Already, a writer for The Atlantic magazine has called it the “Covington Catholic Test.”
Julie Irwin Zimmerman was referring to the reaction to the incident Friday afternoon on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. A viral video appeared to document the widespread claim that white teen boys from an all-male Catholic school in Kentucky wearing Trump shirts and “MAGA” hats mocked a Native American Vietnam war veteran. And on the very spot where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Three days before the nation marked the great civil-rights leader’s birthday, no less.
But amid the outrage, longer videos have surfaced that provide context, showing that the boys of Covington High School near Cincinnati were the targets of insults as they waited for buses to take them home, first by a group of activists known as the Black Hebrew Israelites and then by the Native Americans themselves.
“Like many people who spend too much time on Twitter, I watched with indignation Saturday morning as stories began appearing” about the confrontation, Zimmerman wrote.
Noting Nathan Phillips’ claim in the Washington Post that he had been trying to defuse a tense situation, she said she was “all-in on the outrage.”
“How could the students parade around in those hats, harassing a man old enough to be their grandfather—a Vietnam veteran, no less?”
But as the longer videos surfaced, Zimmerman said, she began to see the face-off between Phillips and student Nick Sandmann in “a different light.”
“It seemed to me that a wave of emotions rolled over [Sandmann’s] face as Phillips approached him: confusion, fear, resolve. He finally, I thought, settled on an expression designed to mimic respect while signaling to his friends that he had this under control. Observing it, I wondered what different reaction I could have reasonably hoped a high-school junior to have in such an unfamiliar and bewildering situation. I came up empty.”
Meanwhile, Mediaite reported many journalists and celebrities were rushing to delete tweets slamming the “MAGA-hat kids.”
The high school boys were in Washington to participate in the pro-life March for Life rally on the National Mall. Phillips was part of the annual Indigenous Peoples March.
Diocese, school condemn boys
Despite the new video evidence, the Associated Press has not removed or corrected a story headlined “Students in ‘MAGA’ hats mock Native American after rally.”
Based on such reporting, the Catholic Diocese of Covington and Covington Catholic High School on Saturday condemned the boys, apologized to Phillips and vowed to take “appropriate action, up to and including expulsion.”
Sandmann has issued a lengthy statement contending it was the Native American activist who got in his face, USA Today reported.
“I believed that by remaining motionless and calm, I was helping to diffuse the situation,” Sandmann said. “I realized everyone had cameras and that perhaps a group of adults was trying to provoke a group of teenagers into a larger conflict.”
The teen said he and his family have received death threats.
“I am being called every name in the book, including racist, and I will not stand for this mob-like character assassination of my family’s name,” he said.
Congressman: ‘A brutal lesson’
The students’ representative in Congress, Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., tweeted that the “honorable and tolerant students of Covington Catholic School came to DC to advocate for the unborn and to learn about our nation’s Capitol.”
“What they got was a brutal lesson in the unjust court of public opinion and social media mobs,” he said.
In his statement, Sandmann said when the students arrived at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to be pick up, they noticed “four African American protestors” there.
He said the protesters called the students “racists,” “bigots,” “white crackers,” “faggots” 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,” Sandmann wrote.
He said one of the students asked permission from a teacher chaperone “to begin our school spirit chants to counter the hateful things that were being shouted at our group.”
“At no time did I hear any student chant anything other than the school spirit chants,” he said. “I did not witness or hear any students chant ‘build that wall’ or anything hateful or racist at any time. Assertions to the contrary are simply false. Our chants were loud because we wanted to drown out the hateful comments that were being shouted at us by the protestors.”
Sandmann said Phillips began “playing his drum as he waded into the crowd, which parted for him.”
One of the Native American protesters, the student said, yelled at them that they “stole our land” and should “go back to Europe.”
The Native American who apparently was being mocked by teens wearing MAGA hats in a viral video says he has “fear for those youth, fear for their future, fear for their souls, their spirit, what they’re going to do to this country.” pic.twitter.com/GQgvZAkPtQ
— Ana Cabrera (@AnaCabrera) January 20, 2019
Phillips: Boy was ‘blocking’ me
Phillips told the Washington Post that Sandmann was blocking him.
“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 said. “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.”
Sandmann addressed the claim in his statement.
“I never felt like I was blocking the Native American protestor. He did not make any attempt to go around me,” the student said. “It was clear to me that he had singled me out for a confrontation, although I am not sure why.”
Sandmann said said he never spoke to Phillips and was “startled and confused as to why he had approached me.”
He said he “believed that by remaining motionless and calm, I was helping defuse the situation.”
“I said a silent prayer that the situation would not get out of hand,” he wrote.
The incident ended when the buses arrived.