Trump defends viral video MAGA hat students, saying the media 'smeared' them
For the past couple of days, social media has been awash with opinions over an incident involving a Native American war hero and a large group of MAGA hat-wearing teenage boys.
Nathan Phillips, an Omaha Tribe elder, was participating in the Indigenous Peoples March on Sunday when he found himself surrounded by a group of pupils from Covington Catholic High School. Initial reports stated that the boys taunted and jeered at Phillips, and many different sources of footage showed one student in particular appearing to deliberately stand in Phillips' way and smirking at him while he sang.
Since the story first broke, more footage has emerged which shows that the group of boys were initially goaded by another group, the Hebrew Israelites. Many people took this evidence as an excuse for the boys' actions towards Phillips, and took to Twitter in order to argue that Nick Sandmann and his peers had been "unfairly" vilified by the media. Donald Trump was one of these people.
"Looking like Nick Sandman [sic] & Covington Catholic students were treated unfairly with early judgements proving out to be false - smeared by media," the president wrote. "Not good, but making big comeback!"
But this is not entirely true.
Video evidence appears to back up the claims that Sandmann acted in an antagonising way towards Phillips, and other footage shows dozens of Covington students jeering at the Native American marchers. This was video captured by others at the event, not news media.
In response to Trump's tweet, many who support Phillips have doubled down on their insistence that the schoolboys were in the wrong.
"Looks like Nick Sandmann comes from a rich family who hired a PR team to gaslight us through a bunch of journalists and news organizations," wrote Eugene Gu, a doctor who was formally blocked by Trump on Twitter for responding to his tweets. "Additional footage shows that the Covington Catholic High School students were taunting Nathan Phillips and making tomahawk gestures."
Sandmann gave his account of what happened that day, starting with the school's response to heckles from the Hebrew Israelites.
"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 ... After a few minutes of chanting, the Native American protestors, who I hadn't previously noticed, approached our group.
"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 believed that by remaining motionless and calm, I was helping to diffuse the situation ... I never felt like I was blocking the Native American protestor. He did not make any attempt to go around me. It was clear to me that he had singled me out for a confrontation, although I am not sure why."
Phillips, meanwhile, says that he intervened in order to deescalate the situation between the pupils and the Hebrew Israelites, but was met with hate from the Covington Catholic boys.
"There was a disturbance there on the Lincoln Monument grounds," Phillips told CNN. "We were finishing up with Indigenous Peoples March and rally and there were some folks there that were expressing their rights there, freedom of speech ... Then there was this young group of young students that came there and were offended by their speech, and it escalated into an ugly situation that I found myself in the middle of."
"When I was there and I was standing there and I seen that group of people in front of me and I seen the angry faces and all of that, I realized I had put myself in a really dangerous situation. Here's a group of people who were angry at somebody else and I put myself in front of that, and all of a sudden, I'm the one whose all that anger and all that wanting to have the freedom to just rip me apart, that was scary...
"They were there looking for trouble, looking for something."
It is clear whose side Trump has taken on the matter, but the issue is not as cut-and-dry as "[the boys were] smeared by media". Many questions still remain.
The debate over what really happened is ongoing.