A tense encounter between students from an all-boys Catholic school and protesters from the Indigenous Peoples March quickly went viral over the weekend.
The video was shot on Friday as groups from the March for Life and Indigenous Peoples March clashed following their respective rallies. The March for Life is an annual gathering in Washington that protests the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. This year’s Indigenous Peoples March was the inaugural march on Washington, uniting activists fighting against injustices to indigenous people across the globe.
At the center of the video are two protesters: One a student from the Covington Catholic High School and the other a Vietnam veteran and Omaha tribe elder. Nick Sandmann, the self-identified student, and Nathan Phillips, the Omaha elder, square off in the video and are at an impasse for more than three minutes as Phillips plays a drum and sings the American Indian Movement song.
As the video garnered more and more views, the internet divided into factions over whether the actions of Sandmann and his classmates were disrespectful and racist. Phillips and other protesters from the Indigenous Peoples March said that they heard chants of “go back to the reservation” and “build the wall.” The group of young men can also be heard breaking out into the chant used by Atlanta Braves and Florida State Seminoles fans, which is considered by some to be demeaning to Native Americans.
Initially, many placed blame on the students, viewing them as instigators. The Diocese of Covington and Covington Catholic High School responded to the furor of comments by issuing a statement saying they condemned the boys’ actions and were considering “appropriate action, up to and including expulsion.”
But after the release of a longer cut of the video, the controversy has become more nuanced. The lengthier video appears to show an even earlier confrontation between a group of Black Hebrew Israelites and the Catholic students. (Note: the video contains profanity and racial slurs. Phillips’ appearance in the video begins at the 1:12:24 mark.)
Insults are hurled back-and-forth between the two groups before Phillips steps in to break the tension. Both sides initially welcome Phillips, until Phillips comes face-to-face with Sandmann, who Phillips says refused to let him pass.
Sandmann later issued a lengthy statement proclaiming his innocence and denying any racists intentions. He said Phillips singled him out and he was smiling to diffuse the situation, not smirking as many headlines initially described.