Donald Trump has sparked uproar in America after demanding NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace apologise and claiming the noose found in his garage stall was a ‘hoax’.
The garage door pull-rope fashioned like a noose - widely seen as a symbol of lynchings in the American South - sparked outrage when it was found in Wallace’s stall at Talladega last month.
However the FBI concluded it was not the result of a hate crime and the noose had been there since 2019.
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Dozens of Wallace’s fellow drivers staged a demonstration against bigotry but the FBI probe discovered that the rope had been hanging in the stall months before the June 23 race at the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama.
That led to Trump’s tweet on Monday.
“Has @BubbaWallace apologised 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 wrote on Twitter.
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
Wallace responded with an uplifting message “to the next generation” - and a denunciation of the President.
The 26-year-old encouraged his fans to embrace “love over hate every day... even when it's hate from the POTUS,” referring to the president.
Trump’s tweet was his latest divisive rhetoric - he also spoke out Monday about US sports franchises considering changing their Native American-themed team names - ahead of November's presidential election.
The noose discovery was made shortly after Wallace had successfully campaigned for a ban on flying the controversial Confederate flag at NASCAR, a popular sport with conservative Americans.
Trump also claimed in his tweet that the ban and the noose controversy had “caused lowest ratings EVER!”
Donald Trump slammed over ‘hoax’ claim
NASCAR later released an image of the noose in question, proving it certainly wasn’t a ‘hoax’.
“It wasn’t a hoax. It wasn’t a hate crime, as the FBI later determined, but it wasn’t a hoax either,” Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel wrote in a scathing assessment of Trump’s claims.
“An actual rope that serves as a garage door pull was discovered in Wallace’s garage stall. It had been tied in the form of a noose.
“The noose was real. There were even pictures of it discovered from an October 2019 race, when the garage was used by a different driver. When it was fashioned as a noose, no one could have known the following season Wallace would get the garage — the stalls are assigned based on weekly standings.
“Calling it a hoax is a flat-out lie.
“He called something that wasn’t a hoax, a hoax. He sympathised with the white drivers and crew members who chose to proudly walk down pit road with their friend — this was some kind of “sacrifice” according to Trump.
“The entire tweet was nonsensical, dishonest and needlessly divisive. It’s totally bizarre that, weeks later, it’s commanding the attention of the White House.”
And Wetzel wasn’t alone in condemning the President, with many commentators calling him out on social media.
How low and despicable for the President of the United States to falsely accuse Bubba Wallace of perpetuating a hoax. The garage pull looked exactly like a noose and someone else at NASCAR reported it to the authorities on behalf of Bubba. He wasn’t even the one who reported it. pic.twitter.com/17WoZY0dGS— Eugene Gu, MD (@eugenegu) July 6, 2020
Bubba Wallace owes no one an apology. Did you see the "garage pull?" It looked exactly like a noose! Don't you understand what Black Americans go through every day, you bigot?— Mrs. Krassenstein (@HKrassenstein) July 6, 2020
Trump owes Black America an apology.
President Trump is now just promoting unabashed hardcore racism. Fortunately, that appeals to dwindling minority of US.— David Rothschild (@DavMicRot) July 6, 2020
President Trump wants NASCAR's only black driver to apologize for the overwhelming concern about this noose found hanging in his garage. And NASCAR's decision to not fly pro-slavery flags at their races anymore, which Trump obviously blames their only black driver for. pic.twitter.com/jDsv9iIMO4— David Rothschild (@DavMicRot) July 6, 2020
Trump blasts Redskins, Indians name changes
The United States has been upended by coast-to-coast protests since the May killing of African American George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.
The demonstrations have seen attacks on symbols of the country's slave-holding history such as the Confederate flag and statues of Confederate generals.
Trump has branded the movement a “left-wing cultural revolution” and an assault on American “heritage,” and vowed to resist it.
The White House slammed the media over the Wallace clash, saying reporters were “mischaracterising" Trump's words.
“The intent of the tweet was to stand up for the men and women of NASCAR and the fans, and those who have gone in this rush to judgment of the media to call something a hate crime, when in fact the FBI report concluded this was not an intentional racist act,” Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said.
McEnany also declined to say whether Trump agrees with NASCAR's decision to ban the rebel-themed flag, saying the president has not made a judgment “one way or the other.”
Trump also weighed in on two sports teams that are considering changing their names and logos amid renewed calls for social justice and civil rights.
“They name teams out of STRENGTH, not weakness,” Trump said in a tweet that mocked efforts to avoid marginalising certain minority groups.
“But now the Washington Redskins & Cleveland Indians, two fabled sports franchises, look like they are going to be changing their names in order to be politically correct.”