POLITICS

New Video Complicates Uproar Over Incident Between Student And Native American Man

The student in the video said he received death threats after the confrontation and attempted to clarify that he was trying to help defuse the situation.

More video emerged on Sunday of the viral moment between a Native American man and a white student wearing a “Make America great again” hat, complicating an incident that has already been cast as yet another parable of the nation’s heavily divided politics and growing racial tension.

More than an hour of footage shot before the encounter was uploaded on YouTube on Sunday and appeared to show a confrontation between a large group of predominantly white Catholic students and several black men who identified themselves as Hebrew Israelites. In the clip, the men can be heard shouting at anyone at the Lincoln Memorial, including other black visitors and Native Americans. 

The camera then turns to the students, who were in Washington for an anti-abortion rally, some of whom were wearing hats with President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan.

“And you got these pompous bastards coming down here in the middle of a Native rally with their dirty ass hat on,” a man in the video says. Another person later screams at the students, “A bunch of incest babies. This is what ‘Make America great’ looks like.” 

The Native American elder at the center of the shorter video, Nathan Phillips, comes into view shortly thereafter — the short encounter that has become a viral moment. He is quickly surrounded by the teenagers in the clip, during which he said he felt intimidated when some began jeering and one student in particular stood staring in front of him.

Late Sunday, the student at the center of the video, Nick Sandmann, released a statement through a public relations firm attempting to distance himself from allegations of racism and intimidation. Instead, the Covington Catholic High School student said he believed he was helping defuse the situation.

“I never interacted with this protestor. I did not speak to him. I did not make any hand gestures or other aggressive moves,” Sandmann wrote. “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.”

The incident has prompted nationwide outrage, and Sandmann said Sunday he received death threats and calls that he be expelled from school. In several interviews, Phillips clarified that he approached the students in an attempt to reduce the tension between the white students and the black men who were yelling.

“I stepped in between to pray,” Phillips told The New York Times in an interview, saying he was worried that racial tensions were “coming to a boiling point.”

One of the black demonstrators involved posted a video on Facebook denying that his group instigated the incident. In his post he wrote, “The Devils are trying to be sneaky.”

Tensions remained high after the encounter, and the school and the Diocese of Covington in Kentucky released a statement apologizing to Phillips on Saturday. Amid the threats, Sandmann said he harbored “no ill will” for Phillips, a Vietnam-era veteran, but moved to direct some of the responsibility for the situation on Phillips.

“I respect this person’s right to protest and engage in free speech activities, and I support his chanting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial any day of the week,” Sandmann wrote. “I believe he should re-think his tactics of invading the personal space of others, but that is his choice to make.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article, citing The Washington Post, referred to Phillips as a Vietnam veteran. He was a U.S. Marine who did not serve in Vietnam, according to the Post.

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