They wandered into the crosshairs when they went to Washington on Friday to attend the annual March for Life event. Native Americans (used-to-be-called Red Indians) held an Indigenous Peoples March in Washington on the same day. The students and the Native Americans ended up in the same place at the same time. Video footage of the encounter hit the internet.
The short version came out initially shows the students seemed to be blocking the activists and mocking them. But the long version coming out later clearly shows that the Indian activists were the ones approaching the young students and trying to intimidate the teenagers, especially Nick Sandman in MAGA cap, by loudly drumming right near his face. The whole scene was the deliberate confrontation by one Indian activist who could even be same age as Nick Sandman’s grandfather.
Nonetheless, of the facts, the students are now branded as racists, monsters, and exemplars of toxic masculinity. Covington Catholic High School is being described as “a school where casual racism, sexism, and bullying is rampant“.
What do we know?
What we know is limited, but the outrage is fierce. Why? Is the evidence of their racist hatred perfectly unambiguous? No. According to an AP story, “Marcus Frejo, a member of the Pawnee and Seminole tribes who is also known as Chief Quese Imc, said he had been a part of the march and was among a small group of people remaining after the rally” when the students began shouting slogans.
Although he feared a mob mentality that could turn ugly, Frejo said he was at peace singing among the scorn and he briefly felt something special happen as they repeatedly sang the tune. They went from mocking us and laughing at us to singing with us. I heard it three times,’ Frejo said. ‘That spirit moved through us, that drum, and it slowly started to move through some of those youths. Eventually a calm fell over the group of students and they broke up and walked away.”
Frejo’s account doesn’t paint the students as choirboys, but neither does it cast them as racist monsters. Nathan Phillips, the Native elder prominent in the videos, has been widely quoted on the incident.
“It was getting ugly, and I was thinking: ‘I’ve got to find myself an exit out of this situation and finish my song at the Lincoln Memorial,’” he told the Washington Post. “I started going that way, and that guy in the hat stood in my way and we were at an impasse. He just blocked my way and wouldn’t allow me to retreat.”
His account to the Post emphasized his fear when he was suddenly surrounded by jeering Covington students. Video shows that his account was inaccurate, and Phillips changed it when he spoke to the Detroit Free Press.
“They were in the process of attacking these four black individuals,” Phillip said. “I was there and I was witnessing all of this … As this kept on going on and escalating, it just got to a point where you do something or you walk away, you know? You see something that is wrong and you’re faced with that choice of right or wrong. “
Phillips said some of the members of the Black Hebrew group were also acting up, “saying some harsh things” and that one member spit in the direction of the Catholic students. “So I put myself in between that, between a rock and hard place,” he said.
The students have had less to say, but one sent an email message to WKRC, a Cincinnati station, claiming,
“We decided to do some cheers to pass time. In the midst of our cheers, we were approached by a group of adults led by Nathan Phillips, with Phillips beating his drum. They forced their way into the center of our group. We initially thought this was a cultural display since he was beating along to our cheers and so we clapped to the beat. He came to stand in front of one of my classmates who stood where he was, smiling and enjoying the experience.
However, after multiple minutes of Mr. Phillips beating his drum directly in the face of my friend (mere centimeters from his nose), we became confused and started wondering what was happening. It was not until later that we discovered they would incriminate us as a publicity stunt.
As a result, my friend faces expulsion for simply standing still and our entire school is being disparaged for a crime we did not commit.”
It’s clear from the videos and most accounts that the students did not behave like mature adults; when an adult marches up to you and bangs a drum in your face, the mature, Christian response is to walk away.
They did not consider the full impact of their behavior, and thus allowed themselves to be trolled. They displayed no media or political savvy. It is not clear that their behavior was unusually heinous, or even normally heinous.
Rushing to judgment
For adults to pile on teens is grossly unfair; it is bullying. The kid whose “smirking face” is being so widely condemned may be an obnoxious little toad. He might be a normal teen. (But that’s redundant.) Whether he deserves an outpouring of hate is unclear.
Before rushing to judgment against the teen, we should stop, take a breath, and remember that the evidence never speaks for itself. Pictures and video images have to be interpreted, and the police and courts get these things wrong all the time.
We’re primed for outrage, every time, all the time. When we’re wrong, we rarely go back and say, “sorry”. When we do, damage remains. Kids are resilient, but they should not be targets of public outrage, especially when that outrage is spun overnight from a video.
Statement from Nick Sandmann
The following letter comes from student Nick Sandmann from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky, explaining the incident. “I am providing this factual account of what happened on Friday afternoon at the Lincoln Memorial to correct misinformation and outright lies being spread about my family and me,” Sandmann wrote in the letter.
In the letter Sandmann wrote that he was “singled out” and approached by the Native American man, who has been identified as Nathan Phillips, an Omaha elder.
“The protestor everyone has seen in the video began playing his drum as he waded into the crowd, which parted for him,” Sandmann wrote. “I did not see anyone try to block his path. He locked eyes with me and approached me, coming within inches of my face. He played his drum the entire time he was in my face.”
“I never interacted with this protester,” he continued. “I did not speak to him. To be honest, I was startled and confused as to why he had approached me. We had already been yelled at by another group of protestors.”
Many media outlets reported that: “Boys in ‘Make America Great Again’ Hats Mob Native Elder at Indigenous Peoples March,” the New York Times ran a headline that said “a throng of cheering and jeering high school boys” were “surrounding a Native American elder.”
64-year-old Native American Nathan Phillips said that he felt threatened by the teens and that they swarmed around him -chanted “build the wall” – as he and other activists were preparing to leave the march. This is a lie. They didn’t swarm around him at. In-fact, as video evidence proves, HE strolled right into the middle of their group:
So why didn’t he just take that route? Phillips told the Free Press the Covington kids “were in the process of attacking these four black individuals. I was there and I was witnessing all of this. As this kept on going on and escalating, it just got to a point where you do something or you walk away, you know? You see something that is wrong and you’re faced with that choice of right or wrong.”
More evidence proves in a nearly two-hour video of the incident in which a group of about five black individuals from the Black Hebrew Israelites shout abuse at the kids and Trump supporters near the Lincoln Memorial.
“You believe in a fucking child molester,” they shout. “The Purge is coming.” “Christ is coming back to kick your cracker asses.” Etc. One youth, apparently part of the Covington group, takes off his shirt, leads the group in what looks like a choreographed school cheer (this is consistent with the account one student provided to WKRC TV in Cincinnati), everyone joins in, then most of them sit down or take a knee at about the 1:12 mark.
At that point Nathan Phillips emerges from the crowd banging his drum and walks up to the kids with his drum. The kids get up and start dancing and jumping again. Phillips then moves the drum even closer to Nick Sandmann’s face, so it’s just a few inches from his ears, and keeps banging away for several more minutes.
As countless videos show the Covington kids did not chant “build the wall,” much less “attack” black people as Phillips says. What videos do show is Phillps friend telling the kids to go back to Europe.
Phillips has on other occasions gotten himself into what he claims was a racist altercation with another group of youths. This one happened four years ago, also involved him approaching others, in this case a group of college students. (“Why did Phillips go over to the fence? Why not just walk away?” wondered a reporter. “For me just to walk by and have a blind eye to it,” Phillips said. “Something just didn’t allow me to do it.”)
The point is Phillips (the veteran Red Indian activist) has fooled everyone into accepting his false version of what happened that day. And the media were all too happy to play along.
Nathan Phillips, a Native American activist who had approached a group of Covington High School students and later claimed that they had blocked him, has a criminal record including assault and escape from jail, according to a report in the Washington Examiner.
The Examiner reported: Phillips, 63, suggested high school junior Nick Sandmann, the teenager at the center of the viral encounter after separate D.C. rallies, face expulsion for failing to “accept any responsibility” or apologize to Phillips publicly.
In his own teenage years and early 20s, Phillips, using his adoptive name Nathaniel R. Stanard, was charged with escaping from prison, assault, and several alcohol-related crimes, according to local news reports at the time from his hometown of Lincoln, Neb.
The report said at age 19, Phillips was “charged with escaping from the Nebraska Penal Complex where he was confined May 3,” according to a May 9, 1974, article in the Lincoln Star. The court approved a bond of $500 and set a preliminary hearing for May 14, according to the article.
Phillips then pleaded guilty to assault on June 19, 1974, and was fined $200, according to the report. He was also charged with underage possession of alcohol in 1972, 1973, and 1975, as well as negligent driving, the report said.
Phillips’ background became the subject of interest, after journalists and pundits repeatedly mentioned he was a “Vietnam veteran” despite having served in the military at a time when combat troops were coming home from the war. Phillips had said he served in the Marine Corps from 1972 to 1976, and that he was a “recon ranger.”
Columnist Phil Kerpen discovered a video where Phillips said on January 3, 2018: “I’m a Vietnam vet. You know, I served in Marine Corps ’72 to ’76, you know. Uh, one of the — I got honorable discharge, and one of the boxes in there, it shows that it was peacetime or what my box says is that I was in theater. I don’t talk much about my Vietnam times,” he said on video.
Retired Navy SEAL Don Shipley, who is known for his work on stolen valor, said he got a hold of Phillips’ military records, which showed that he was never deployed outside of the United States, and that his job was as a refrigerator mechanic. The record also showed that he went Absent Without Leave (AWOL) three times, according to Shipley.
Despite Phillips’ criminal record, he criticized the Covington Catholic high school teens for their behavior. “When we see our youth going the wrong way, we will go up and say, ‘You are doing the wrong thing there nephew, or grandson,'” he told Rewire News on Sunday. “This is just the wrong way. I tell them, ‘This is the way you have to behave. This is wrong, this is right. You gotta do it a certain way. We have protocols.’”
Phillips also told CNN on Saturday, after the encounter with the students on Friday that they looked like were going to “lynch” a group of black protesters, who were later identified as Black Hebrew Israelites that were harassing the students.
“Here are American youth who are ready to, look like, lynch these guys. To be honest, they looked like they were going to lynch them. They were in this mob mentality. Where were their parents? Because they were obvious a student group,” Phillips said.
He also said Sandmann had “put himself in front” of him, according to CNN’s transcript. “This young fellow put himself in front of me and wouldn’t move. If I took another step, I would be putting my person into his presence, into his space and I would’ve touched him and that would’ve been the thing that the group of people would’ve needed to spring on me,” he told CNN.
Donald Trump tweeted: “Nick Sandmann and the students of Covington have become symbols of Fake News and how evil it can be. They have captivated the attention of the world, and I know they will use it for the good - maybe even to bring people together. It started off unpleasant, but can end in a dream!”