Dale Zorn initially defended his actions, saying it was part of ‘our history’, but eventually apologized after widespread outrage

Senator Dale Zorn wore a face mask during a Senate vote at the Michigan state capitol on Friday.

Senator Dale Zorn wore a face mask during a Senate vote at the Michigan state capitol on Friday.
Photograph: Danny Johnston/Associated Press

A Republican politician in Michigan has apologized after wearing a face mask that appeared to depict the Confederate flag, an image offensive to many Americans as a symbol of racism and slavery.

Michigan state Senator Dale Zorn wore the mask during a Senate vote at the state capitol in Lansing on Friday. He initially defended his actions, saying his wife had made the mask and that it depicted the flag of Tennessee or Kentucky.

“I told my wife it probably will raise some eyebrows, but it was not a Confederate flag,” Zorn told Lansing TV station WLNS on Friday.

He went on to add: “Even if it was a Confederate flag, you know, we should be talking about teaching our national history in schools and that’s part of our national history and it’s something we can’t just throw away because it is part of our history.”

When Zorn was asked what the meaning of the Confederate flag is, he replied “the Confederacy”.

Bryan Newland

This is Dale Zorn. He is an elected member of the Michigan Senate. He wore a Confederate Flag mask on the floor of the Michigan Senate. Then he tried to tell us he didn’t.


Get that trash outta here. pic.twitter.com/uTOaBzweTO

April 25, 2020

In fact, displaying the Confederate flag, or other symbols of the slave-owning south during the American civil war, is usually seen as racist. While some advocates claim they are celebrating southern identity and heritage, it is widely seen as a racist symbol deeply offensive to black Americans. Nor is it just flags. There is an ongoing campaign to remove Confederate war statues from public display or rename streets and buildings which commemorate Confederate generals or politicians.

After sparking widespread outrage, Zorn issued an apology on Saturday.

“I’m sorry for my choice of pattern on the face mask I wore yesterday on the Senate floor. I did not intend to offend anyone; however, I realize that I did, and for that I am sorry. Those who know me best know that I do not support the things this pattern represents,” he wrote on Twitter. “My actions were an error in judgment for which there are no excuses and I will learn from this episode.”

A spokesperson for Michigan’s senate majority leader, Republican Mike Shirkey, said that Shirkey “would not support or encourage any senator to display an insensitive symbol on the Senate floor”.

The leader of the Democrats in the Michigan senate, Jim Ananich, said: “I’m just really disappointed to see him make a choice that is deeply hurtful to so many people. When he was called out for it, he didn’t seem to even understand or acknowledge what the problem was.”

Zorn was in Lansing on Friday to vote on measures that would increase oversight of Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer’s powers during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Michigan is one of a number of states that have attracted protests against stay-at-home orders during the pandemic. Zorn said he supported bipartisan oversight of Whitmer’s actions.

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