A video of teens reportedly mocking a Native American man circulated on social media over the weekend, but many people have only heard one side of the story.
Various pieces of footage were taken at the Indigenous Peoples March in Washington D.C. on Friday (January 18), but the one which made headlines showed a smiling teenage boy, wearing a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat, standing in front of a Native American war veteran who was playing a drum and chanting a healing prayer.
Other students, who were all from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky, could be seen laughing in the background.
On the day the video was taken the students were attending an anti-abortion rally, which happened to coincide with the Indigenous Peoples March. After an afternoon of sightseeing the students were told to meet at the Lincoln Memorial, where they ran into other activists.
Take a look at the video here:
According to university student Kaya Taitano, who attended the Indigenous Peoples March and filmed the video, the older man, Nathan Phillips, began his chanting to diffuse a heated argument which had started between the teenagers and four African-Americans who had been preaching about the Bible nearby.
Speaking to CNN, Kaya explained Nathan had moved through the crowd while he was performing until he came face to face with the boy in the video.
This one kid just refused to move and he just got in Nathan’s face.
They just surrounded him and they were mocking him and mocking the chant. We really didn’t know what was going to happen there.
In another video, Nathan claimed the students had been saying things like ‘build that wall’:
While it does look like the students are mocking Nathan in the clip, a new video surfaced on Sunday which shed light on what happened before and after Kaya’s footage was taken.
The longer video shows a group of four men, who CNN report identify as members of the Hebrew Israelites, preaching about Jesus before taunting the Covington High School students with vulgar language, mocking their MAGA hats and making racist remarks.
Here is the footage:
Nick Sandmann, the teenager in the viral video, told his side of the story in a statement obtained by CNN, where he explained he and fellow students started chanting school spirit songs in order to drown out insults made by the four Hebrew Israelite men.
His statement explained:
We noticed four African-American protestors who were also on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I am not sure what they were protesting, and I did not interact with them. I did hear them direct derogatory insults at our school group.
The protestors said hateful things. They called us “racists,” “bigots,” “white crackers,” “f**gots,” and “incest kids.” They also taunted an African-American student from my school by telling him that we would “harvest his organs.” I have no idea what that insult means, but it was startling to hear.
The statement continued:
Because we were being loudly attacked and taunted in public, a student in our group asked one of our teacher chaperones for permission to begin our school spirit chants to counter the hateful things that were being shouted at our group. The chants are commonly used at sporting events.
They are all positive in nature and sound like what you would hear at any high school. Our chaperone gave us permission to use our school chants. We would not have done that without obtaining permission from the adults in charge of our group.
At no time did I hear any student chant anything other than the school spirit chants. I did not witness or hear any students chant “build that wall” or anything hateful or racist at any time.
Contrary to Kaya’s claims that Nick ‘refused to move’ and ‘got in Nathan’s face’, Nick said his group was approached by Native American protestors, one of whom was Nathan.
In the longer video, a clip of which is below, it is clear Nathan approached the teenagers:
Here is a video clearly showing that Nathan Phillips approached the students. On the basis of the evidence we now have, I believe that people who issued categorical and one-sided condemnations of the students should retract and apologize. pic.twitter.com/GxmXcMuQgC
— Matthew Schmitz (@matthewschmitz) January 20, 2019
Nick’s statement continued:
The protestor everyone has seen in the video began playing his drum as he waded into the crowd, which parted for him. 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 protestor. I did not speak to him. I did not make any hand gestures or other aggressive moves. 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, and when the second group approached I was worried that a situation was getting out of control where adults were attempting to provoke teenagers.
I believed that by remaining motionless and calm, I was helping to diffuse the situation.
The teenagers were eventually called away from the scene as buses arrived to take them home from the trip.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington, which encompasses Covington Catholic High School, is investigating the situation further.
A statement from the Diocese read:
We condemn the actions of the Covington Catholic High School students towards Nathan Phillips specifically, and Native Americans in general, Jan. 18, after the March for Life, in Washington, D.C.
We extend our deepest apologies to Mr. Phillips. This behavior is opposed to the Church’s teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person.
The matter is being investigated and we will take appropriate action, up to and including expulsion.
We know this incident also has tainted the entire witness of the March for Life and express our most sincere apologies to all those who attended the March and all those who support the pro-life movement.
While both Kaya and Nick’s version of events suggest Nathan was trying to diffuse the heated situation which had arisen, it’s unclear from footage whether the Native American directly approached Nick, or whether the student simply refused to move.
It seems the veteran was attempting to divert attention to himself and his chant rather than leaving the argument between the Hebrew Israelites and the students to develop unchecked, but his involvement may have sparked unintended and bigger repercussions through videos that were eventually shared on social media without full context.
Still, he had every right to make the effort to calm whatever situation was brewing and voice his healing prayer.
As for the students and the Hebrew Israelites, it’s all too easy to take sides and place blame depending on whose beliefs you support, but the fact of the matter is that everyone is free to protest.
There’s no doubt MAGA hats are loaded with negative implications but does that give people the right to shout unfounded insults like the ones alleged in this incident considering they were at an anti-abortion rally?
Somewhere in the past few years, the art of debate has been lost and replaced with a toxic cocktail of misinformation and polarisation. Shouting insults, disrespecting peaceful veterans and assigning blame without full knowledge of the facts isn’t going to move society forward or bring any of us closer together. All it does is entrench people in their beliefs rather than encourage meaningful discussion and education.
As each day goes by it becomes harder, but we have to believe we can be better than this. Confirmation bias can be overcome, but it requires all sides of a debate to favour objectivity over confrontation.
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Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.