Romney Condemns Confederate Flag, GOP Candidates Weigh In

The growing chorus of voices demanding the Confederate flag be removed from its place of honor at the South Carolina State House gained a prominent new voice on Saturday in Mitt Romney.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who ran for president in 2008 and 2012, called for the removal of the Confederate flag as a way to honor the nine victims who were gunned down Wednesday during Bible study at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina.

In the wake of the shooting, both state leaders and activists have demanded the Confederate flag — long regarded by many as a symbol of racial segregation — be removed from the capitol building, where it flew at its full height even as the South Carolina and U.S. flags were lowered to half-mast.

But this isn't the first time the former Massachusetts governor has publicly demanded the flag come down.

"That's not a flag I recognize," Romney said during a 2007 debate. "That flag, frankly, is divisive, and it shouldn't be shown."

Current Republican presidential candidate and former Florida governor Jeb Bush also waded into the conversation on Twitter Saturday afternoon, releasing a statement about the removal of the flag.

Bush acknowledged that South Carolina is enduring a "sensitive" time in the wake of the killings, but said he is "confident" the state will do the right thing.

Bush had the Confederate flag removed from the Florida state capitol building in 2001, according to the St. Petersburg Times.

The comments from Bush and Romney effectively challenge the rest of the GOP presidential field to take a stand. Aside from Bush, none have publicly supported to take down the Confederate flag or condemn its racist implications in South Carolina.

Lindsey Graham, a Republican presidential candidate and U.S. senator from South Carolina, said the problem lies with the alleged gunman, Dylann Roof, not the flag.

Republican candidate, Mike Huckabee, told NBC's "Meet the Press", that the issue of the Confederate flag is not a question that "has anything to do whatsoever with running for president".

Huckabee continued, "I don't personally display it anywhere. So it's not an issue for me. That's an issue for the people of South Carolina."

Roof had adorned the front of his car with an image of the Confederate flag, and wore clothes adorned with historic flags of nations like Rhodesia, which practiced state-sponsored racial segregation. Investigators say Roof was a devout white supremacist who wanted to start a race war.

Supporters of the flag, like Lee Wilson, vice president of the Confederate Heritage Trust in South Carolina, argue that the flag is a part of the South's heritage and is an important part of Civil War history. But South Carolina State. Rep. Christopher Hart disagrees.

"I'm a product of the South. Whose heritage is it? It's not my heritage. It's not Southern to me," Hart told NBC News. "There were hundreds of black soldiers in the Civil War, but you don't see black people walking around with Confederate flags now." 

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Rep. James Clyburn, a prominent black member of Congress, sided with Hart. "It's long past time, and I think that we ought to remove it," Clyburn said. "Not because of what happened in Charleston, because it has no place having any appearance of sovereignty."

In the wake of the attack at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church — for centuries an iconic symbol of African-American culture and religious life — President Obama pointedly stated that the Confederate flag belongs in a museum.

"Racism remains a blight that we must combat together," the president said in a speech at the U.S. Conference of Mayors on Friday, in which he decried racial violence and called for a national debate on gun regulations.

Activists set fire to two Confederate flags near the Liberty Bell in Old City, Philadelphia on Saturday as a response to the Charleston massacre.

“That flag, to us, says terrorism. It’s a slap in the face to those folks that were murdered,” activist Mannwell Glenn told NBC Philadelphia.

For now, the Confederate flag at the statehouse is still flying full-staff because the only group legally allowed to make changes to the flag's status, South Carolina's General Assembly, is out of session. State law requires any changes on how the flag is flown to be approved by lawmakers, but the General Assembly must wait until January to take up the issue.

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