Nick Sandmann, the high school student at the center of the media frenzy over his interaction with Native American activist Nathan Phillips in Washington, D.C. last week, said he does not believe his actions that day were disrespectful.
Speaking to the “Today” show in a segment that aired Wednesday, Sandmann said he “had every right to stand there” but repeatedly wished the group of students he was with “could have walked away and avoided it.”
“But I can’t say I’m sorry for standing there,” he said when Savannah Guthrie asked if he felt he owed anyone an apology.
Sandmann explained that in the moment he wasn’t sure what was going to happen after a small group of Hebrew Israelites started hurling derogatory comments at the students, including calling them “incest kids”—and he also was initially confused by Phillips’ presence there.
“If he wanted to walk past me I would have let him go,” he said.
As for accusations of racism against his classmates, Sandmann said he heard no one from his group shout any insults back at the protesters.
“We’re a Catholic school, and it’s not tolerated. They don't tolerate racism, and none of my classmates are racist people. I never heard anyone say ‘build the wall’ and I don’t think I’ve seen it in any of the videos.”
Guthrie also asked Sandmann about his smile during his encounter with Phillips—which some have interpreted as a smirk.
“I knew as long as I kept my composure and didn’t do anything to escalate the situation it would die down,” he said. “I see it as a smile saying this is the best you’re going to get out of me. You won’t get any further reaction of aggression.”
In conclusion, Sandmann said the media frenzy over the interaction has “been terrible.”
“People have threatened our lives. I have the utmost respect for Mr. Phillips as another person who freely used his First Amendment rights. And I want to thank him for his military service as well, and I’d certainly like to hear from him.”