Critics are pushing back against the portrayal of students from Covington Catholic High School as racist, after a confrontation between the school and a Native American counter-demonstrator at the March for Life on Friday.
The headline from the Associated Press at the — repeated in some form by outlets across the country — read: “Students in ‘Make America Great Again’ Hats Mock Native Americans After Washington Rally.”
CNN declared: “Teens in Make America Great Again hats taunted a Native American elder at the Lincoln Memorial.”
A viral video showed a group of male students cavorting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial as a Native American man beating a drum walked toward them. The students’ gestures were perceived as mocking him.
Media pundits pounced on the students. Slate said that the student portrayed in the video had “harassed” the Native American and had the “face of self-satisfaction and certitude, of edginess expressed as cruelty.” It linked the incident to President Donald Trump’s criticism of Sen. Elizabeth Warren for her claims of Native American heritage.
Bill Kristol, a prominent critic of President Donald Trump, tweeted that Trump should condemn the school:
If some kid wearing a McCain 2008 cap had been filmed behaving this way, John McCain would have already called Mr. Phillips to express regret. And he would have used the occasion to remind his supporters they should treat others with respect. Will Trump do anything like this? https://t.co/eKy2ZYhg7f
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) January 19, 2019
A writer at the National Review also declared that the students “might as well have spit on the cross.”
The school itself and the diocese issued a public apology and pledged to discipline — even expel — the students:
After video surfaces of Covington Catholic HS students in MAGA hats mocking Indigenous man at #MarchForLife, in joint statement, both Diocese and School “condemns” behavior, extends “deepest apologies to Mr. Phillips,” and promises to take action “including expulsion” pic.twitter.com/atzBGYc8g6
— Rich Raho (@RichRaho) January 19, 2019
The mayor of Covington, Kentucky, also spoke out against the students, in an op-ed quoted by the Washington Post, saying the videos of the students’ behavior at the event “do NOT represent the core beliefs and values of this City.”
Students reportedly faced harassment from people trying to identify them and attack them for their behavior.
And yet a full examination of the video evidence shows a more complicated picture.
Video posted by a group of left-wing activists present showed that the students had been taunted with racial slurs as the incident took place.
It’s WAY worse than this. Start at 1hr10min mark and end when kids get on bus. https://t.co/xkHrsypOiv
— that1madre (@Quirlygirl) January 20, 2019
Other video evidence showed the Native American drummer approaching the students, rather than the opposite.
This unedited video (with the original sound) is indisputable proof that the Native American man approached the Catholic school kids pic.twitter.com/cFi0qRYDg2
— PolishPatriot™️ (@PolishPatriotTM) January 20, 2019
One student wrote to a local news outlet begging it to tell the full story about what happened at the march:
I am a student at Covington Catholic and was present at the occurrence. Here is what truly happened …
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. … However, after multiple minutes of Mr. Phililps 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. … To reiterate, we did not partake in any physical or verbal abuse … After that initial occurrence, we were then verbally assaulted by four or five African-American men who called us “faggots” 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 …
Phillips told a Detroit newspaper that he had “tried to keep the peace between a group of mostly white students attending a March for Life event and a gathering of about four black members of a religious group known as the Black Hebrew Israelites.” He added: “These young men were beastly and these old black individuals was their prey.” He claimed that the students had chanted “build the wall” — a claim that the student above explicitly denied.
Phillips also told the Washington Post “he felt threatened by the teens and that they swarmed around him.” But the full video makes it clear he had approached the students, who were already there, rather than the other way around.
One individual is seen on video telling the students, “White people, go back to Europe, where you came from,” as Phillips was still banging on his drum.
“This is not your land,” the individual continued, adding other racial epithets.
The Gateway Pundit also pointed out that Phillips had been involved in similar confrontations before.
On Saturday, cartoonist and political commentator Scott Adams said that the students had behaved like “assholes.”
On Sunday, he apologized for that remark and called the entire story “fake news,” saying that CNN and other news sources had inverted the perpetrator and the victim. He added that the full video suggested that the students had acted with composure under the circumstances, and had objected to a gay slur being used by one of their opponents.
Scott Adams apologizes for believing @CNN about the Covington Catholic Boys fake news. With coffee. https://t.co/Izg0tq4YkB
— Scott Adams (@ScottAdamsSays) January 20, 2019
Adams added the Native American drummer had also intervened in a way that was unnecessarily confrontational.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.
This post has been updated to include the comments of the individual standing near Phillips.