Early reports describing Native American protester Nathan Phillips as a “Vietnam veteran” have since received updates clarifying that Phillips described himself as a “Vietnam-era vet”; he was not deployed in the conflict, as it would have been impossible due to the years of his service. But newly surfaced video shows Phillips unequivocally describing himself as a Vietnam veteran, and even adding that his honorable discharge papers prove that he was “in theater.”
In the video noted by Twitchy, Phillips discusses his military service in a Facebook Live video from 2018.
“I’m a Vietnam Vet. You know, I served in Marine Corps ’72 to ’76,” says Phillips. “I got discharged May 5, 1976. I got honorable discharge and one of the boxes shows peacetime or, what my box says is that I was ‘in theater.’ I don’t talk much about my Vietnam times.”
In his interviews with outlets about the viral video of his encounter with the Covington Catholic teens, Phillips portrayed the high school boys as aggressors, even going so far as to describe them as acting like “beasts” and a “mob” that was ready to “lynch” minorities, whom he described as their “prey.” He also claimed that the boys chanted “Build the Wall.” However, video evidence that quickly emerged after the initial video went viral showed that rather than being the aggressors who harassed minority activists, as Philips claimed, the boys were the one who were harassed by the radical group Black Hebrew Israelites, which has been designated a “hate group” by SPLC. The evidence also reveals that the boys did not in fact chant “Build the Wall.” The only offensive recorded actions of any of the boys was a few briefly doing a tomahawk chop in response to Phillips’ initially confusing “protest,” which included banging his drum in the face of one high school junior, Nick Sandmann.
It remains to be seen if the newly surfaced footage prompts media outlets and fact-check sites to (again) update their stories. Here’s how fact-checking site Snopes covered the claim (formatting adjusted):
Claim: Nathan Phillips falsely claimed to be a U.S. military veteran who served in the Vietnam War.
What’s True: Native American activist Nathan Phillips said he served in the U.S. Marines and told news outlets that he was a “Vietnam-times” or “Vietnam-era” veteran.
What’s False: Nathan Phillips was not deployed to Vietnam at any time during his military service, contrary to what multiple news reports initially stated.
Origin: As a video showing an altercation between Nathan Phillips, a Native American activist, and a group of students from Covington Catholic school wearing Trump-slogan “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) hats went viral in January 2019, a number of news outlets published articles identifying Phillips as a “Vietnam Veteran” or a “veteran of the Vietnam War.”
Some news sites, though, such as the Washington Times, noted that this label was improbable due to Phillips’ age and reported years of service:
“Native American activist Nathan Phillips faces questions about reports that he’s a veteran of the Vietnam war,” The Washington Times reported. “According to multiple news accounts, the activist is 64 years old, which means he would have been 18 years old in 1973, the last year any U.S. combat units were stationed in Vietnam. Mr. Phillips also claims to be a Marine veteran, although the last Marine combat units left Vietnam in 1971.”
But Snopes underscores that while several outlets did incorrectly label him as a “Vietnam veteran,” “that label did not, as far as we can tell, originate with Phillips himself”:
The Native American activist told reporters in January 2019 that he was a “Vietnam-times” or “Vietnam-era” veteran, meaning that he was an active member of the armed services during the time of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. Phillips did not, however, claim in any interview we’ve yet found that he had been deployed to Vietnam during that period.
Snopes’ report goes on to provide the updates from various outlets (formatting adjusted):
Washington Post: Correction: Earlier versions of this story incorrectly said that Native American activist Nathan Phillips fought in the Vietnam War. Phillips said he served in the U.S. Marines but was never deployed to Vietnam.
New York Times: Correction: Jan. 22, 2019(.) An earlier version of this article, using information from the Indigenous Peoples Movement, gave an incorrect description of Mr. Phillips’s military service. While Mr. Phillips said he served in the military during the Vietnam era, he told The Times after publication that he was not deployed in Vietnam. The Times has requested his service record from the Pentagon.
CNN Correction: This video states that Nathan Phillips is a Vietnam veteran. Phillips told CNN he is a “Vietnam-era veteran.” Phillips told the New York Times that though he did serve in the military during the Vietnam War, he was not deployed to Vietnam. CNN requested his service records from the Pentagon but was told those records are part of an archive not easily accessible during the government shutdown.
The fact-checker notes that some of the initial confusion about his military service was Phillips’ own statements, once being misquoted by CNN as saying “Vietnam veteran” when he in fact said “Vietnam-times veteran,” but another time perhaps saying simply “Vietnam veteran” (video evidence doesn’t exist to check the transcript’s accuracy).
Snopes notes that Phillips’ official service records “have not yet been made available, we cannot verify when and where he might have served.”