By Tommy Gagliano
On January 19th, a video from the pro-life “March for Life” rally in Washington DC went viral. This short video showed an interaction between 64-year-old Native American activist Nathan Phillips, and 17-year-old Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann. In the video clip, Phillips sings and plays the drum in the face of Nick Sandmann, while Sandmann stands still and appears to smile or smirk at Phillips. Sandmann is wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, as are many of his classmates behind him. The video quickly spreads across Twitter and other websites and social media platforms, with liberals and conservatives alike slamming the students for being disrespectful to Nathan Phillips.
News outlets immediately jumped on the story. They reported that the Covington Catholic students had surrounded “Native American elder and Vietnam Veteran” Nathan Phillips and his fellow activists, harassed and mocked them, and refused to let them walk by. Phillips himself supported this version of the story, adding that the students were also harassing black protestors and chanting “build that wall” prior to his interaction with them. The headlines were all more or less the same. “Students in ‘MAGA’ hats mock Native American after rally” (Associated Press). “White students in MAGA gear taunt Native American elders” (Vox). “Native American Veteran Speaks Out After MAGA Hat-Wearing Teens Harass Him” (Huffington Post). There were many, many, more stories like this across many, many more new media outlets, but most of them have been changed or removed since.
Leftists on Twitter, including prominent verified users such as Kathy Griffin, went into full-on lynch mob mode. They attempted – and some succeeded – to dox the Covington Catholic students seen in the video, many of which are minors. The students and their families have received an overwhelming amount of death and other threats, and a woman was recently spotted recording students as they walked out of the school. “Name these kids.” Kathy Griffin demanded on Twitter. “I want NAMES. Shame them. If you think these fuckers wouldn’t dox you in a heartbeat, think again.”
It didn’t take long for the media’s narrative to completely fall apart. On the night of January 19th, the same day the video had gone viral, an anonymous Covington Catholic student who attended the March for Life rally shared his side of the story with Local 12 News. He claimed that the students were waiting at the Lincoln Memorial for their bus to come, as they were instructed to do. He says they then started doing some of their school chants, to pass the time and to show school spirit. This is when Nathan Phillips and his fellow activists approached them, he claims. This contradicts the story told by Phillips and by the media, which stated that the students approached Phillips, and surrounded him. “They forced their way into the center of our group.” The student explains. “We initially thought this was a cultural display since he was beating along to our cheers and so we clapped to the beat.” He says that after this went on for some time, though, he and the other students became confused. “To reiterate,” the student concludes, “we did not partake in any physical or verbal abuse, we did not chant ‘build the wall’ or mock or anything of the like, and did not seek to incite violence.” He also mentioned that they had been subject to verbal abuse from a group of black activists, including being called “faggots.”
Around the same time the account by the anonymous student was making its way around the Internet, more footage of the incident surfaced, including a video that was almost 2 hours long. This video shows that basically everything that the Covington Catholic student said was true, and basically everything that Nathan Phillips said was a lie. It can be seen clearly in the video that the group of students are minding their own business, when Nathan Phillips and the other Native American activists approached them. Phillips then walked right up to Nick Sandmann, and began drumming in his face. It is clear that none of the students in the video are sure what’s going on, and it seems the “smirk” that everyone has been labelling as mockery was more of a nervous laugh, or a confused smile. Despite Phillips drumming directly in Sandmann’s face, he, nor any of the other students, said or did anything malicious to any of the Native American activists. At one point during the drumming, one of the students can be heard arguing with one of the other activists. The activist told the student to “go back to Europe,” and the student responded. Nick Sandmann can be seen motioning to his classmate, telling him to stop arguing.
In addition to getting the story entirely wrong, the media also messed up a detail that appeared in a lot of their headlines – Nathan Phillips never fought in Vietnam. Phillips was labelled a Vietnam veteran in an attempt to make readers feel bad for him, but he was never actually deployed. He was released as a private due to a number of disciplinary incidents, including three AWOL incidents.
As new information emerged, many people apologized for the statements they made about the students and the incident. A lot of news outlets pulled their stories, or updated them to reflect the new information. However, a large number of people did not retract their statements, and some even doubled down. To those people though, the facts don’t matter. They deemed the students guilty as soon as they put on the MAGA hats.