Student in Trump hat denies mocking
Native American activist in videotaped encounter
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[January 21, 2019]
By Steve Gorman
(Reuters) - A white high school student
seen with classmates appearing to confront a Native American Vietnam
veteran near the Lincoln Memorial issued a statement on Sunday that
video of the incident that went viral gives the false impression that
the teens were instigators.
Nick Sandmann, a student from the private, all-male Covington Catholic
High School in northern Kentucky, is seen in the video standing face to
face with the Indian activist, Nathan Phillips, staring at him with a
smile, while Phillips sings and plays a drum.
The footage, shared online by organizers of an indigenous people's march
that took place in Washington on Friday before the incident, shows a
group of fellow Covington students surrounding Phillips apparently
Phillips recounted in a separate video that he heard the students
chanting "build that wall," during the encounter.
The students, many wearing baseball caps emblazoned with President
Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan, were in the nation's
capital the same day for an anti-abortion rally.
The footage sparked outrage on social media and led the high school to
issue a statement condemning the students' actions and promising an
But Sandmann, whose statement was tweeted by CNN anchor Jake Tapper late
on Sunday, insisted the video was misinterpreted, leading to "outright
lies being spread about my family and me."
He denied acting with any disrespect toward Phillips.
According to Sandmann, his group was waiting on the steps of the Lincoln
Memorial for their bus back to Kentucky when four African American
protesters nearby began shouting racially charged insults at them.
With permission from their teacher chaperones, the students responded by
shouting "school spirit" chants to "drown out the hateful comments"
directed at them.
[to top of second column]
A student from Covington Catholic High School stands in front of
Native American Vietnam veteran Nathan Phillips in Washington, U.S.,
in this still image from a January 18, 2019 video by Kaya Taitano.
Kaya Taitano/Social Media/via REUTERS .
In the midst of this interaction, Sandmann said, he noticed that a
Native American protester - since identified as Phillips - "began
playing his drum as he waded into the crowd, which parted for him."
"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,"
"I never interacted with this protester. I did not speak to him. I
did not make any hand gestures or other aggressive moves," Sandmann
wrote, adding that he was "startled and confused" as to why Phillips
Sandmann said he reasoned that by remaining "motionless and calm" he
hoped to defuse the situation.
His account was reinforced, at least in part, by a New York Times
report on Sunday quoting Phillips, 64, as acknowledging he had
approached the crowd of students in a bid to ease racial tensions
that had flared between the mostly white teens and the African
"I stepped in between to pray," said Phillips, an elder of
Nebraska's Omaha tribe and a well-known activist who was among those
leading the Standing Rock protests in 2016-2017 against construction
of an oil pipeline in North Dakota.
Phillips could not be reached by Reuters for comment over the
(Reporting by Steve Gorman; editing by Darren Schuettler)
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