Weighing in on the South Carolina Confederate flag debate for the first time since the shooting of nine African-American church worshippers last week, Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul said Tuesday that the “symbolism needs to end.”
“I think the flag is inescapably a symbol of human bondage and slavery,” the Kentucky senator said in an interview with with Boston-based WRKO radio, according to audio posted by BuzzFeed. “Particularly when people use it obviously for murder and to justify hatred so vicious that you would kill somebody, I think that that symbolism needs to end.”
Paul, who has made minority outreach a centerpiece of his campaign, said it's up to South Carolina whether it removes the flag from the grounds of the state's capitol, as Governor Nikki Haley urged Monday, prompting support from other presidential candidates.
“But if I were in South Carolina, that’s what I would vote to do,” he said. The flag's presence at a war memorial is controlled by the state legislature.
Since last week's killings in a Charleston church, for which a white man has been charged, the debate over the flag has also spread to Mississippi and Virginia.
“There have been people who have used it for southern pride and heritage and all of that, but really to I think to every African-American in the country, it’s a symbolism of slavery to them," Paul said. “Now it’s a symbol of murder for this young man and so I think it’s time to put it in a museum.”
A Paul campaign spokesman, Sergio Gor, said in an e-mail the interview reflected the senator's stance. “You should have his position from that,” Gor said.
On Sunday, Paul came under scrutiny for receiving campaign money from a man said to be a white nationalist whose group inspired the accused Charleston shooter. Paul's campaign said he would donate the money to a fund to help the shooting victims' families.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the radio station on which Paul spoke.