Catholic teen in viral video condemns ‘outright lies,’ feared adults sought ‘larger conflict’
The boy seen staring at tribal elder Nathan Phillips in Friday’s viral episode has condemned what he described as “outright lies” about the incident, saying he was trying to defuse a tense situation and worried that adult protesters were trying to “provoke a group of teenagers into a larger conflict.”
Nick Sandmann, a junior at Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Kentucky, released a statement late Sunday confirming what newly posted video shows, that Mr. Phillips approached the Catholic teens as they performed a cheer at the Lincoln Memorial.
He said he did so to provide a “factual account” and correct “misinformation and outright lies being spread about my family and me.”
“The protester 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,” Mr. Sandmann said in a statement to media outlets. “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.”
The group of several dozen teenage boys was waiting for a bus after attending the 46th annual March for Life, while Mr. Phillips had participated in the Indigenous Peoples March. Both events were held Friday in Washington, D.C.
“I never interacted with this protester. I did not speak to him. I did not make any hand gestures or other aggressive moves,” Mr. Sandmann said. “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, and when the second group approached I was worried that a situation was getting out of control where adults were attempting to provoke teenagers.”
Just in: Statement of Nick Sandmann, Covington Catholic High School junior, about the event at the Lincoln Memorial: pic.twitter.com/PkuMh2cVZM Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) January 20, 2019
He said the teens launched into school cheers after receiving permission from their teacher chaperones after being called names by a handful of black protesters at the scene, later identified as members of the Black Hebrew Israelites, whom he said called the boys “racists,” “bigots,” “white crackers,” and anti-gay slurs.
The teens and Mr. Sandmann in particular have been accused of taunting Mr. Phillips, who has accused the boys of chanting “build the wall.” So far videos posted online have not shown an audible “build the wall” chant.
The boys can be shown laughing as Mr. Phillips, who was singing and playing a drum, and Mr. Sandmann stare at each other.
“I believed that by remaining motionless and calm, I was helping to diffuse the situation,” Mr. Sandmann said in his statement. “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.”
Katy Taitano, a participant in the Indigenous Peoples March who posted video of the episode, told CNN that the “one kid just refused to move and he just got in Nathan’s face,” which Mr. Sandmann disputed.
“I never felt like I was blocking the Native American protester,” he said. “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.”
He also denied widespread accusations that he was smirking at Mr. Phillips.
“I was not intentionally making faces at the protester,” Mr. Sandmann said. “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.
Since the episode went viral, Mr. Sandmann said he has been called “every name in the book, including a racist,” and received death threats.
“One person threatened to harm me at school, and one person claims to live in my neighborhood,” he said. “My parents are receiving death and professional threats because of the social media mob that has formed over this issue.”
The Diocese of Covington, which oversees the school, has apologized to Mr. Phillips and is conducting an investigation into the episode.