Last weekend, a viral video of a confrontation between a MAGA hat-wearing teenager and a Native American elder at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. created a firestorm on social media. In the clip, the Native American elder beats his drum and sings, while the teen stands just inches from his face, smirking. In the background, a crowd of teenage boys wearing Make America Great Again hats yell over the music, and at least one can be seen making a taunting 'tomahawk chop' with his hands.
The teenagers were from Covington Catholic School in Kentucky, and had traveled to D.C. to participate in the anti-abortion Right To Life march. (That's right, an all-boys school marching to restrict women's reproductive rights - woo-hoo!) Meanwhile, the Native American had participated in the Indigenous People's March. A video of their face-off sparked outrage on social media, as it appeared to show Trump supporters at their worst. "To anyone who's ever been any kind of other, the goofy malice in that MAGA kid's eyes is instantly recognizable," wrote one Twitter user.
The Diocese of Covington, other Catholic leaders, the March for Life itself and countless others on social media condemned the teens for their behavior. They appeared to deliberately antagonizing the man, however, a new, longer video surfaced that showed another side to the confrontation. In the nearly two-hour clip, a group of Hebrew Israelites can be seen antagonizing the MAGA teens. "When has America been great for our people?" the group's leader asks. "America ain't never been great. It only been great for you damn peckerwoods."
Due to the Black Israelites' chanting, the MAGA teens began yelling school chants back. The Native American elder, identified as Nathan Phillips then approaches the teenagers. "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 Washington Post. "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."
The smirking MAGA teen, identified as 16-year-old Nick Sandmann, released a lengthy statement that shed more light on the situation. He said that one of the teacher chaperones gave them to permission to shout school spirit chants in return. "The protestors said hateful things. They called us 'racists,' 'bigots' 'white crackers,' 'f****ts,' and 'incest kids," said Sandmann "They also taunted an African American student from my school by telling him that we would 'harvest his organs.'" (A reference to to the Jordan Peele horror film Get Out.)
On Wednesday, Sandmann appeared on The Today Show and explained his behavior in the viral video confrontation. When asked if he was at fault or should apologize for his actions, he stated, "As far as standing there, I had every right to do so. My position is that I was not disrespectful to Mr. Phillips. I respect him. I'd like to talk to him. In hindsight, I wish we could've walked away and avoided the whole thing, but I can't say that I'm sorry for listening to [Phillips] and standing there."
Sandmann claims that none of the teens at Covington Catholic are racist and they have been mischaracterized based on truncated videos at the scene. He denies seeing a classmate do the 'tomahawk chop,' which was captured on video. He also denies that anyone chanted "Build the wall," which Phillips claims he heard, but was not captured on video. When asked to characterized his actions, the 16-year-old said he thought that walking away would be rude, and he was not smirking.
"I wasn't smirking," said Sandmann, "but people assume that's what I have [done], and they've gone from there to titling me and labeling me as a racist person, someone that's disrespectful to adults. ... They've had to assume so many things to get there without consulting anyone that can give them the opposite story."
The teenager said he was not blocking Phillips, and his smile was meant to convey: "This is the best you're going to get out of me. You won't get any further reaction of aggression, and I'm willing to stand here as long as you want to hit this drum in my face... I wanted the situation to die down, and I just wish he would have walked away, but I knew as long as I kept my calm, as long as I kept my composure and didn't do anything he might perceive as aggressive or elevation of the conflict, it would hopefully die."
According to a statement from the Lakota People's Law Project, Phillips offered to travel to Covington Catholic to talk about the importance of respecting diverse cultures. In the interview, Sandmann indicated that he would be open to speaking to Phillips. In response to the full story, some people are deleting their outraged tweets about the MAGA teens, admitting they jumped the gun. However, the Covington boys might not be so innocent, as one new video showed them making offensive comments to women. (Guess they missed that 'toxic masculinity' Gillette commercial.)