A Republican state senator in Michigan apologized for wearing a homemade mask that resembled the Confederate battle flag on the Senate floor on Friday.
“I’m sorry for my choice of pattern on the face mask I wore yesterday,” the senator, Dale Zorn, said in a statement released on Saturday, adding that he did not intend to offend anyone.
“However, I realize that I did, and for that I am sorry,” he said. “My actions were an error in judgment for which there are no excuses and I will learn from this episode.”
The senator said he told his wife, who made the mask, that it “probably will raise some eyebrows,” but he initially told WLNS-TV on Friday that it was not a Confederate flag.
He said his wife told him that the mask’s pattern was “more similar to” the state flags of Kentucky or Tennessee. The mask he wore, however, appeared to have more in common with the Confederate battle flag, which is all red and features a blue “X” with white stars inside it drawn across the flag.
Mr. Zorn, who could not be reached on Sunday, told WLNS that the history of the Confederate battle flag should be taught in schools.
“It’s something we can’t just throw away because it is part of our history,” he said. “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.”
He said the mask he wore on the Senate floor was not made of “flag material.”
In an interview with the television station, he wore a manufactured mask, saying he switched what he was wearing because “I didn’t want my actions to cause a negative effect to the institution,” alluding to the State Senate.
Michigan abolished slavery and was admitted to the Union in 1837. Detroit became a stop on the Underground Railroad, a clandestine route for slaves fleeing to the North to be free.
Embracing the Confederate battle flag can signal support for white supremacy or states’ rights, Jenna Bednar, a political-science professor at the University of Michigan, said on Sunday.
“I have no idea what it means to him,” she said, referring to the senator.
Professor Bednar said he could have worn the mask in support of states’ rights after President Trump criticized Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan for imposing strict stay-at-home directives during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Let’s say he wanted to talk about states’ rights; this is a very interesting moment,” she said, adding that while she does show her students images of the Confederate battle flag while teaching, it would be very different if she wore a T-shirt depicting it.
“As a university professor, I have to be very careful about how people interpret what I say, and the same is said about public service,” Professor Bednar said. “I would think that the flag of Michigan would be the more appropriate flag to wear.”
Last week, the Marine Corps banned the public display of the Confederate battle flag. Gen. David H. Berger, the commandant, said it could cause division within the Corps.
“I am mindful that many people believe that flag to be a symbol of heritage and regional pride,” he said in a letter. “But I am also mindful of the feelings of pain and rejection of those who inherited the cultural memory and present effects of the scourge of slavery in our country.”