Walmart to stop selling Confederate flag merchandise

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CHARLESTON, S.C. — Walmart, the country’s largest retailer, will remove all Confederate flag merchandise from its stores, the company told CNN Monday.

The announcement is the latest indication that the flag, a symbol of the slave-holding South, has become toxic in the aftermath of a shooting last week at a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina. Gov. Nikki Haley announced in a Monday afternoon news conference that she supports removing the Confederate flag from the state capitol grounds.

Walmart.com currently carries the Confederate flag as well as attire featuring the flag’s design, such as T-shirts and belt buckles.

“We never want to offend anyone with the products that we offer. We have taken steps to remove all items promoting the confederate flag from our assortment — whether in our stores or on our web site,” said Walmart spokesman Brian Nick. “We have a process in place to help lead us to the right decisions when it comes to the merchandise we sell. Still, at times, items make their way into our assortment improperly — this is one of those instances.”

Walmart’s statement came in response to a CNN inquiry Monday. In addition to Walmart, CNN asked Amazon and eBay whether they would remove Confederate flag merchandise from their sites. Neither company responded to repeated requests for comment.

The long-running debate over displaying the Confederate flag on government buildings took a swift turn after last week’s massacre in Charleston, which left nine African-Americans dead in their church. The shooter, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, has confessed to the murders and has said he wanted to instigate a “race war.”

One widely circulated photo of the shooter holding a gun and a Confederate flag has stirred intense outrage. Critics of the flag quickly called on South Carolina to take down what is widely viewed as a symbol of racism.

Amazon.com lists pages of Confederate flag-related merchandise, ranging from the flag itself to folding knives, T-shirts, blankets and even shower curtains.

eBay also carries the Confederate flag and accessories such as handbags and jewelry. The online auction site’s “offensive material policy” bans the sale of items that “promote hatred or racial supremacy including historic and current items.”

Haley on Monday declared it was time to remove the flag from the capitol grounds.

“This flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state,” the second-term governor said, in an announcement that drew thunderous applause and cheers.

Haley was surrounded by many of the state’s elected officials, including Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn and Republican Rep. Mark Sanford.

Many of the 2016 GOP presidential candidates and likely candidates — including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — voiced their support for Haley’s decision following her speech.

Charleston, South Carolina