Trump has made to his political base as he runs for reelection amid a national reckoning prompted by the death in May of George Floyd, a black man, in Minneapolis police custody and the nationwide protests that followed. In recent weeks, Trump has threatened to veto a defense-spending bill if it includes a provision to rename bases honoring Confederate generals, promised lengthy prison sentences for those who damage federal monuments and stoked a cultural war in a pair of Independence Day speeches. Appearing before Mount Rushmore on Friday night, he pledged to “safeguard our values, traditions, customs and beliefs.”

After investigating, the FBI announced June 23 that no hate crime had been committed because the rope, which had been tied into a noose-like knot and used as a garage door pull, had been in that particular garage since October, when NASCAR previously raced at Talladega.

The Justice Department said June 23 that no federal crime was committed after a noose was found Bubba Wallace's garage. (Video: Reuters)

Wallace, NASCAR’s only black driver, who had called for the circuit to ban the Confederate flag, received an outpouring of support from his fellow drivers after the rope was discovered.

After the FBI announced the results of its investigation last month, Wallace told CNN he was angered that some were questioning his integrity and comparing him to Jussie Smollett, the actor who has been indicted on a charge of falsely claiming he was attacked in Chicago by two strangers who beat him, doused him in bleach and tied a rope around his neck. Wallace neither saw the rope in the garage nor was the person who reported it to NASCAR officials.

“I’m mad because people are trying to test my character and the person that I am and my integrity,” Wallace said. He added: “It was a noose. Whether tied in 2019 or whatever, it was a noose. So it wasn’t directed at me, but somebody tied a noose. That’s what I’m saying.”

Wallace tweeted an indirect response to Trump on Monday afternoon, addressing his message “To the next generation and little ones following my foot steps.”

“You will always have people testing you. Seeing if they can knock you off your pedestal,” the driver wrote. “I encourage you to keep your head held high and walk proudly on the path you have chosen. …

“Always 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. Even when it’s HATE from the POTUS [president of the United States].”

Earlier Monday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany cited the Smollett case during an appearance on Fox News and said Trump, in his tweet about Wallace, was trying to make a point about the importance of letting “facts come out.”

“What the president is making is a broader point that this rush to judgment on the facts before the facts are out is not acceptable,” she said.

During a White House briefing Monday, McEnany insisted Trump was not weighing in on the wisdom of NASCAR’s decision to ban the Confederate flag.

“I spoke to him this morning about this, and he said he was not making a judgment one way or the other. The intent of the tweet was to stand up for the men and women of NASCAR and the fans,” McEnany said.

Pressed on why Wallace should apologize, McEnany said: “Well, look, the FBI, as I noted, concluded that this was not a hate crime, and [Trump] believes it goes a long way if Bubba came out and acknowledged that as well.”

Reporters pointed out that Wallace has done that, writing in a June 24 tweet that he was relieved “that the investigation revealed that this wasn’t what we feared it was.”

NASCAR driver Tyler Reddick took issue with Trump’s tweet, replying with a tweet of his own that read, “We did what was right and we will do just fine without your support.” That tweet was later deleted. Reddick then retweeted Fox Sports NASCAR reporter Bob Pockrass’s defense of Wallace.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), usually one of Trump’s biggest supporters, also took issue with Trump’s claim that Wallace should apologize.

“I don’t think Bubba Wallace has anything to apologize for,” Graham said on Fox News Radio. “You saw the best in NASCAR. They all rallied to Bubba’s side. I would be looking to celebrate that kind of attitude rather than being worried it’s a hoax.”

After Trump’s claim about NASCAR’s historically low television ratings, Fox Sports executive Michael Mulvihill noted on Twitter that the circuit’s viewership on Fox’s networks is up more than 8 percent since the sport returned from its novel coronavirus hiatus in May. However, a June 27 race at Pocono drew only 2.57 million viewers, narrowly avoiding NASCAR’s all-time low audience for a Cup Series race on broadcast television.

On Saturday, a race in NASCAR’s second-tier Xfinity Series at Indianapolis Motor Speedway averaged a 1.1 rating and 1.68 million viewers, the series’s largest audience for a race at that track since 2017. As noted by Sports Media Watch, it was the most-watched Xfinity Series event since the season-opening race at Daytona in February drew 1.81 million viewers.

Trump has long sought to tie himself to NASCAR and its fan base, which is primarily white and Southern. In February, he appeared at the season-opening Daytona 500 and took a lap around the track in the presidential limo. But the stock-car circuit has struggled with how to deal with Trump’s attention. Ahead of the 2016 election, Trump received an endorsement from Brian France, at the time NASCAR’s chief executive and chairman. A year earlier, NASCAR moved banquets away from Trump’s Miami resort in the wake of his comments about Mexican immigrants.

In 2017, amid the controversy over NFL players kneeling during the national anthem to raise awareness of social justice issues, Trump praised NASCAR and its fans for standing during the song.

Many in NASCAR’s ownership ranks issued comments that echoed Trump’s thoughts about protests during the anthem, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. — one of NASCAR’s most popular drivers — tweeted a quote from President John F. Kennedy about what censoring peaceful protests could do to a democracy.