In an apparent attempt to win over Southern voters, presidential hopeful Ben Carson offered tacit support to flyers of the rebel flag, and then compared the Confederate symbol to a Swastika. Let's break this down.
First, Carson received an important, de facto endorsement from retired NASCAR driver Richard Petty. The endorsement-ish ("we're not necessarily endorsing him, but we are—you know what I mean?", in Petty's words) is good news for Carson, as The Associated Press explains:
Formal or not, Petty's support lends Carson some credibility in North Carolina and among a broader swath of Southern states set to play a key role in the 2016 Republican presidential primary. Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas, Kentucky, Louisiana and Virginia are expected to host Republican primary contests in the first week of March.
NASCAR has been trying to distance itself from its long association with the Confederate flag following avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof's June shooting of a black church in South Carolina that left nine people dead. Over the summer, NASCAR encouraged fans to swap in their Confederate flags for American ones.
But Petty never seemed to be on board with the reform effort. "I think it’s a passing fancy, it will go for a week or two, everybody talks about it, then something else comes up and it will go off the board and nobody will pay any attention to it,” he said back in July.
Carson appeared to agree, somewhat, with the sentiment during a recent visit to Victory Junction, a camp for children with special needs funded in part by Petty, saying NASCAR fans should be allowed to fly Confederate flags "if it's private property and that's what they want to do." He also told reporters there that he considers the flag a local issue, saying, "If it's a majority of people in that area who want it to fly, I certainly wouldn't take it down."
He went on to acknowledge the flag as a "symbol of hate" for many—by comparing the flag to another symbol of hate. "Swastikas are a symbol of hate for some people, too. And yet they still exist in museums and places like that," Carson said.
In the past, Carson has spoken less than favorably of the Confederate flag, without advocating an outright ban. He told CNN in June that his neighbor in Maryland flew a Confederate flag, "I guess as a message to us."
He continued, "the interesting thing is all the other neighbors immediately put up American flags, and shamed this individual and they took it down." Around the same time, he told the Wall Street Journal that barring use of the flag won't ease racial tensions in the U.S. “The issue is not the flag so much as it is how people think," he said, adding, "You can get rid of every Confederate flag in the world but if you’re still being motivated by the wrong emotion it’s not going to solve any problem.”
The parallel between the Confederate flag and the Swastika doesn't seem to hold up, unless Carson thinks museums showing Nazi symbols are celebrating the culture of the Third Reich, or that NASCAR fans are waving flags as a relic of the darkest period in the South's history.
Or maybe this is just Carson's not-so-subtle way of revealing how he feels about the rebel flag.
Carson's team did not respond to a request for comment.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.