The mother of bullied US schoolboy, Keaton Jones, has said the family is “not racist” and that pictures of them posing with the Confederate flag were “ironic”.
Kimberley Jones apologised for the photos, which emerged after a video of her 11-year-old son crying after being bullied went viral and was viewed over 22 million times on Facebook.
The video clip prompted messages of support from a host of celebrities such as Avengers actor Chris Evans, rapper Snoop Dogg and singer Justin Bieber.
However the family faced a backlash after the photos of them brandishing the controversial flag surfaced online on Monday.
Today Ms Jones went on the Good Morning America show to address her son’s meteoric rise to internet fame and the controversy surrounding the Tennessee family.
She said: “We’re not racist, people who know us know that. It was meant to be ironic and funny and extreme. I am genuinely, truly sorry. If I could take it back, I would.
“If they want to hate me or whatever, that’s fine, but still, talk to your kids, talk to your kids, because this is an epidemic.”
The use of the Confederate flag is a contentious issue in the US, seen by critics as a reminder of slavery and racial oppression dating back to the American Civil War.
Keaton Jones became a cause celebre in the US over the weekend when his mother posted a clip of him sobbing after she had picked him up from school following an alleged bullying incident.
In the footage, Keaton asks: “Just out of curiosity, why do they bully? What is the point of it? Why do you find joy in taking innocent people and finding a way to be mean to them? It is not okay.”
The schoolboy goes on to say his tormentors made fun of his nose, called him ugly and told him he had no friends.
A representative for Horace Maynard Middle School in Union County, Tennesse, which Keaten attends, confirmed there had been a bullying incident.
James Carter, the director of Union County Public Schools, said: “To fulfill our mission of educating all children in Union County Public Schools, we must provide an academic environment that is safe, civil and supportive.
“We do not and will not tolerate bullying and have a policy in place that addresses conduct taking place on school grounds, at any school-sponsored activity, on school-provided transportation or at any official school bus stop.”
The video, which was posted on Friday, started to be shared widely on social media over the weekend and by Monday a growing number of stars had posted about Keaton and offered to meet him and his family.
Stay strong, Keaton. Don’t let them make you turn cold. I promise it gets better. While those punks at your school are deciding what kind of people they want to be in this world, how would you and your mom like to come to the Avengers premiere in LA next year? https://t.co/s1QwCQ3toi— Chris Evans (@ChrisEvans) December 10, 2017
Among them was Captain America actor Evans, who invited the family to the premiere of his Avengers film next year, and Snoop Dogg, who also offered to meet, adding he would be a friend to the schoolboy “for life”.
Other celebrities to offer support were popstars Katy Perry, Justin Bieber and Demi Lovato, as well as Star Wars actor Mark Hamill and Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot.
As the video spread a GoFundMe page was also set up for the family, which had raised $60,000 (£45,000) by Monday.
Joseph Lam, from New Jersey, created the page saying he was “really touched” by Keaton’s video and “felt compelled to help”.
However Mr Lam has since ceased donations on the page in the wake of the Confederate flag controversy and it is currently unclear what will happen with the money raised. GoFundMe told The Telegraph it was working to establish who the money will go to.