FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A Native American organizer of a march in Washington, D.C., says he felt compelled to get between a group of black religious activists and largely white students with his ceremonial drum to defuse a potentially dangerous situation.
But, the teen at the center of a video confrontation says he did nothing to provoke anyone and also sought to calm the situation.
Nathan Phillips, an elder in the Omaha Tribe and a Vietnam veteran, on Sunday recounted for The Associated Press how he came to be surrounded by a group of students from a Catholic boys’ high school in Kentucky in an encounter captured on videos that are circulating online. The student identified himself in an email Sunday evening as junior Nick Sandmann of Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky.
An official working with the family confirmed Sandmann’s identity, speaking on condition of anonymity because the source didn’t want to distract from the teen’s statement.
Sandmann says students were waiting at the Lincoln Memorial for buses to return to Kentucky on Friday when four African-American protesters there began insulting them.
Videos being shared on social media show members of the activist group yelling insults at the students, who taunt them in return, and students chanting, laughing and jeering as Phillips sings and plays the drum.
Sandman says the students began yelling “school spirit chants” to drown out the protesters and he did not hear students chant anything “hateful or racist at any time.”
The Diocese of Covington and Covington Catholic High School released a statement that can be found on the front page of the school’s website reading:
“We condemn the actions of the Covington Catholic High School students towards Nathan Phillips specifically, and Native Americans in general, Jan. 18, after the March for Life, in Washington, D.C. We extend our deepest apologies to Mr. Phillips. This behavior is opposed to the Church’s teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person. The matter is being investigated and we will take appropriate action, up to and including expulsion. We know this incident also has tainted the entire witness of the March for Life and express our most sincere apologies to all those who attended the March and all those who support the pro-life movement.”
According to the school’s website, the group of students was in Washington, D.C., for March For Life 2019 from Jan. 17-19.
An extended video of the encounter shows Phillips and some of the men he was with approach the teens, while Phillips was beating his drum.
Some of the teens involved in the encounter have spoken out, saying the incident was not what it seemed.
A letter sent to the CBS affiliate in Cincinnati, Local 12, from a Covington Catholic student, and shared by our sister station WKYT, addresses the incident, and reads, in part:
“… We decided to do some cheers to pass time. In the midst of our cheers, we were approached by a group of adults led by Nathan Phillips, with Phillips beating his drum. They forced their way into the center of our group. … He came to stand in front of one of my classmates who stood where he was, smiling and enjoying the experience. … It was not until later that we discovered they would incriminate us as a publicity stunt. As a result, my friend faces expulsion for simply standing still and our entire school is being disparaged for a crime we did not commit…”
Phillips was participating in Friday’s Indigenous Peoples March. The students had attended the March for Life rally the same day.
Members of the Omaha Tribe gathered at the Nebraska State Capitol Sunday afternoon to protest the way Phillips was treated.