Donald Trump has questioned the actions of NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace and claimed a noose-shaped rope found in his garage last month was a hoax.
Wallace is the only black driver in the famous racing series and received an outpouring of support from fellow drivers after the discovery at Alabama’s Talladega circuit.
The FBI concluded no crime was committed and that the door cord had been in place as early as October 2019 – and that nobody could have known Wallace would be assigned that garage.
The US president tweeted: “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? That & Flag decision has caused lowest ratings EVER!”
NASCAR president Steve Phelps said it was a member of Wallace’s team who noticed and reported the “noose” – a symbol connected to lynching and America’s slave history.
Wallace – who has raced a car with a special Black Lives Matter paint job – initially called it a “despicable act of racism and hatred”.
However, days later he thanked the FBI and officials for treating the matter seriously and said he was relieved “this wasn’t what we feared it was”.
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The president’s tweet also referenced Wallace’s successful campaign to ban the controversial Civil War-era Confederate flag at NASCAR events.
He claimed the organisation was suffering with its “lowest ratings ever” as fans unhappy about the decision tuned out, but ratings have actually increased since the flag was banned last month.
White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said the president had tweeted to make “a broader point that this rush to judgement on the facts before the facts are out is not acceptable”.
“The president’s merely pointing out that we’ve got to let facts come out,” she told Fox News.
“There was no hate crime committed against Bubba Wallace as determined by the FBI as noted in the NASCAR statement.”
One NASCAR driver, Corey LaJoie, is now sporting “Trump 2020” logos on his car after his team signed a sponsorship deal with a campaign group backing the president’s re-election bid.
In a statement on Twitter, Wallace said: “Always deal with the hate being thrown at you with love. Even when it’s hate from the POTUS.”
Mr Trump will take on Democrat candidate and former vice president Joe Biden in November.