Students and chaperones react to viral confrontation with Native American in D.C.
PARK HILLS, Ky. (WKRC) - Shortly after videos surfaced of Covington Catholic High School students allegedly chanting in the face of Native American protesters in Washington D.C. local Ohio news outlet WKRC began receiving a number of letters from students who were present on the trip, some of whom asked to remain anonymous, responding to the allegations.
The family of Nick Sandmann, one the students at the center of the videos that have surfaced, released a statement on Sunday, reading:
"I am providing this factual account of what happened on Friday afternoon at the Lincoln Memorial to correct misinformation and outright lies being spread about my family and me.
I am the student in the video who was confronted by the Native American protestor. I arrived at the Lincoln Memorial at 4:30 p.m. I was told to be there by 5:30 p.m., when our busses were due to leave Washington for the trip back to Kentucky. We had been attending the March for Life rally, and then had split up into small groups to do sightseeing.
When we arrived, we noticed four African American protestors who were also on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I am not sure what they were protesting, and I did not interact with them. I did hear them direct derogatory insults at our school group.
The protestors said hateful things. They called us “racists,” “bigots,” “white crackers,” “faggots,” and “incest kids.” They also taunted an African American student from my school by telling him that we would “harvest his organs.” I have no idea what that insult means, but it was startling to hear.
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. The chants are commonly used at sporting events. They are all positive in nature and sound like what you would hear at any high school. Our chaperone gave us permission to use our school chants. We would not have done that without obtaining permission from the adults in charge of our group.
At no time did I hear any student chant anything other than the school spirit 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. Our chants were loud because we wanted to drown out the hateful comments that were being shouted at us by the protestors.
After a few minutes of chanting, the Native American protestors, who I hadn’t previously noticed, approached our group. The Native American protestors had drums and were accompanied by at least one person with a camera.
The protestor everyone has seen in the video began playing his drum as he waded into the crowd, which parted for him. I did not see anyone try to block his path. 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 protestor. 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 protestors, and when the second group approached I was worried that a situation was getting out of control where adults were attempting to provoke teenagers.
I believed that by remaining motionless and calm, I was helping to diffuse the situation. I realized everyone had cameras and that perhaps a group of adults was trying to provoke a group of teenagers into a larger conflict. I said a silent prayer that the situation would not get out of hand.
During the period of the drumming, a member of the protestor’s entourage began yelling at a fellow student that we “stole our land” and that we should “go back to Europe.” I heard one of my fellow students begin to respond. I motioned to my classmate and tried to get him to stop engaging with the protestor, as I was still in the mindset that we needed to calm down tensions.
I never felt like I was blocking the Native American protestor. He did not make any attempt to go around me. It was clear to me that he had singled me out for a confrontation, although I am not sure why.
The engagement ended when one of our teachers told me the busses had arrived and it was time to go. I obeyed my teacher and simply walked to the busses. At that moment, I thought I had diffused the situation by remaining calm, and I was thankful nothing physical had occurred.
I never understood why either of the two groups of protestors were engaging with us, or exactly what they were protesting at the Lincoln Memorial. We were simply there to meet a bus, not become central players in a media spectacle. This is the first time in my life I’ve ever encountered any sort of public protest, let alone this kind of confrontation or demonstration.
I was not intentionally making faces at the protestor. I did smile at one point because I wanted him to know that I was not going to become angry, intimidated or be provoked into a larger confrontation. I am a faithful Christian and practicing Catholic, and I always try to live up to the ideals my faith teaches me – to remain respectful of others, and to take no action that would lead to conflict or violence.
I harbor no ill will for this person. I respect this person’s right to protest and engage in free speech activities, and I support his chanting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial any day of the week. I believe he should re-think his tactics of invading the personal space of others, but that is his choice to make.
I am being called every name in the book, including a racist, and I will not stand for this mob-like character assassination of my family’s name. My parents were not on the trip, and I strive to represent my family in a respectful way in all public settings.
I have received physical and death threats via social media, as well as hateful insults. One person threatened to harm me at school, and one person claims to live in my neighborhood. My parents are receiving death and professional threats because of the social media mob that has formed over this issue.
I love my school, my teachers and my classmates. I work hard to achieve good grades and to participate in several extracurricular activities. I am mortified that so many people have come to believe something that did not happen – that students from my school were chanting or acting in a racist fashion toward African Americans or Native Americans. I did not do that, do not have hateful feelings in my heart, and did not witness any of my classmates doing that.
I cannot speak for everyone, only for myself. But I can tell you my experience with Covington Catholic is that students are respectful of all races and cultures. We also support everyone’s right to free speech.
I am not going to comment on the words or account of Mr. Phillips, as I don’t know him and would not presume to know what is in his heart or mind. Nor am I going to comment further on the other protestors, as I don’t know their hearts or minds, either.
I have read that Mr. Phillips is a veteran of the United States Marines. I thank him for his service and am grateful to anyone who puts on the uniform to defend our nation. If anyone has earned the right to speak freely, it is a U.S. Marine veteran.
I can only speak for myself and what I observed and felt at the time. But I would caution everyone passing judgement based on a few seconds of video to watch the longer video clips that are on the internet, as they show a much different story than is being portrayed by people with agendas.
I provided this account of events to the Diocese of Covington so they may know exactly what happened, and I stand ready and willing to cooperate with any investigation they are conducting."
Another email from a student, who asked to remain anonymous, read in part:
"As we are an all-male school that loves to get hyped up (hence our cheer section's name "Colonel Crazies"), and as we have done for years prior, 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. 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 entire 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."
Another student also reached out to Local 12 on Sunday evening, stating in part:
"Protestors and demonstrators approached us and antagonized us with hateful language and sickening words that left the colonels in confusion. I personally, did not know how to respond. We did not know how to respond. The footage gathered there during that event has depicted us horribly and inaccurately. I as a man of God and good morals plea to all who witness that this is not the full story. We are more than this. We do not hate. We are portrayed wrongfully, and I beg for all to hear our story. Trust me. These kids, I repeat, kids that are being persecuted for actions they did not commit is truly horrifying. I am one of those individuals. I am someone who has been called ignorant, hateful, a faggot and a school shooter just based on my appearance and certainly not the content of my character. That boy who is being scolded nation wide by people who wish hell upon us is not racist by any means of the imagination. A misconstrued grin is the mask of a boy who is confused and afraid. We as a school love our neighbors and do not segregate or disrespect anybody based on their appearance, sex, race, or religion. That boy who was approached by a drummer protesting inches from his face was scared and is petrified now I assure you. That boy along with the rest of us are being threatened as I speak, and I call upon this absolute barrage of hate from people everywhere to come to a halt. You do not know us, my brothers and sisters. Enough of this persecution."
Read that student's full statement here:
Chaperones who were on the trip also responded, saying the students were not at fault for what took place.
"Our boys were targeted," Jill Hamlin said. "They were targeted from the get-go. Immediately, there were people running around filming and this isn't going to be a truthful depiction of what happened.
Hamlin, Jim Wilson, and Val Andreev were all chaperones on the school's annual trip to Washington D.C. to take part in the March for Life.
"I can't believe they stayed and listened to things being shouted at them," Hamlin said. "As a mother, it was horrible, horrible."
"Our boys did nothing," Jim Wilson said. "They did not attack those gentlemen. They stood there and waited for their bus."
Jheri Neri from the Greater Cincinnati Native American Coalition, says Phillips wasn't trying to have a confrontation with the group, but change the tone.
"You have young people on a field trip and perhaps don't have that experience as to how to act when someone is yelling things at you, and that is unfortunate," Neri said. "At any point in time, someone could have stepped in and we wouldn't be having this conversation."
Jim Wilson says he stepped in.
"They were curious about those men so I got the boys and pushed them back," Wilson said. "Eventually, I could get some of them who knew me and said 'we need to get out of here.'"
The parents say the 170 or so students were standing waiting on the bus to pick them up. To pass the time, they did school cheers. At one point, a student took off his shirt. That's when Phillips began beating his drum and walking towards the students.
"If you were in the March for Life, you saw a lot of Make America Great again hats and sweatshirts and attire," Hamlin said. "But they were also wearing Covington Catholic shirts proudly."
Neri says the Greater Cincinnati Native American Coalition has yet to hear from the diocese or the school.
"I'm having a conversation with you and other people that have reached out to us," Neri said. "We've made ourselves available. We have yet to hear from the diocese and the school."