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Calls mount for removal of Confederate flag in wake of Charleston church shooting

"To many, it is a symbol of racial hatred. Remove it now," Mitt Romney said.

By Marilyn Malara
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Calls mount for removal of Confederate flag in wake of Charleston church shooting
Civil War re-enactors fire muskets and rifles under the Confederate banner. Photo by Denton Rumsey/Shutterstock

WASHINGTON, June 20 (UPI) -- Mitt Romney joined others speaking out against the display of the Confederate battle flag in the aftermath of last week's Charleston church shooting.

In a tweet sent Saturday morning, the former presidential candidate stood in solidarity with thousands of others calling for the removal of the flag from South Carolina Capitol grounds in Columbia, calling it a representation of hatred.

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"Take down the #ConfederateFlag at the SC Capitol," he wrote. "To many, it is a symbol of racial hatred. Remove it now to honor #Chrleston victims."

State Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, House Minority Leader, has promised to reintroduce a bill calling for the flag's removal, which he has pushed unsuccessfully in the past. The state's General Assembly will not meet again until January.

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Even before self-proclaimed white supremacist Dylann Storm Roof, 21, attacked a Bible study in the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the presence of the Confederate flag has for many acted as a foreboding symbol of racial inequality. Last year, a poll taken to determine residents' feelings toward the flag in South Carolina found the debate fell along racial lines. Most white respondents supported the flag's display; most black respondents called for its removal.

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"The debate over the flag is carried on by people at the extremes," Scott Huffmon, director of the poll said at the time. "Some see it as a living testament, paying respect to slavery. Other see it as a point of honor, honoring the [Confederate States Army] dead."

Romney may be one of the only Republican politicians to stand strongly against the flying of the flag. He has publicly opposed the state's decision to display the flag for years, Business Insider observes. In the midst of Romney's presidential campaign in 2008, he was criticized for his disapproval of the flag.

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The former Massachusetts governor was quoted at the time saying "[the Confederate] flag shouldn't be flown," and "that's not a flag I recognize."

Current Republican Presidential candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush took to Facebook Saturday to say his "position is clear" with regard to the Confederate flag.

"In Florida, we acted, moving the flag from the state grounds to a museum where it belonged. This is obviously a very sensitive time in South Carolina and our prayers are with the families, the AME church community and the entire state. Following a period of mourning, there will rightly be a discussion among leaders in the state about how South Carolina should move forward and I'm confident they will do the right thing."

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Additionally, when both the U.S. and state flags were flown at half-staff in Columbia in the wake of the Charleston murders, the Confederate flag, which is designated as part of a monument, was not.

"The flag is part of a Confederate War Memorial, and is not on a pulley system, so it cannot be lowered, only removed," political reporter Will Whitson tweeted on June 18.

Meanwhile, in Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday the state can refuse a license plate that features the confederate flag, rejecting a free-speech challenge from a heritage group. The ruling declared that license plates are "government speech" and the First Amendment does not apply, potentially setting a precedent that other states could use in determining their own rulings on similar issues.

It should be noted that in a photo, what appeared to be the Charleston shooter's car donned a front license plate designed with the Confederate flag. New photos have emerged from a site allegedly owned by Roof displaying photos of him holding the flag as well.

Current Republican presidential hopeful and S.C. Sen. Lindsey Graham defended the flag Saturday morning when asked whether it should be removed in the wake of Roof's acts of violent racism. "It's him...not the flag," he told CNN's Alisyn Camerota.

"This is part of who we are. The flag to some people represents to some people a Civil War...to others, it's a racial symbol," he said.

Amy R. Connolly and Andrew V. Pestano contributed to this article

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