Did MAGA hat-donned kids mock a Native American elder?
A video picked up by media at the weekend showing young male students wearing Make America Great Again (MAGA) caps surrounding and drowning out a Native American elder does not reveal the whole picture.
Social media lit up when footage circulated online of the confrontation at a rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.
The video showed a young student in a red MAGA cap standing directly in front of elder Nathan Phillips, who was beating a drum and singing after an Indigenous Peoples March.
Other kids, many wearing hoodies from the all-male Covington Catholic High School, circled the group of Native Americans, laughing and chanting before joining the drummer’s singing in a seemingly mocking tone.
One congresswoman later said the teens showed “blatant hate, disrespect and intolerance”.
However, a video which captured the entire event has surfaced online and shows the original portrayal of the kids’ actions are not exactly accurate.
The teens were there for a pro-life rally
The Kentucky high school students had taken a road trip to Washington to attend a pro-life rally, which was happening at the same time as the Indigenous Peoples March.
They were waiting, as a group, outside the Lincoln Memorial for their bus to come and pick them up and there were still many other people around, including the Native Americans and a separate small group of people calling themselves Black Israelites.
Black Israelites, also known as African Hebrew Israelites, believe they are descendants of the ancient tribes of Israel and mainly follow the teachings of the Hebrew Bible.
Abuse from the Black Israelites sparked the drama
The Black Israelites had a spot on the steps where they quoted from the Bible and yelled abuse, some of it racist.
“You got all these dirty-ass crackers behind you with a red Make America Great Again hat on,” one of the Black Israelites said in video of the event filmed by another of their members.
Later, the man told another person: “I bet you’re a dumb-ass Puerto Rican.”
He also abused African Americans nearby.
As the abuse continued, the school students surrounded the Black Israelites and started to sing songs, dance and cheer each other on, drowning them out.
At one point in the video one of the black men told the students around him: “You got on the back of the court system ‘In God we trust’, on the back of the dollar bill it says ‘In God we trust’, but you give faggots rights.”
Many of the students reacted, saying things like “woah” and “easy”, and one started to blow raspberries to the laughter of other students.
That’s when elder Nathan Phillips got involved
The students huddled for a moment and then broke out in a school chant.
The student in a red MAGA hat at the centre of the video, Nick Sandmann, later released a statement published by CNN in an attempt to explain what happened.
“Because we were being loudly attacked and taunted in public, a student in our group asked one of our teacher chaperones for permission to begin our school spirit chants to counter the hateful things that were being shouted at our group,” he said.
That’s when Native American elder Nathan Phillips and several others with him approached the two groups and tried to get between them.
Footage does not show students seeking out Mr Phillips, or “attacking” him.
Nick Sandmann said Mr Phillips locked eyes with him and approached.
“He played his drum the entire time he was in my face,” he said.
“I never interacted with this protester. I did not speak to him. I did not make any hand gestures or other aggressive moves. To be honest, I was startled and confused as to why he had approached me.
“We had already been yelled at by another group of protesters.”
Mr Phillips later told Detroit Free Press the students were “in the process of attacking these four black individuals”.
He said things kept escalating and he saw one member of the Black Israelites spitting at the students.
“So I put myself in between that, between a rock and hard place,” Mr Phillips told the media.
The students continued the chants they had already begun and they, and others nearby, surrounded the Native Americans and filmed with their phones.
“I’m so confused,” one of the students yelled as the drumming continued and many of the students dropped their chants and started to sing along with Mr Phillips while laughing.
Mr Phillips later said he heard the students saying “build that wall, build that wall”.
But Nick Sandmann said he never heard any student chant anything other than the school chants.
“I did not witness or hear any students chant ‘build that wall’ or anything hateful or racist at any time. Assertions to the contrary are simply false,” he said.
After Mr Phillips finished and left, the teens and Black Israelites continued to antagonise each other until buses arrived for the students and they cheered and rushed off.
“Go home, understand America will burn,” the Black Israelite speaker yelled after them.
After videos spread online, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington and Covington Catholic High School issued a joint statement apologising to Mr Phillips and said they would take “appropriate action, up to and including expulsion” against the students involved.
“We extend our deepest apologies to Mr Phillips,” the statement said.
“This behaviour is opposed to the church’s teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person.”
Nick Sandmann said he had provided his statement to the diocese and was willing to cooperate with any investigation.
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