Trump equates support for Confederate flag with Black Lives Matter

By Martin Pengelly in New York and agencies

Donald Trump has equated the Black Lives Matter movement with displays of the Confederate flag, saying: “I’m not offended either by Black Lives Matter, that’s freedom of speech. You know the whole thing with cancel culture – we can’t cancel our whole history. We can’t forget that the north and the south fought.”

Repeating his threat to veto moves to rename US military bases named for Confederate generals, he added: “When people proudly have their Confederate flags, they’re not talking about racism. They love their flag, it represents the south.”

Trump made the potentially inflammatory comments in an interview with Fox News Sunday, broadcast a day after a Black Lives Matter mural on the street in front of Trump Tower in New York was defaced for the third time in less than a week.

Asked about moves to rename US bases under the National Defense Authorization Act which are supported by senior military leaders, Trump said: “I don’t care what the military says. I’m supposed to make the decision. Fort Bragg is a big deal … Go to the community, say, ‘How do you like the idea of renaming Fort Bragg,’ and then what are we going to name it? We going to name it after the Reverend Al Sharpton?”

Sharpton is a New York-based civil rights leader who was among national figures paying tribute this weekend to John Lewis, the civil rights campaigner and Democratic congressman who died on Friday, aged 80.

Fort Bragg in North Carolina is named for Braxton Bragg, a Confederate general during the civil war. Numerous other bases are named for leaders on the losing side who fought to maintain slavery.

Calls to rename bases and bring down statues to Confederate leaders have surged, amid protests demanding justice and reform after the police killings of George Floyd and other black people. Many statues and monuments have been removed.

This week, the Department of Defense followed in the footsteps of Nascar by effectively banning the Confederate flag from display at its properties. Seeking to avoid angering Trump, who has made support for Confederate symbols a central plank of his re-election campaign, defense secretary Mark Esper simply left the flag off a list of flags which can be displayed at bases.

On Sunday Colin Powell, an African American retired general, former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of state under George W Bush, told CBS’s Face the Nation bases should be renamed and flags banned.

“It was the Confederate States of America,” said Powell, who has endorsed Joe Biden for president. “They were not part of us and this is not the time to keep demonstrating who they were and what they were back then. This is time to move on. Let’s get going. We have one flag and only one flag only.”

Across the US, the words “Black Lives Matter” have been painted on prominent streets, including in Washington on the road leading to the White House. New York mayor Bill de Blasio helped paint the mural on Fifth Avenue, in front of Trump’s Manhattan residence. Trump said in a tweet that the project would denigrate “this luxury avenue”.

In similar fashion to Confederate and other monuments defaced with paint and graffiti, the Trump Tower mural has been attacked repeatedly. In the latest incident, two women were arrested around 3pm on Saturday after police said they poured black paint on the block-long mural.

Bystander video showed officers surrounding one woman as she rubbed paint on the bright yellow letters, shouting “They don’t care about black lives” and “Refund the police”.

A police officer lies injured after attempting to detain a protester smearing paint on the Black Lives Matter mural.
A police officer lies injured after attempting to detain a protester smearing paint on the Black Lives Matter mural. Photograph: Andrew Kelly/Reuters

One officer slipped on the paint and fell, sustaining injuries to his head and arm, police said. He was in stable condition in hospital. A police spokesperson said the women’s names and information on possible charges weren’t immediately available.

The vandalism happened less than 24 hours after three people were caught on surveillance video smearing blue paint on the mural around 4pm on Friday, while a woman littered it with flyers referencing the recent shooting death of a one-year-old boy in Brooklyn, police said.

Officers found the trio a short time later with blue paint on their hands and clothing. One was wearing an “All Lives Matter” shirt and other apparel indicating support for Trump. They were arrested, charged with criminal mischief and released with an order to appear in court.

Police were still looking for a man who was seen splashing red paint on the Black Lives Matter mural at about noon last Monday.