* The headline and article have been updated, and there is a further update at the end of the article. *
The annual March for Life took place yesterday in Washington, D.C., to speak out against abortion and to raise awareness for the pro-life movement. However, several other stories this weekend have, unfortunately, overshadowed the March, beginning yesterday with controversy over right-wing commentator Ben Shapiro’s remarks regarding baby Adolf Hitler. Now videos have spread appearing to show a group of high school boys who attended the March taunting a Native American veteran:
In the video, the boys appear to surround Native American marchers; one boy stands just inches from one Native American man and stares at him, smirking. Some of the boys are wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats, March for Life shirts, and apparel emblazoned with “Covington Catholic,” in apparent reference to Covington Catholic High School, a private, all-male school in Kentucky.
This isn’t the only time Covington Catholic High School has been in the news recently: It was also the school of Jacob Walter, who was charged in December with first-degree rape and first-degree sodomy for allegedly pinning a woman down and raping her until she bled.
The school’s Twitter account is currently protected.
According to Indian Country Today, the Native American man in the video is Nathan Phillips, a veteran*.
Yes, the high school boys appear to have been taunting an American veteran.
Phillips was in town for the Indigenous Peoples March, which also took place yesterday on January 18th. Indian Country Today reported that Phillips is “a keeper of a sacred pipe and holds an annual ceremony honoring Native American veterans in the Arlington National Cemetery.”
There has been at least one report that the students were chanting “Build the wall.” If so, that is particularly tone-deaf, and nonsensical, to chant at Native Americans.
Throughout the video, Phillips continues drumming without acknowledging the mob around him or the boy directly in front of him. Sadly, this isn’t the first time he has been singled out due to his heritage; according to Fox 2 News, he was once taunted while on a weekend walk by college students dressed in stereotypical Native American clothing, who yelled at him and threw a beer can at him.
According to the website for Covington Catholic High School, the students’ trip to the March was organized by the school. Where, then, were the adult chaperones and supervision? If they were in close proximity, why did they not step in to discourage the mob?
Tho you of course wish someone would have said “this isn’t right,” I do feel for the boys in the back, who know it’s wrong but can’t find the courage or confidence to do something about it and take on the social and potentially physical costs of doing so.
— Michael Wear (@MichaelRWear) January 19, 2019
It’s perhaps fitting that just a few days ago, Gillette released its ad regarding the importance of adults setting an example for impressionable children and adolescents. Who taught these boys to behave this way and to treat other people this way? The behavior demonstrated by the boys in this video is exactly the kind of behavior that Gillette wanted to acknowledge and confront so that children learn the moral integrity to do what they know is right, even — especially — if they have to break from the pack to do so.
It’s sad because the right to life is about recognizing the dignity of all people—and that we are all made in the image of God.
The videos I’ve seen suggest these kids have a lot to learn about decency and respect. The adults (parents, teachers, & leaders) have failed them. https://t.co/ont3a2LDHB
— Matt Lewis (@mattklewis) January 19, 2019
UPDATE at 11:59pm on 01/19/2019: More information has been made available. WKRC-TV reporter Adam Clements tweeted a response from a Covington Catholic student who says he was present for the situation with Nathan Phillips, and it has been misrepresented; the student’s statement also says the students were verbally assaulted by another group — which is also wrong and should be strongly condemned.
— Adam Clements (@AClementsWKRC) January 20, 2019
The student’s statement reads as follows:
Hello Local 12 News. At the present time, I have an urgent request that truly is of the utmost importance, a request that supersedes my entire being and applies to the integrity of all Americans.
You have probably seen or heard of the video of students wearing MAGA gear supposedly “harassing,” “bothering,” and “jeering” at a Native American veteran. This is not true and taken entirely out of context. I am a student at Covington Catholic and was present at the occurrence. Here is what truly happened:
Every year, my school attends the March for Life in DC and afterwards tours the city. Our chaperones and teachers told us to be at the Lincoln Memorial at 5:30 to be ready for the buses to pick us up. 5:30 came around and we were all gathered at the Memorial. As we are an all-male school that loves to get hyped up (hence our cheer section’s names “Colonial Crazies”), and as we have done for years prior, we decide 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. We initially thought this was a cultural display since he was beating along to our cheers and so we clapped to the beat. He came to stand in front of one of my classmates who stood where he was, smiling and enjoying the experience. However, after multiple minutes of Mr. Phillips beating his drum directly in the face of my friend (mere centimeters from his nose), we became confused and started wondering what was happening. 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 school is being disparaged for a crime we did not commit. To reiterate, we did not partake in any physical or verbal abuse, did not chant “build the wall” or mock or anything of the like, and did not seek to incite violence. After that initial occurrence, we were then verbally assaulted by four or five African-American men who called us “f*ggots” and berated one of our African-American students for being friends with us. The truth needs to come out. I pray that you read this and can speak for us who are silenced by the media.
Here is video evidence of Nathan Phillips approaching the group of Covington Catholic students, showing that we did not approach him but he approached us; the later half of the occurrence showing Phillips [sic] group inciting debates as well as harassment of the students by another group; and a second video of the harassment of the students. As you can see by these videos, the true story is quite different from that portrayed by the media. A great injustice has been done, and it is our duty to see that the truth prevails. Additionally, Mr. Phillips has a history of claiming racial harassment. I am by no means disparaging his credibility, but this should be taken note of.
This certainly makes the situation less clear, but the truth should prevail.
Unfortunately, the students did still behave disrespectfully because video shows them mockingly imitating the Native Americans’ chanting and doing the tomahawk chop. One attendee of the Indigenous Peoples March posted videos of the incident on Instagram and captioned one video: “The amount of disrespect…. TO THIS DAY.”
But all of this brings me back to my question in my original post: Where were the adult chaperones, since the student’s statement says it was the time they were to meet at the Memorial, and why did they not de-escalate the situation?
Furthermore, based on some of the coverage the incident received, it seems necessary to state: Doxxing is never appropriate, particularly for minors who have committed no crime. The students were the school’s responsibility at the time, and the school and parents should determine any appropriate discipline, if necessary. Perhaps the best solution would be for the school to arrange a meeting with Nathan Phillips, so that a productive dialogue may occur.
*UPDATE at 5:45pm on 01/22/2019: Please note that the headline and one sentence initially identified Phillips as a Vietnam veteran, per reporting by Indian Country Today and other news outlets. That descriptor has been removed upon additional reporting that, although Phillips served in the U.S. Marines from 1972 to 1976, he was not deployed to Vietnam. -SQ
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent those of any other individual or entity. Follow Sarah on Twitter: @sarahmquinlan.