Most have seen the unsettling video of Nick Sandmann, a 16-year-old student from Kentucky’s Covington Catholic high school, facing off with Native American and Vietnam War Veteran Nathan Phillips. The footage shows Phillips beating his drum while Sandmann stands his ground with a smirk-like smile on his face. They are standing very close to each other in a confrontational stance.
It quickly became viral, with many viewers interpreting the video and actions of both parties in vastly different ways. One of the most popular interpretations was that Sandmann’s smirk, along with the chanting and cheering of his fellow classmates, was a way of taunting Phillips on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Phillips was taking part in the Indigenous Peoples March when the students arrived at the Lincoln Memorial to wait for their bus after attending the March for Life protest earlier in the day.
Since the release of the first viral video, much more footage has come out from the incident and there have been interviews with both sides involved. In an interview with Phillips about the incident, he claims that the students, some of which were wearing red MAGA hats, were chanting “build that wall” and other derogatory remarks. He states that he wishes the young men could use the energy exhibited on that day to improve our country by “helping those that are hungry.” Phillips told NBC that he felt threatened by the students because they surrounded him and mocked his culture by chanting and throwing their arms around in tomahawk chops.
Another YouTube video (an alleged full-length recording of the confrontation running 1 hour and 30 minutes) reveals the situation from a different angle.
In an interview with Sandmann on the Today Show, he claims that a group of five Hebrew Israelites were the ones to initiate the confrontation. Sandmann says his group of classmates was called “incest babies” among other more explicit comments.
Even though Sandmann’s group outnumbered the Hebrew Israelites confronting them, he stated that because they were adults, he did not know what to expect and felt threatened. In response, a chaperone of the high schoolers gave them permission to cheer school chants in an attempt to drown out the negative comments being made towards them.
Both groups claim that they were not the ones to initiate the confrontation. Against Phillips’ claim, Sandmann said he never heard anyone shout “build the wall” and the phrase cannot be heard on the videos.
Phillips comes into the situation when he moves between both groups in hopes to intervene and “defuse the tense situation.” In longer videos, it seems that Phillips is the one to approach the teenagers. Sandmann says he was unsure of Phillips’ motives.
In addressing the smirk, Sandmann says it was an attempt at getting the situation to die down and a way to keep his composure. He didn’t want any of his movements to be perceived as aggressive. Sandmann stands by his original actions, claiming he did not mean to disrespect Phillips but instead wanted the situation to die down.
His response to being asked why he didn’t just walk away was, “Mr. Phillips had his right to come up to me. I had my right to stay there” and “I respect him [Phillips], I’d like to talk to him. In hindsight, I wish we could have walked away and avoided the whole thing.” Sandmann says he would like to thank Phillips for his service and talk to him about the situation.