WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — President Trump defended a tweet Monday that criticized NASCAR’s decision to ban the Confederate flag and accused African American race car driver Bubba Wallace, without evidence, of participating in a “hoax” after a rope shaped like a noose was found in Wallace’s garage at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama.

“My stance is very simple it’s freedom of speech,” Trump told Jessi Turnure, a reporter for the Nexstar Washington, D.C. Bureau. “You do what you do, it’s freedom of speech. NASCAR can do whatever they want, and they’ve chosen to go a certain way other people choose to go a different route, but it’s freedom of speech.”

Trump tweeted Monday:

“Has @BubbaWallace apologized to all of those great NASCAR drivers & officials who came to his aid, stood by his side, & were willing to sacrifice everything for him, only to find out that the whole thing was just another HOAX? That & Flag decision has caused lowest ratings EVER!”

The FBI determined the noose had been hanging at the track since at least October of 2019, and was thus not a hate crime. The rope found in Wallace’s garage was the only noose-shaped pull found in 1,684 stalls at NASCAR tracks, and was initially discovered by Wallace’s crew, not the driver himself.

Photo depicts noose-shaped pull rope found in NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace’s garage at the Talladega Superspeedway (NASCAR)

When asked why Trump thought Wallace should apologize, Press Secretary Kaleigh McEnany said at a Monday press conference, “Well look the FBI … concluded that this was not a hate crime, and (President Trump) believes it would go a long way if Bubba came out and acknowledged that as well.”

Trump said he didn’t think his tweet Monday was “critical,” adding, “I’m very friendly with NASCAR, I know the people there, I know drivers, I know a lot of them. But I view it as freedom of speech.”

Bubba Wallace issued a statement on Twitter to his fans after the president’s tweet:

Always deal with the hate being thrown at you with LOVE! Love over hate every day. Love should come naturally as people are TAUGHT to hate. Even when it’s HATE from the POTUS .. Love wins.”

McEnany also defended Trump’s comment about the NASCAR Confederate flag ban saying, “The president said he wasn’t making a judgement one way or the other.”

Turnure also asked Trump about the reported possibility of the NFL playing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also referred to as the Black national anthem, before every team’s first game of the season.

“Well that’s going to be up to them,” Trump said. “But when you say the Black national anthem, I know we’re playing the national anthem, and I think people should stand proudly for the national anthem.”