'Journalists' who uncritically accepted Nathan Phillips' story got this completely wrong...
Partial video footage of students from a Catholic high school allegedly harassing a Native American veteran after the anti-abortion March for Life rally in Washington, D.C., on Saturday quickly went viral, provoking widespread condemnation of the kids on social media. Various media figures and Twitter users called for them to be doxed, shamed, or otherwise punished, and school administrators said they would consider expulsion.
But the rest of the video - nearly two hours of additional footage showing what happened before and after the encounter - adds important context that strongly contradicts the media's narrative.
Here is a video clearly showing that Nathan Phillips approached the students. On the basis of the evidence we now have, I believe that people who issued categorical and one-sided condemnations of the students should retract and apologize. pic.twitter.com/GxmXcMuQgC— Matthew Schmitz (@matthewschmitz) January 20, 2019
Far from engaging in racially motivated harassment, the group of mostly white, MAGA-hat-wearing male teenagers remained relatively calm and restrained despite being subjected to incessant racist, homophobic, and bigoted verbal abuse by members of the bizarre religious sect Black Hebrew Israelites, who were lurking nearby. The BHI has existed since the late 19th century, and is best describes as a black nationalist cult movement; its members believe they are descendants of the ancient Israelites, and often express condemnation of white people, Christians, and gays. DC-area Black Hebrews are known to spout particularly vile bigotry.
Phillips put himself between the teens and the black nationalists, chanting and drumming as he marched straight into the middle of the group of young people. What followed was several minutes of confusion: The teens couldn't quite decide whether Phillips was on their side or not, but tentatively joined in his chanting. It's not at all clear this was intended as an act of mockery rather than solidarity.
One student did not get out of Phillips way as he marched, and gave the man a hard stare and a smile that many have described as creepy. This moment received the most media coverage: The teen has been called the product of a "hate factory" and likened to a school shooter, segregation-era racist, and member of the Klu Klux Klan. I have no idea what he was thinking, but portraying this as an example of obvious, racially-motivated hate is a stretch. Maybe he simply had no idea why this man was drumming in his face, and couldn't quite figure out the best response? It bears repeating that Phillips approached him, not the other way around.
And that's all there is to it. Phillips walked away after several minutes, the Black Hebrew Israelites continued to insult the crowd, and nothing else happened.
You can judge for yourself. Here is video footage of the full incident, from the perspective of the black nationalists.
Phillips enters the picture around the 1:12 mark, but if you skip to that part, you miss an hour of the Black Hebrew Israelites hurling obscenities at the students. They call them crackers, faggots, and pedophiles. At the 1:20 mark (which comes after the Phillips incident) they call one of the few black students the n-word and tell him that his friends are going to murder him and steal his organs. At the 1:25 mark, they complain that "you give faggots rights," which prompted booing from the students. Throughout the video they threaten the kids with violence, and attempt to goad them into attacking first. The students resisted these taunts admirably: They laughed at the hecklers, and they perform a few of their school's sports cheers.
It was at this moment that Phillips, who had attended a nearby peace protest led by indigenous peoples, decided to intervene. He would later tell The Detroit Free Press that the teenagers "were in the process of attacking these four black individuals" and he decided to attempt to de-escalate the situation. He seems profoundly mistaken: The video footage taken by the black nationalists shows no evidence the white teenagers had any intention of attacking. Nevertheless, Phillips characterized the kids as "beasts" and the hate-group members as "their prey":
"There was that moment when I realized I've put myself between beast and prey," Phillips said.
"These young men were beastly and these old black individuals was their prey, and I stood in between them and so they needed their pounds of flesh and they were looking at me for that."
Again, all the evidence suggests that Phillips got it backward.
He also claimed that he heard chants of "build the wall." While I cannot rule out the possibility that some of the kids indeed chanted this—those who were wearing MAGA hats are presumably Trump supporters—I did not hear a single utterance of the phrase in the nearly two hours of video footage I watched. Admittedly, the kids do a lot of chanting and it's not always possible to tell what they are saying. Their stated explanation is that they engaged in a series of school sports chants: That's what one student told a local news reporter. His account largely tracks with the video.
"We are an all-male school that loves to get hyped up," said this student. "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 to 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."
According to this student, the smiling student was grinning because he was enjoying the music, but eventually became confused, along with everyone else. (Indeed, multiple people can be heard to shout, "what is going on?")
It would be impossible to definitively state that none of the young men did anything wrong, offensive, or problematic, at some point, and maybe the smiling student was attempting to intimidate Phillips. But there's shockingly little evidence of wrongdoing, unless donning a Trump hat and standing in a group of other people doing the same is now an act of harassment or violence. Phillips' account, meanwhile, is at best flawed, and arguably deliberately misleading.
Unless other information emerges, the school's best move would be to have a conversation with the boys about the incident, perhaps discuss some strategies for remaining on perfect behavior at highly charged political rallies—where everybody is recording everything on a cell phone—and let that be the end of it.
The boys are undoubtedly owed an apology from the numerous people who joined this social media pile-on. This is shaping up to be one of the biggest major media misfires in quite some time.
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Additionally, the Catholic Church - which took decades to actually criticize and admit its systemic pedophilia problem - were extremely quick to criticize the Covington kids...
"Virtue signaling" is an overwrought term, but that's exactly what Catholic leaders did when throwing the Covington kids under the bus— Chuck Ross (@ChuckRossDC) January 20, 2019
And CNN's Jake Tapper admitted the media's error...
.@reason: “Video footage strongly contradicts Native American veteran Nathan Phillips' claim that Covington Catholic High School boys harassed him. The media got this one completely wrong,” writes @robbysoave https://t.co/9Ki4iiTkQ9— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) January 20, 2019
And even David Brooks flipped...
Yesterday I had one impression of the maga kids from Kentucky. Now after seeing more videos I have a different more complicated impression. Makes all the hot takes seem silly.— David Brooks (@nytdavidbrooks) January 20, 2019
Finally, Rod Dreher wrote in The American Conservative:
It is possible that the Catholic boys were complete asses. My initial judgment was that they certainly were that. You don’t treat a peaceful elderly person like this. Even if they thought he was wrong, those boys owed him respect. Yes, the old man approached them, but they could and should have handled him with respect. They come off as bullies.
But then I watched more clips, showing the greater context of the incident. It is not as simple as it has been portrayed. Below is a more complete video account of what happened. In it, one of the Catholic boys is overheard asking, “Does anybody know what he’s doing? Does anybody know what’s going on here.”
And, in it, one of the Indians with Phillips shouts: “White people, go back to Europe. This is not your land.” He curses the students with f-bombs (video is NSFW). He goes on: “You’re being a white man about it. That’s all you know how to do.”
You didn’t see that in the news reporting, did you?