During last Friday’s March For Life rally in Washington, D.C., a confrontation was captured on video between a rowdy group of students from Kentucky’s Covington Catholic High School and a Native-American protester named Nathan Phillips. The enduring image of the fracas will be that of a student named Nick Sandmann, wearing a “Make America Great Again” standing face-to-face with Phillips, who was resolutely playing a hand drum. In a widely circulated clip, Phillips was taunted by the teens, but on Sunday Sandmann released a statement alleging otherwise while directing people to other clips of the incident, which showed a small group of Black Israelite protesters yelling obscenities at the students. The media ate it up, walking back previous headlines in deference to the narrative put forth by Sandmann. Debate around the confrontation raged throughout the weekend, and on Monday night President
Trump came to the defense of the teens, many of which, like Sandmann, were dressed in #MAGA garb.
Looking like Nick Sandman & Covington Catholic students were treated unfairly with early judgements proving out to be false – smeared by media. Not good, but making big comeback! “New footage shows that media was wrong about teen’s encounter with Native American” @TuckerCarlson
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 22, 2019
Trump raised the issue again on Tuesday morning, writing that Sandmann and his peers are victims of “Fake News and how evil it can be.” Perhaps inspired by his two-minute visit to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial the previous day, the president added that Sandmann and his colleagues can use the world’s attention to “bring people together” and that though “it started off unpleasant,” it can “end in a dream!”
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 22, 2019
In his statement, Sandmann writes that he and his fellow students were sightseeing at the Lincoln Memorial when they were accosted by a group of black supremacist protesters. Sandmann claims the students responded with “school spirit chants,” after which Phillips and other Native-American protesters approached the group, with Phillips “wading” into the crowd with his drum. Sandmann writes that Phillips locked eyes with him, approached him and began playing his drum “within inches of my face.” Sandmann says that he was “startled and confused” and only attempting to “diffuse the situation” by standing his ground and smiling at Phillips. He continued to detail a belief that he and his classmates were victims. Additional videos confirm Sandmann’s claim that African-American protesters yelled a series of vile invectives at the students. They had also been harassing the Native-American protesters.
Phillips has admitted that he attempted to intervene between the students and the African-American protesters, but has disputed Sandmann’s account, as have other videos of the incident showing Covington students circled around Phillips, who said he felt threatened. “It was getting ugly,” Phillips, a former Marine, told the Washington Post. “I was thinking: ‘I’ve got to find myself an exit out of this situation and finish my song at the Lincoln Memorial.’ 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.”
This @robbysoave is wrong: "white, MAGA-hat-wearing male teenagers remained relatively calm & restrained." Maybe ripping off a shirt, jeering, mocking native music, & doing a tomahawk motion is restrained on Planet White Power. But staring a man down is still aggressive on Earth.
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) January 21, 2019
The confusion around what exactly happened seems to have obscured the video footage that does indeed show a bunch of teens in #MAGA gear aggressively mocking a Native American. Right-wing media has used the additional footage to paint the students as victims of a Fake News conspiracy to mischaracterize the confrontation. Sandmann’s statement has been embraced as gospel, while clear video evidence of the teens harassing Phillips has been ignored. Trump and the conservative media’s willingness to give the students the benefit of the doubt — even when no doubt exists — might also have something to do with the students being predominantly white.
I just want to know how, I mean truly, HOW, do we get people to imagine the vulnerability and worry for the futures and families of human beings who are NOT young white men? How can others come to be understood as fully human?
— Rebecca Traister (@rtraister) January 22, 2019
Imagine if people were ever this concerned about young men of color, ever this accommodating, ever this expansive in allowing them humanity.
— roxane gay (@rgay) January 22, 2019
In a normal world, one might hope that the Covington students would live to regret their behavior, that they could, with time, remove themselves from the mob mentality that led to the confrontation and understand their cruelty. But this is not a normal world; this is Trump’s America, and the president of the United States is not only failing to condemn their actions; he’s publicly endorsing them.
Sandmann will continue to tell his side of the story when he sits down with Savannah Guthrie of the Today show Wednesday morning.