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Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves on Tuesday signed the bill retiring the last state flag in the U.S. that featured the Confederate battle emblem, saying, "This is not a political moment to me but a solemn occasion to lead our Mississippi family to come together, to be reconciled, and to move on."

State lawmakers had approved the measure over the weekend before sending the bill to the Republican governor's desk for his signature.

This is a developing story; check back for updates.

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White House says Trump tweet neutral on NASCAR flying Confederate flag

The White House was forced on to the defensive on Monday after President Trump said NASCAR had lost TV ratings after banning the Confederate flag, following a weekend in which he moved America’s history to the center of his reelection campaign.

Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany was asked repeatedly whether the president was defending a flag viewed by many people as a hate symbol, but she insisted he “wasn’t making a judgment one way or the other.”

The issue dominated Monday’s White House press briefing. In a tweet on Monday morning, he took aim at Darrell "Bubba" Wallace, accusing the sport’s only full-time black driver of perpetrating “a hoax” when his crew found a noose in the team’s garage stall.

"Has @BubbaWallace apologized to all of those great NASCAR drivers & officials who came to his aid, stood by his side, & were willing to sacrifice everything for him, only to find out that the whole thing was just another HOAX?" Trump tweeted. "That & Flag decision has caused lowest ratings EVER!"

Jeanne Zaino, professor of political science at Iona College, said Trump appeared to be grasping for the sort of “Southern strategy” that had helped Republicans to victory in the past.

But NASCAR banning the Confederate flag and the Washington Redskins looking to change its name ⁠— even if as much for business reasons as ideological ⁠— showed how America had changed.

“His base is already supporting him. They aren’t going anywhere,” she said. “But they won’t help him win in the places where he won’t get over the line because of his difficulty with coronavirus, particularly among elderly voters."

With the coronavirus still spreading across the country, the president and his allies have sought to find other topics to mobilize support. In two major Independence Day speeches, Trump appealed to his political base, including disaffected white voters, by accusing opponents of attempting to wipe out American history by targeting Confederate monuments and statues of slave owners.

Campaign officials believe they can capitalize on street violence to position Trump as the candidate of “law and order,” winning back some of the suburban voters who have drifted away from the Republican Party in the past four years.

A campaign email underlined the message on Monday. “Rest assured, Un-American THUGS who choose to illegally destroy our America’s history will be prosecuted to the FULLEST extent of the law,” it said.

McEnany said that Trump, in his comments on the Confederate flag, was defending "NASCAR men and women" accused of racism.

"The president has made clear he was not taking a position one way or another in that tweet," she said after being repeatedly quizzed on the question of whether Trump was expressing support for public displays of the flag.

Opponents ridiculed the response.

“The president doesn’t know how he feels 'one way or the other' on NASCAR banning the Confederate flag,” said anti-Trump Republicans of the Lincoln Project on Twitter. “Just let that sink in.”

TV executives disputed Trump’s claim about ratings. Michael Mulvihill of Fox Sports said its viewership was up 8% since NASCAR returned from its coronavirus hiatus, and NBC, which took up rights at the weekend, said ratings for Saturday’s Xfinity race in Indianapolis were up on the same event last year.

Even trusted allies such as Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said the reason for banning the Confederate flag was clear.

“They're trying to grow the sport,” he told Fox News radio on Monday. “And I've lived in South Carolina all my life, and if you're in business, the Confederate flag is not a good way to grow your business.”

The furor follows a weekend of hard-line rhetoric as Trump positioned himself as the candidate who will protect the country's history from protesters.

At Mount Rushmore on Friday, Trump denounced what he described as a “merciless campaign” by his political enemies to destroy history by tearing down monuments.

“As we meet here tonight, there is a growing danger that threatens every blessing our ancestors fought so hard for,” he said. “Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children.”

He returned to the theme on Saturday. "We are now in the process of defeating the radical left, the anarchists, the agitators, the looters, and the people who, in many instances, have absolutely no clue what they are doing," he said from the White House lawn, comparing his efforts with the wartime struggle against the Nazis.

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