By Emma Campbell
Elm Staff Writer
On Friday, Jan. 18, in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., a confrontation between a small group of Native American protestors and a group of male students from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky has gone viral. Specifically, a disturbing standoff between Covington student Nick Sandmann and Native American elder Nathan Philips has become the topic of national outrage and debate.
In the video clips, Sandmann (who wears a red MAGA hat) appears to be blocking the path of Philips as the latter plays a drum and sings a song of peace in his native language. Surrounding Philips, Covington students wearing Trump apparel jeer at Philips, some making a tomahawk-chop motion with their arms. The students have since been accused of harassment and are at risk of being expelled from school.
In a painfully curated statement to CNN, Sandmann claimed that he and his fellow classmates are innocent of what they are being accused of, assigning blame entirely on a group of Black Israelites who, in the video clips, can be heard using coarse language toward the Covington students.
“The protestors said hateful things. They called us ‘racists,’ ‘bigots,’ ‘white crackers,’ ‘faggots,’ and ‘incest kids.’ They also taunted an African-American student from my school by telling him that we would ‘harvest his organs.’ I have no idea what that insult means, but it was startling to hear,” Sandmann said.
Those who have viewed the video clips of the muddled confrontation in its entirety know that the students of Covington are not the only group at fault. The small group of Black Israelites should certainly be held accountable for yelling derogatory comments at the boys. However, Sandmann’s attempt to shift the blame of him and his peers to the protesters who called them “bigots” and “racists” is everything that is wrong with white privilege.
Nathan Philips approached the confrontation between the Black Israelites and the Covington students with the aim of peaceful intervention.
“I was thinking: ‘I’ve got to find myself an exit out of this situation and finish my song at the Lincoln Memorial.’ I started going that way, and that guy in the hat [Sandmann] stood in my way, and we were at an impasse. He just blocked my way and wouldn’t allow me to retreat,” Philips said in a video interview, during which he broke down in tears.
It is plausible that Sandmann and his peers heard the taunts of the Black Israelites and felt provoked by them, leading them to chants of “build that wall” and “gone in 2020” — both of which can be heard in the longer video circulating online. It is less believable that Sandmann elected to stand mere inches away from Nathan Philips with a discernable smirk on his face in an effort to, as he puts it, “[remain] motionless and calm” as a way to “defuse the situation.”
The Sandmann family and their lawyers can keep insisting that the standoff was peaceful, but the video clips online and the statements made by Philips tell a vastly different account. It is likely that Sandmann and his peers will not be held accountable for their behavior, and judging by the national domination of white privilege, this would not be a surprise.