Washington Post Updates Story: Native American Activist Nathan Phillips Never Fought in Vietnam War

Posted: Jan 22, 2019 3:50 PM

The Washington Post issued a significant correction Tuesday to their story featuring an interview with Native American activist Nathan Phillips who was in a viral encounter with high school boys wearing “Make America Great Again” hats. He initially claimed they were antagonizing him. New, longer video shows that he approached the boys first and played a drum in one of their faces.

The story, headlined “'It was getting ugly’: Native American drummer speaks on his encounter with MAGA-hat-wearing teens,” previously touted Phillips as a Vietnam War veteran but those references were later removed with a correction explaining that he had not served in Vietnam.

“Correction: Earlier versions of this story incorrectly said that Native American activist Nathan Phillips fought in the Vietnam War. Phillips served in the U.S. Marines from 1972 to 1976 but was never deployed to Vietnam,” according to a note at the end.

In one interview to CNN, Phillips ambiguously described himself as a “Vietnam times veteran,” and said the group of high school boys wanted to rip him apart.

“Here's a group of people who were angry at somebody else and I put myself in front of that, and all of a sudden, I'm the one whose all that anger and all that wanting to have the freedom to just rip me apart, that was scary. And I'm a Vietnam times veteran and I know that mentality of 'There's enough of us. We can do this.'"

The Washington Post was not the only prominent outlet misled by Phillips's characterization of his military service. The New York Times also described him as a “Native American veteran of the Vietnam war” in a story that had yet to be corrected late Tuesday afternoon.

The Covington student who faced Phillips in the video, Nick Sandmann, released a statement explaining that he and his classmates had participated in some school spirit chants after the Black Hebrew Israelites, a group characterized even by the left-wing Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group, yelled slurs at them. According to Sandmann, the boys chanted with the permission of a chaperone to drown out the slurs.

He said in his statement that he was “startled and confused” by Phillips’s approach with his drum.

Another activist near Phillips yelled at the boys that they “stole our land” and to “go back to Europe,” Sandmann said he encouraged his classmates not to respond and that they did not lead "build the wall" chants as some outlets reported.

The longer video of the incident appears to largely corroborate Sandmann’s story.

Phillips implied the students should be expelled in a recent interview with the Cincinnati Inquirer and refused to potentially meet with them. He later updated his statement saying he would be willing to travel and meet with the students, but continued to insist that they had made “intentional falsehoods.”

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