Covington High School Students' Confrontation With Native American Activists

Covington High School Students' Confrontation With Native American Activists

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Updated Jun 29, 2021 at 02:42PM EDT by Rose Abrams.

Added Jan 21, 2019 at 10:17AM EST by Don.

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Covington High School Students' Confrontation With Native American Activists refers to an online controversy surrounding video footage of students from the Covington Catholic High School attending a pro-life march engaging with a group of Native American activists from the Indigenous Peoples' March and a group of Black Hebrew Israelites near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. After video of the incident widely circulated online in late January 2019, many accused the students of bigotry against Native Americans, while others claimed extended footage of the incident exonerated the students of any wrongdoing.


On January 18th, 2019, Instagram user @ka_ya11 posted video footage of a Covington High School student wearing a "Make American Great Again" hat and smiling in front of Native American veteran Nathan Phillips drumming while singing a prayer chant (shown below).


The following day, Shaun King reposted the video, along with the message "I am so deeply grieved and angry by this as young kids in MAGA hats surrounded and mocked a beloved Native American elder yesterday" (shown below). Within 48 hours, the tweets gained over 69,500 likes and 22,800 retweets.

Also on January 19th, actor Chris Evans tweeted about the video, calling it "appaling" and "shameful" and praising Phillips "incredible strength and dignity" (shown below). Over the next two days, the tweet gathered more than 213,000 likes and 35,000 retweets.

Chris Evans @ChrisEvans This is appalling. The ignorance. The gall. The disrespect. It's shameful. And sadly on brand. When something like this isnt even surprising. it's evidence to our place in the cycle of recreating our darker chapters. That Native American man showed incredible strength and dignity

Meanwhile, YouTuber Philip DeFranco uploaded a video condemning the students for disrespecting the Native American veteran (shown below).

Also on January 19th, author Reza Aslan tweeted[2] a black-and-white screencap from the video, along with the message "Have you ever seen a more punchable face than this kid's?" (shown below).

Reza Aslan @rezaaslan Honest question. Have you ever seen a more punchable face than this kid's?

Phillips' Statements

On January 20th, the Detroit Free Press[1] published an interview with Phillips, in which he claimed he approached the students because they were "in the process of attacking these four black individuals."

"They were in the process of attacking these four black individuals. I was there and I was witnessing all of this … As this kept on going on and escalating, it just got to a point where you do something or you walk away, you know? You see something that is wrong and you're faced with that choice of right or wrong. "

Nick Sandmann's Statement

On January 20th, 2019, CNN[3] published a statement written by Nick Sandmann, the student shown smiling in the video footage, who claimed he was smiling because he "wanted him to know that I was not going to become angry, intimidated or be provoked into a larger confrontation." Additionally, Sandmann claimed that prior to Phillips' arrival, the group of students were called "racists," "bigots," "white crackers," "faggots" and "incest kids" by a group of Black Hebrew Israelites.

Extended Footage

That day, YouTuber M Vav uploaded an extended version of the incident recorded by Black Hebrew Israelites, which shows the group saying various obscenities at the Covington students before Philips approaches the group (shown below).

On January 20th, the news site Reason[7] published an article by writer Robby Soave titled "The Media Wildly Mischaracterized That Video of Covington Catholic Students Confronting a Native American Veteran," which claimed the additional footage from the incident showed the students "remained relatively calm and restrained" while being subjected to "verbal abuse" by the Black Hebrew Israelites. The article noted that during the incident, Phillips "put himself between the teens and the black nationalists," leading the teens to join in on Phillips' chanting.

That day, Philip DeFranco tweeted a statement announcing he had deleted his previous video, claiming "I should have waited until I got more details instead of jumping on it so fast" (shown below).

On January 21st, Twitter user John Aravosis tweeted[4] a reaction to the Reason article, accusing the students of mocking the Native Americans by making "tomahawk gestures" (shown below).

John Aravosis @aravosis Actually, I just watched the lengthier video footage AGAIN. And it still shows the native Americans getting betweer the ranting boys and the ranting African- American Israel loons, and simply singing a prayer song while the boys got in their face and made tomahawk gestures. Jake Tapper @jaketapper @reason: "Video footage strongly contradicts Native American veteran Nathan Philips' claim that Covington Catholic High School boys harassed him. The media got this one completely wrong," writes @robbysoave

Also on January 21st, Twitter user @cbouzy uploaded another video from the incident claiming it "contradicts Nick Sandmann's statement" (shown below). Over the next several hours, the video accumulated more than 69,000 views, 3,700 likes and 1,600 retweets.

Harassment Video

On January 21st, 2019, Twitter user @roflinds posted a video claiming it showed boys from Covington Catholic harassing her and her friends prior to the incident with Phillips (shown below). In the video, the boys can be heard yelling "MAGA". Within 24 hours, the video gained upwards of 161,600 likes 64,500 retweets.

In response to the video, other Twitter users began posting screenshots of tweets deleted by @roflinds in which she used racial slurs against black people.[5]

@2020fight Twitter Account Suspension

On January 21st, CNN[11] published an article by reporter Donie O'Sullivan about the @2020fight Twitter account, claiming the account "helped spread" the viral video of the incident. Additionally, CNN reported that the account claimed to be a California schoolteacher, but was using a profile photo of a Brazil-based blogger. That day, O'Sullivan posted tweets about the discovery, noting the account's video tweet "was one of the most shared versions of the video circulating on Saturday" (shown below). That day, the Twitter account was suspended.

Black Body Paint Photograph

Meanwhile, a photograph from a 2015 post on the Bluegrass Preps[6] message board of Covington High School Students wearing black body paint during a school basketball game began circulating online, with some accusing the students of wearing blackface (shown below).

On January 21st, 2019, Snopes published an article about the photo titled "Is This Picture from a Covington Catholic High School Basketball Game?", which listed the claim as "True" but cited comments on the BluegrassPreps message board indicating that the intent of the body paint "was not racial."

"Based on comments in the BluegrassPreps message board, the intent of the black body paint was not racial but was instead a school tradition related to “black out” games, during which fans wore black to support the team."

Donald Trump's Response

On January 21st, 2019, Donald Trump tweeted[8] that the students were "treated unfairly with early judgements [sic]" and that they were "smeared by media" (shown below, left). The following day, Trump tweeted[9] that Sandmann and the other Covington students had "become symbols of Fake News and how evil it can be" (shown below, right).

Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump Nick Sandmann and the students of Covington have become symbols of Fake News and how evil it can be. They have captivated the attention of the world, and l know they will use it for the good - maybe even to bring people together. It started off unpleasant, but can end in a dream! Donald J. Trumpo @realDonaldTrump Looking like Nick Sandman & Covington Catholic students were treated unfairly with early judgements proving out to be false smeared by media. Not good, but making big comeback! "New footage shows that media was wrong about teen's encounter with Native American" @TuckerCarlson

Erik Abriss' Vulture Firing

On January 21st, 2019, The Wrap[10] reported that journalist Erik Abriss had been fired from the website Vulture for a tweet in which he "publicly wished for the death of several Covington Catholic High School students and their parents." The tweet, published on January 19th, read as follows:

"I don’t know what it says about me but I’ve truly lost the ability to articulate the hysterical rage, nausea, and heartache this makes me feel. I just want these people to die. Simple as that. Every single one of them. And their parents."

Nathan Phillips Stolen Valor Accusations

On January 22nd, 2019, YouTuber Buds131, known for his Stolen Valor videos, uploaded a video about Phillips, which claimed he had enlisted in the Marines under the name Nathan Stanard, noting that records indicated he was not actually a Vietnam vet in contradiction to numerous news reports (shown below).

Additionally, Buds131 claimed Phillips went AWOL numerous times. That day, The Washington Post[12] issued a correction for reporting that Phillips was a Vietnam veteran:

"Earlier versions of this story incorrectly said that Native American activist Nathan Phillips fought in the Vietnam War. Phillips served in the U.S. Marines from 1972 to 1976 but was never deployed to Vietnam."

Nick Sandmann's Today Appearance

On January 22nd, 2019, Savannah Guthrie of the morning talk show Today tweeted a photograph of herself with Sandmann, announcing that her interview with him would be broadcast the following day. In response to the tweet, many criticized Guthrie for interviewed Sandmann, including Twitter user Eric Garland who compared the student to Pepe the Frog and Dylan Roof (shown below).

Savannah Guthrie @SavannahGuthrie Sitting down with Nicholas Sandmann - the student at the center of the protest controversy at the Lincoln Memorial. Airs tomorrow on @TODAYshow Eric Garland @ericgarland Replying to SavannahGuthrie @TODAYshow Do you think Pepe the Frog is available for Thursday's show? Can Dylann Roof do a segment from prison? Heart-to-heart with some Fentanyl traffickers?

On January 23rd, the interview with Sandmann was released (shown below). In the interview, Sandmann claims the group of Black Hebrew Israelites yelled numerous bigoted insults at the group of students prior to Phillips' arrival. Additionally, Sandmann did not apologize for the incident, saying he "had every right" to stand in front of Phillips.

"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 him and standing there."

Washington Post Lawsuit

On February 20th, 2019, attorneys L. Lin Wood and Todd McMurtry published an announcement on their website[14] that a lawsuit[15] had been filed against The Washington Post for $250 million on behalf of Sandmann, claiming "The Post bullied an innocent child with an absolute disregard for the pain and destruction its attacks would cause to his life." In response to the lawsuit, The Washington Post[16] spokeswoman Kristine Kelly stated: "We are reviewing a copy of the lawsuit, and we plan to mount a vigorous defense."

That day, Donald Trump posted a tweet praising the lawsuit, ending the message with "Go get them Nick. Fake News!" (shown below). That day, the tweet garnered more than 70,000 likes and 18,100 retweets.

Donald J. Trump * @realDonaldTrump "The Washington Post ignored basic journalistic standards because it wanted to advance its well-known and easily documented biased agenda against President Donald J. Trump." Covington student suing WAPO. Go get them Nick. Fake News!

On February 20th, 2019, YouTuber Timcast uploaded a video titled "Washington Post Responds to $250M Covington Lawsuit" (shown below).

CNN Settlement

On January 7th, 2020, Fox19 (WXIX-TV)[17] reposted that CNN had settled its 250 million dollar lawsuit with Nicholas Sandmann. The settlement figure was not made public.

In the following hours, multiple news outlets reported on the settlement, including articles by CNN,[18] The Washington Post[19] and other media. On January 7th, 2020, Nicholas Sandmann tweeted[23] about the settlement (tweet shown below).

Nick Sandmann @N1ckSandmann Yes, We settled with CNN. 4:33 PM · Jan 7, 2020 · Twitter for iPhone

On social media, multiple users mispresented the information as Nicholas Sandmann winning $275 million from CNN. For example, a January 7th post by Twitter[19] user @SBelle1950 received over 700 retweets and 1,100 likes. A January 7th post by Twitter[20] user @EdLatimore accumulated over 160 retweets and 580 likes. On January 8th Snopes [21] fact-checked the claims.

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