COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said Thursday she wishes Donald Trump communicated differently because bad things result from divisive rhetoric, as evidenced by last June’s massacre in Charleston.
The Republican governor said divisive speech motivated Dylann Roof to gun down nine black parishioners at historic Emanuel AME Church. Police have said the white 22-year-old charged with their killings wanted to start a race war.
The Confederate flag that Roof was seen brandishing in photos had to be removed from the Statehouse grounds, she said, and she supports sending the rebel flag in The Citadel’s chapel to a museum too. But she opposes renaming buildings or monuments associated with the state’s racist past.
Haley, who endorsed then-candidate Marco Rubio ahead of South Carolina’s primary, said she has vocally criticized Trump because “I know what that rhetoric can do. I saw it happen.”
She said she doesn’t think people who support Trump are racist or haters.
“That’s a different kind of anger. They’re upset with Washington, D.C. They’re upset nothing’s got done,” she said. “The way he communicates that, I wish were different.”
Trump has a responsibility for the country’s well-being to use a civil, respectful tone, she told reporters two weeks ahead of the anniversary of the Emanuel shooting.
Less than a month after the shooting, the Legislature — at Haley’s urging — voted to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse’s front lawn and send it to a museum.
The flag “hijacked by that murderer” had to go, she said, recognizing that some pro-flag people are still upset by her public prompting.
“I don’t think they’re bad people. I think they really were focused on heritage and sacrifice, but I think when that murderer kidnapped their flag and held it with hate and killed those people, there was just no other option,” she said.
The flag flying in The Citadel’s Summerall Chapel in Charleston should be sent to a museum too, she said.
“You’ve got the museum right next door, so just take it from the chapel and put it in a museum and move on,” she said.
But that’s up to the Legislature, she said, noting she’s told cadets to contact their legislators.
The state’s Heritage Act bars altering any public monument that honors historic figures or events without overwhelming approval by the Legislature. The law was part of the 2000 compromise that brought the Confederate flag off the Statehouse dome and put it on the lawn.
Last year, House Speaker Jay Lucas said that as long as he’s speaker, the House will not consider any other proposed change to the law. His spokesman did not respond Thursday to Haley’s statements.
The governor said she asked the Legislature last summer to keep the Heritage Act intact and not let the debate extend to changes beyond the Statehouse flag.
“The state would’ve been torn apart if we’d started doing that,” she said. “We’d have disputes in every county and community and divide people. ... Our goal was to hold everything together. Let’s be kind and accepting and understand history is just that — it’s history.”
She still opposes exceptions beyond the chapel’s flag, including renaming Tillman Hall at her alma mater, Clemson University, as many students have requested. The building is named for a Clemson founder — a former governor and U.S. senator who bragged about killing black people.
“We can’t go and start changing everything. ... The difference with the flag was it was a flying, living, breathing representative symbol,” Haley said. “I don’t see that in buildings and street signs.”