Is that facemask a Confederate flag? Photo via WLNS.
Is that facemask a Confederate flag? Photo via WLNS.

A Republican state senator is in the spotlight for his strange attempt to justify — and later apologize for — a face mask that he said wasn’t the Confederate flag. Decide for yourself.

IDA, MI—A Republican representing a southeast Michigan community in the state Senate apologized over the weekend for wearing a facemask on the Senate floor that appeared to have an uncanny resemblance to the Confederate flag. 

The senator initially denied it was a Confederate flag, but knew it “would raise the eyebrows”, he told WLNS. And even if it had been a Confederate flag, he argued, that flag is a part of America’s history. 

“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,” said Sen. Dale Zorn to WLNS. “And if we want to make sure that the atrocities that happened during that time doesn’t happen again, we should be teaching it. Our kids should know what that flag stands for.”

When asked what it was that flag stood for, Zorn said “the Confederacy.”

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Zorn originally stated the pattern of the facemask was supposed to resemble either the Kentucky or Tennessee flag, to which it bears little resemblance, though the flag of Mississippi does contain a Confederate symbol as part of its design. 

Later in the weekend, Zorn issued a more formal apology.

 “I did not intend to offend anyone; however, I realize that I did, and for that I am sorry,” said Sen. Dale Zorn in a tweet. “Those who know me best know that I do not support the things this pattern represents. My actions were an error in judgment for which there are no excuses and I will learn from this episode.”

“As a black man, as the first black Lt. Governor in the history of the state of Michigan, as the first black person to preside over the Michigan Senate, it was appalling and disgusting to see a Confederate flag chosen as the face mask of a sitting state senator,” Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist told MSNBC’s Al Sharpton. “To openly choose to wear a symbol of bigotry, hatred, oppression, racism in this moment when people need to come together in the state of Michigan and across the country is reprehensible and unacceptable.”

Zorn’s action notably came after protesters against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s coronavirus protections waved the Confederate flag in front of the capitol building in Lansing. As The ‘Gander reported, those protesters drew harsh criticism for bringing such a symbol to a rally ostensibly about public health and economic policy. Protesters also carried assault rifles and pro-Truimp messaging, which caused commentators to describe the event as a generic pro-Trump rally. 

“To see those Confederate flags and swastikas in the capitol last week shows you what this was really all about,” said Gilchrist. “This was about politics. This was about partisanship. That was a Trump rally. People were there brandishing automatic weapons.”

Interestingly, both Zorn’s mask and those protesters were in and around a building with a statue of former Michigan Gov. Austin Blair on its lawn. Blair was an ardent abolitionist and served as Michigan’s governor during the Civil War, where Michigan fought the Confederacy. 

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Zorn has voted to do what protesters have wanted: repeal the powers that Michigan governors like Whitmer or Blair have used in their respective times of crisis to help safeguard their states because of conservative political criticism of Gov. Whitmer’s use of those powers. It is important to note, however, that Whitmer’s actions have been extremely popular with most Michiganders. The Republican legislature intends to tighten restrictions on those powers despite Whitmer’s loosening of some protections Friday. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.