Videos show fuller picture of DC clash between high school students, Native Americans

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Monday, January 21, 2019
Teen in DC confrontation with Native American: I didn't provoke
Liz Cho has the latest on the viral confrontation between a group of Catholic high school students from Kentucky and a Native American elder.

WASHINGTON -- There is new information about a viral confrontation this weekend between a group of Catholic high school students from Kentucky and a Native American elder.

New videos reveal a fuller picture of what led up the clash and seems to show the students being verbally attacked first, by a different group of demonstrators at the Lincoln Memorial.

The entire scene shows a troubling display of tensions regarding race, religious and political beliefs.

The video shows a small group of black men who identify themselves as Hebrew Israelites first shouting hateful and racially combative things at everyone -- the Native Americans, other black men, the Covington Catholic students who were in town for the anti-abortion Right to Life March, and even a priest.

Things the protesters can be heard shouting include:

--"That's make America great again. A bunch of child molesting (expletive)."

--"See how you've got these pompous (expletive) come down here in the middle of a native rally with their dirty (expletive) hat on."

--"A bunch of incest babies. A bunch of babies made out incest."

The Catholic students at first just watch and do not engage.

The student at the center of the viral video, Nick Sandmann, said in a statement that the rhetoric was startling, and "because we were being loudly attacked and taunted in public, a student asked one of our teacher chaperones for permission to begin school spirit chants to counter the hateful things that were being shouted at our group."

The students start to chant, and at one point, a student removes his shirt. Then, a couple minutes later, the Native American group enters the fray. Nathan Philips, an Omaha tribe elder and U.S. Marine who served in Vietnam, approaches the group along with another drummer. He says his intent was to stop potential violence.

"I realized I had put myself in a really dangerous situation," he said. "You know, here's a group of people who were angry at somebody else, and I put myself in front of that."

Nathan Phillips, the Native American elder mocked and taunted by a group of young men after the Indigenous Peoples March, felt like he was in a "really dangerous situation" during the confrontation.

Philips eventually comes face to face with Sandmann, who claims he was the one trying to deescalate the situation.

"I believe that by remaining motionless and calm, I was helping to diffuse the situation," he said in his statement. "I realized that everyone had cameras and that perhaps a group of adults was trying to provoke a group of teenagers into a larger conflict."

Amid all this, the taunting from the Hebrew Israelites continues.

"This is a group of future school shooters," one says. "That's right."

Philips maintains that he felt the kids were mocking him and being rude. Sandmann says it was the adults using hateful words and trying to provke the kids, not the other way around.

"I am being called every name in the book, including a racist, and I will not stand for this mob-like character assassination of my family's name," wrote Sandmann, who added that he and his parents have received death threats since video of Friday's confrontation emerged.

The video of Sandmann standing very close to Phillips, staring and at times smiling at him as Phillips sang and played a drum, gave many who watched it a different impression. Other students appeared to be laughing at the drummer, and at least one could be seen on video doing a tomahawk chop.

The dueling accounts emerged as the nation picked apart footage from dozens of cellphones that recorded the incident.

Sandmann wrote that the students were called "racists," "bigots" and "white crackers" by the third group.

Phillips said he heard people chanting "Build that wall" or yelling, "Go back to the reservation." At one point, he said, he sought to ascend to the Lincoln statue and "pray for our country." Some students backed off, but one student wouldn't let him move, he added.

"They were making remarks to each other ... (such as) 'In my state those Indians are nothing but a bunch of drunks.' How do I report that?" Phillips said. "These young people were just roughshodding through our space, like what's been going on for 500 years here - just walking through our territories, feeling like 'this is ours.'"

Sandmann said he heard no student chant anything beyond school spirit chants, and that he hadn't even been aware of the Native American group until Phillips approached him.

"The protester 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," Sandmann wrote. "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."

Sandmann said one of the Native American protesters yelled at them that they "stole our land" and they should "go back to Europe," but that he never spoke to or interacted with Phillips. "To be honest, I was startled and confused as to why he had approached me."

"I said a silent prayer that the situation would not get out of hand," he wrote. He said the incident ended when the buses arrived and his teacher told him it was time to leave.

Though many commenting on the internet were taken back by Sandmann staring at Philipps, the teen said he was "not intentionally making faces at the protestor. I did smile at one point because I wanted him to know that I was not going to become angry, intimidated or be provoked into a larger confrontation." He said he had never encountered any kind of public protest before.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington apologized for the incident on Saturday, saying "this behavior is opposed to the Church's teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person." They promised to take "appropriate action, up to and including expulsion."

Sandmann said he has provided a copy of his statement to the diocese and said: "I stand ready and willing to cooperate with any investigation they are conducting." A spokeswoman for the diocese did not return an email Sunday night.

Covington Catholic High School, in the northern Kentucky city of Park Hills, was quiet Sunday as the area remained snow-covered with temperatures in the teens. The all-male school, which has more than 580 students, appeared deserted with an empty police car parked in front of the building.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.