Nikki Haley recently ignited a firestorm by defending the fine people of South Carolina who banded together after the horrific white supremacist terrorist Dylann Roof killed nine members at a black church in Charleston in 2015. Roof notoriously held the Confederate flag* in a photo with his manifesto, and Haley said he had “hijacked everything that people thought of. … People saw it as service, sacrifice, and heritage.”
Southerners have an affection for the Confederate flag that has little to do with concrete history. After all, the flag commonly referred to as “the Confederate flag” was not the official standard of the Confederacy but rather the second Confederate Naval Jack and the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia.
So where does this affection come from? The answer is both complicated and disturbing. White supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan have adopted this version of the Confederate flag, and the myth of the Lost Cause — a false version of history that valorizes the Confederacy — has also popularized the flag. It remains unclear exactly how this flag became the most recognizable Confederate symbol, but some have reasonably argued that the KKK’s influence in the 1920s played a large role.