Author: Hannah Robbins
Video courtesy of YouTube.
Following the March for Life rally in Washington D.C., all eyes seemed to follow Covington Catholic High School. After the Jan. 18 release of videos of white, teenage boys in Make America Great Again hats seemingly harassing a Native American elder at an anti-abortionist protest, people began to share the videos on social media platforms. The viral video got shared thousands of times, on Facebook and Twitter especially, and created an international news story. The video showed one boy looking particularly defiant as he blocked the path for a Native American man drumming.
Soon after the videos surfaced viewers deduced that the boys attended Covington Catholic High School in a wealthy suburb of Cincinnati, but located across the border in Kentucky. Thousands of people called and sent letters to the school’s email and phone. However, all social media for the school was deleted shortly after the incident. School officials also changed the school’s phone number. Later that weekend the drumming man was also identified as Nathan Phillips, an activist and a veteran.
At first the story seemed cut and dry: the Covington Catholic boys had purposefully harassed and mocked Nathan Phillips and his fellow protestors who had attended an Indigenous People’s March also held in the capital. However, after Nicholas Sandmann, the teen who blocked Phillips’ path, came forward, the story became increasingly complicated.
Sandmann claimed that his group had no malicious intent towards Phillips. In his version of events, a group of people from an organization called the Black Israelites, known for their hatred of many different ethnic and religious groups, had began to verbally attack the Covington Catholic group. While Phillips claimed the boys chanted slurs at him, Sandmann said that they yelled school chants to drown out the Black Israelites. A longer video soon came out, showing the Black Israelites and also showing that Phillips approached the school group, although he claims he did this only to diffuse tensions.
Soon after Sandmann spoke out and the longer video surfaced, conservatives began lambasting those on the left for jumping to conclusions. They claimed that certain groups wanted to paint Covington Catholic as evil because the boys attended the March For Life and had Make America Great Again hats. President Trump even voiced his support for Sandmann and anger at the media for jumping to conclusions in a tweet.
The story became even more muddled as videos surfaced of the same groups of boys harassing women and other indigenous protesters earlier in the day. The story became so convoluted that journalists, the March For Life organization and the school officials themselves made and retracted multiple statements.
The only facts we can be sure of in this situation come from what we can glean from the videos: the Black Israelites taunted the teenagers, Phillips entered in the middle of the interaction, and the teens used fake chants and stereotypical indigenous hand gestures such as a tomahawk chop while Phillips played his drum.
The entire situation surrounding the teens and Phillips is convoluted and confusing. People believe different sides of the story depending on their political party, and one thing that the incident has proven is the polarizing nature of social media and news. When the video first broke, many people on the left jumped quickly to believing one version of events without knowing the true story. Similarly, people on the right searched for proof that the left had the wrong idea, ignoring other videos and testimony that did not fit their narrative. This situation should teach us to be wary of manipulating stories to benefit our beliefs and to always wait to hear all sides.