On Saturday, a video went viral, seemingly showing a group of Catholic high school students confronting and harassing a Native American protester who appeared to be peacefully playing a drum, but by Saturday night it was clear the confrontation wasn’t the end of the story.
The three-minute video was posted online by a group of Native American protesters who claimed they were harassed and intimidated by a group of Covington Catholic High School students waiting for their bus near the Lincoln Memorial. The video is heavily clipped at the beginning and end, and shows only an apparent “confrontation” between a protester named Nathan Phillips and a Make America Great Again-hat wearing teen.
Phillips also did an interview with The Washington Post, where he accused the teens of harassing and intimidating him, and claimed the scene grew “ugly.”
“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,’” Phillips told the paper. “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.”
He and others accused the teens of chanting “build the wall” and hurling racial epithets at the group of Native Americans. Phillips said that the MAGA-hat wearing student closest to him taunted him — an assessment that was immediately adopted by most commentators, who compared the student to a white student taunting black customers at a Civil Rights lunch counter, and in some cases, even threatened the student outright.
Honest question. Have you ever seen a more punchable face than this kid’s? pic.twitter.com/jolQ7BZQPD
— Reza Aslan (@rezaaslan) January 20, 2019
The video and interview also drew widespread condemnation, not just from social justice warriors, but also from conservatives and March for Life attendees who took the video at face value — a decision that, by late Saturday, appeared to have been a major mistake.
Saturday night, a two-hour long, full video of the confrontation became widely available on social media, and that video shows a very different interaction than the one initially portrayed. The video, taken from the point of view of a second group of protesters who witnessed the interaction, shows that Phillips approached the teens — not the other way around, as Phillips claims — and that the teens were relatively peaceful during the incident, laughing and clapping along with Phillips’ drumming, and occasionally asking questions like, “what is going on here?”
We now have a 2 hour raw recording of the MAGA kids incident.
We can see
No chanting “build the wall” as far as I saw
Native group approaches about an hour after the kids were already there
“Black Activists” are Black Hebrew Israelites yelling Fagg**https://t.co/WmHAmsYOH8
— Tim Pool (@Timcast) January 20, 2019
The video also seems to show that the Covington High School kids were the victims of racial slurs: the group that recorded the video, a group called Black Hebrew Israelites, called the students “fa***ts,” Reason’s Robby Soave — who has done one of the most comprehensive investigations on the incident — reports.
“Far from engaging in racially motivated harassment, the group of mostly white, MAGA-hat-wearing male teenagers remained relatively calm and restrained despite being subjected to incessant racist, homophobic, and bigoted verbal abuse by members of the bizarre religious sect Black Hebrew Israelites, who were lurking nearby,” Soave reports.
The kids rejected the homophobic chants and began to sing a school song, possibly to drown out the Black Hebrew Israelites.
It was at that point that the Native American protest descended. According to Phillips, it was to protect the Black Hebrew Israelites.
“There was that moment when I realized I’ve put myself between beast and prey,” Phillips told the Detroit Free Press. “These young men were beastly and these old black individuals was their prey, and I stood in between them and so they needed their pounds of flesh and they were looking at me for that.”
“Phillips put himself between the teens and the black nationalists, chanting and drumming as he marched straight into the middle of the group of young people. What followed was several minutes of confusion: The teens couldn’t quite decide whether Phillips was on their side or not, but tentatively joined in his chanting. It’s not at all clear this was intended as an act of mockery rather than solidarity,” Soave continues.
Phillips and the students chanted together for a few minutes before the students appear to lose interest and filter away. During that time, though, Phillips claims he felt threatened, though separate videos seem to show that a handful of Native American protesters were taunting the students with racially tinged chants.
“You white people go back to Europe, this is not your land”
— Nick Monroe (@nickmon1112) January 20, 2019
Another video appears to show the student closest to Phillips gesturing to his fellow students to stand down on the protesters.
This kid, who’s life is currently being destroyed, actually gestures to his friend to show Nathan Phillips respect during his drumming! All of it happening of course with another activist is screaming to go back to Europe because all he can do is be white? #CovingtonCatholic pic.twitter.com/OaK6MX5m2S
— Rosie memos (@almostjingo) January 20, 2019
A student from Covington spoke to a local reporter and gave an account that contradict’s Phillips’ but seems to fit more closely with the video evidence.
— Adam Clements (@AClementsWKRC) January 20, 2019
“We are an all-male school that loves to get hyped up,” the student told a local Kentucky news station. “And as we have done for years prior, 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 to 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.”
The extended video also shows multiple students filming the interaction, so more video is guaranteed to appear. Phillips has continued to do interviews, smearing the students.
Late Sunday, major media organizations like the Associated Press and The New York Times finally began to call their initial stories on the incident into question.
Yesterday I had one impression of the maga kids from Kentucky. Now after seeing more videos I have a different more complicated impression. Makes all the hot takes seem silly.
— David Brooks (@nytdavidbrooks) January 20, 2019
Covington High, the students’ school, says they will complete an independent investigation and dole out punishments as they deem necessary (including expulsion, if the evidence warrants it).
UPDATE: The student pictured opposite Phillips, Nick Sandmann, has released a statement.
Just in: Statement of Nick Sandmann, Covington Catholic High School junior, about the event at the Lincoln Memorial: pic.twitter.com/PkuMh2cVZM
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) January 20, 2019
Sandmann denies that he and his friends said anything derogatory towards either the African American or Native American protesters. He also notes that he believed “remaining motionless and calm” would help diffuse the situation.