President Donald Trump misdirected blame when he questioned why NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace had not "apologized to all of those great NASCAR drivers & officials who came to his aid … only to find out that the whole thing was just another HOAX."
Wallace, NASCAR’s only full-time Black driver, was not the one who reported a garage door pull-down rope fashioned like a noose at the Talladega Superspeedway. Nor was he responsible for initiating an investigation into it as a potential hate crime against Wallace — something the FBI later dismissed.
Wallace learned about the noose and the subsequent investigation into it during a June 21 conversation with NASCAR’s president, who Wallace said tearfully told him that a "hate crime was committed."
On July 6, Trump tweeted about that noose incident, as well as NASCAR’s decision to ban Confederate flags at its events, claiming — wrongly — that they have "caused lowest ratings EVER!"
The noose incident came not long after Wallace’s campaign for NASCAR to ban Confederate flags at its events. In a June 8 interview on CNN, Wallace called on NASCAR to ban the flags, and two days later the racing organization announced that "display of the confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties." Wallace faced threats for his position.
Less than two weeks later, on June 21, NASCAR announced the discovery of a noose hanging in Wallace’s garage at Talladega, calling it a "heinous act" and promising an "immediate investigation."
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According to a NASCAR timeline, a member of Wallace’s race team — not Wallace himself — reported to NASCAR officials on the afternoon of June 21 that he had found a noose in the garage assigned to Wallace. NASCAR security inspected all the garages and determined that the only garage pull ropes fashioned like a noose was the one in Wallace’s garage. Soon after, NASCAR’s senior leadership met and initiated an investigation.
At around 7:30 p.m. that evening, NASCAR president Steve Phelps notified Wallace about the noose, and later that evening, NASCAR released a statement:
NASCAR, June 21: Late this afternoon, NASCAR was made aware that a noose was found in the garage stall of the 43 team. We are angry and outraged, and cannot state strongly enough how seriously we take this heinous act. We have launched an immediate investigation, and will do everything we can to identify the person(s) responsible and eliminate them from the sport. As we have stated unequivocally, there is no place for racism in NASCAR, and this act only strengthens our resolve to make the sport open and welcoming to all.
The following day, NASCAR drivers and others escorted Wallace’s car to the front of the line at the Talladega race track in a show of support for the driver. Wallace shared a video of it on Twitter with the words, "My family."
The day after that, June 23, the FBI closed its investigation, issuing a statement that said "no federal crime was committed."
"The FBI learned that garage number 4, where the noose was found, was assigned to Bubba Wallace last week," the statement read. "The investigation also revealed evidence, including authentic video confirmed by NASCAR, that the noose found in garage number 4 was in that garage as early as October 2019. Although the noose is now known to have been in garage number 4 in 2019, nobody could have known Mr. Wallace would be assigned to garage number 4 last week."
In a separate statement issued on June 23, NASCAR said, "The FBI report concludes, and photographic evidence confirms, that the garage door pull rope fashioned like a noose had been positioned there since as early as last fall. This was obviously well before the 43 team’s arrival and garage assignment." Later, NASCAR released a photo of the noose.
On June 23, the day the FBI determined that no hate crime was targeted at Wallace, the race car driver was interviewed on CNN about his role in the unfolding events the day the noose was discovered, including his conversations with NASCAR president Phelps.
"But the conversation that I had with Steve Phelps was — I would say and I’m speaking for him — I would probably say one of the hardest things, if not the hardest thing he’s ever had to tell somebody," Wallace said. "Tears rolling down his face. Choked up on every word that he was trying to say that the evidence that he had brought to me that a ‘hate crime was committed,’ quote unquote."
"But I never seen the noose," Wallace said. "I never reported it."
"And I’ll shoot it to you straight each and every time," Wallace said. "Because that’s how I was brought up and that’s what I stand by. And in my statement on Sunday night, this will not break me. None of the allegations of being a hoax will break me or tear me down. Will it piss me off, absolutely, but that only fuels the competitive drive in me to shut everybody up."
In response to Trump’s call for Wallace to apologize, Wallace posted a statement on Twitter that, in part, implored his young fans to "always deal with the hate being thrown at you with LOVE! Love over hate every day. Love should come naturally as people are TAUGHT to hate. Even when it’s HATE from the POTUS." POTUS is the acronym for president of the United States.
In a press briefing on July 6, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany fielded several questions from reporters about the president’s tweet.
One reporter asked why it was Wallace’s responsibility to apologize for an investigation into a noose that he didn’t report, and never saw first-hand.
"Well, look, the FBI – as I noted — concluded that this was not a hate crime and he believes it’d go a long way if Bubba came out and acknowledged that, as well," McEnany said.
Wallace has acknowledged that the noose "wasn’t directed to me." But it was a noose, nonetheless, he said in his interview on CNN.
"It was a noose. It was a noose that was whether tied in 2019 or whatever. It was a noose," he said. "So it wasn’t directed to me. But somebody tied a noose. That’s what I’m saying. It was — it is a noose."
McEnany also said Trump was "not making a judgment one way or the other" about NASCAR’s decision to ban the Confederate flag at events.
"The intent of the tweet was to stand up for the men and women of NASCAR, and the fans and those who have gone, and this rush of judgment of the media to call something a hate crime when in fact the FBI report concluded this was not an intentional racist act. And it very much mirrors other times when there had been a rush to judgment, let’s say with the Covington boys or with Jussie Smollett," McEnany said.
Although McEnany said the tweet was intended, in part to "stand up for the men and women of NASCAR," NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson — a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion — tweeted #IStandWithBubba. NASCAR driver Tyler Reddick tweeted, and then deleted, this: "We don’t need an apology. We did what was right and we will do just fine without your support." Reddick then retweeted a post by Fox Sports NASCAR reporter Bob Pockrass, who said "there is nothing to apologize for."
As for the president’s claim that the noose "hoax" and NASCAR’s decision to ban the Confederate flag "has caused lowest ratings ever!," NBC News reported that TV ratings for NASCAR events are up.
NBC News, July 6: Since NASCAR announced a ban on the Confederate flag last month, the sport has seen a boost in television ratings. Overnight ratings following the sport’s June race at Martinsville, Virginia, which immediately followed the banning announcement, were up 104 percent over a comparable 2019 race.
The Talladega race in Alabama later in June, where the noose incident Trump referred to happened, rated as the most-watched Monday contest in years. NASCAR has also benefited from being one of the few live events on TV, as most other sports remain idled in the U.S. due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Michael Mulvihill, an executive vice president at Fox Sports, tweeted, "NASCAR viewership on Fox networks is up +8% since returning from its pandemic hiatus on May 17."
As for McEnany’s claim that the noose incident "mirrors other times when there had been a rush to judgment." including with Jussie Smollet, she is referring to the actor who has been indicted for staging a hate crime. Wallace hasn’t been accused of staging anything and, as we said, he didn’t report a hate crime.