I almost did not write about this incident. But then my priest decided to condemn it in his homily on Sunday while admitting he had yet to actually see any of the videos.
The "incident" I am referring to occurred on Saturday when a viral video seemed to show a gang of white boys with combovers, red "Make America Great Hats", and smug smirks harassing a Native American named Nathan Phillips in Washington, DC. The initial videos from this event seethed with racism. It appeared to be a group of unruly teenage punks mocking a frail elderly man. Adults everywhere went berserk. Many called for these kids to be punished heavily by their school. Others deemed social shunning the appropriate remedy. My priest declared it a "dark stain" on the Catholic Church. The Native American, on the other hand, was praised for his determination and resilience.
Yet, new videos have now emerged that show this narrative may not be the case. Testimony from students at the incident presents the facts in a new light. But, unfortunately, because of the Pavlovian response from adults who should know better, none of that may matter for the reputation and future of these boys. Perhaps more egregiously is that almost none of their harshest critics seem interested in getting into the truth of the matter.
Nathan Phillips, a Vietnam War veteran and elder in the Omaha tribe, was in Washington, DC on Friday for an Indigenous People's March through the city. Towards the end of the evening, he claims he noticed a large group of Covington Catholic high school boys attacking four black adults. In an interview with the Detroit Free Press, he says he was forced to stand "between beast and prey." Phillips claims the white boys were the beasts while the black people were their prey. He began to drum an Intertribal song to help quell the "mob mentality" forming. That is when the group supposedly surrounded him, causing him to fear for his safety.
"The looks in these young men's faces ... I mean, if you go back and look at the lynchings that was done (in America) ...and you'd see the faces on the people ... The glee and the hatred in their faces, that's what these faces looked like," Phillips said.
Indeed, the initial video seems to comply with this version of events.
But, since adults have now had more than two decades to deal with the dangers of judging stories on the internet before all the facts come out, surely their critics waited before condemning these students? Nope. Almost immediately a deluge of harassment and vile responses to these high school students were sent out. Here are just a few of thousands of comments filled with ignorant knee-jerk reactions to this situation:
The contrast between the calm dignity and quiet strength of Mr. Phillips and the behavior of #MAGA brats who have absorbed the spirit of Trumpism--this spectacle is a lesson which all Americans can learn. https://t.co/EbXMa6Bbel— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) January 19, 2019
It only seems appropriate to honor Vietnam War Veteran, NATIVE American and Omaha elder, Nathan Phillips, over those who spew hatred and ignorance. pic.twitter.com/qG2sIJTRR7— Andrew Gillum (@AndrewGillum) January 20, 2019
I want #NathanPhillips to be the only name that's remembered from today's ugliness. Nathan Phillips. Not the horde of bland, frightened, forgettable kids who'll grow up to be bland, frightened, forgotten adult wastes. Nathan. Phillips. https://t.co/yqSTP0vJHN— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) January 20, 2019
Entitlement, arrogance, ignorance and racism right here in full display. Any parent of these kids should be ashamed. https://t.co/dFUsKFtyIT— AprilDRyan (@AprilDRyan) January 20, 2019
Perhaps the saddest response came from Michael Green, a man whose profession is to slice and dice video in order to tell a certain story. He is a movie producer. One would hope given his background, he would wait to see more footage. No, that did not happen either. He immediately said these kids should never be forgiven.
Plus side: A face like that never changes. This image will define his life. No one need ever forgive him. pic.twitter.com/0jrnQ3hQu1— Michael Green (@andmichaelgreen) January 19, 2019
But, finally, a student was able to give his version of events to Adam Clements of Local 12 News in DC. The unidentified student claims that he and his schoolmates were at the Lincoln Memorial steps in the evening as planned in order to be picked up from the March For Life. As often happens with teenage boys, the students began to show enthusiasm and school pride with a variety of chants. They originally thought that Nathan Phillips was joining their excitement since he appeared to be beating his drum along with them. But, after it became obvious he was not there to do that, they become confused and later realized it was a publicity stunt.
Numerous video evidence seems to confirm this version events. Phillips is seen approaching the group first. They did not surround him. Some videos even clearly contain audio of a student yelling "What is going on?"
Here is a video clearly showing that Nathan Phillips approached the students. On the basis of the evidence we now have, I believe that people who issued categorical and one-sided condemnations of the students should retract and apologize. pic.twitter.com/GxmXcMuQgC— Matthew Schmitz (@matthewschmitz) January 20, 2019
“Covington Catholic student bothering elder man” yet here is evidence of the man approaching them during their school cheer not disturbing anyone. Doesn’t make sense pic.twitter.com/SRYRJOIoKf— Maria Judy (@mariajudy_) January 19, 2019
Remember, once in the group, Phillips claims these students yelled racist epithets and chanted "Build the Wall." I have yet to see any evidence of that, but what I did see is Phillip's own colleague yelling "You white people go back to Europe!"
As for the four black adults that Phillips claims were the target of these teenager's despise, yet another video shows that this group of men -- Black Israelites -- were the ones calling these kids "f*aggots" and yelling "I don't see any n*ggas" towards their group.
MORE CONTEXT:— Nick Monroe (@nickmon1112) January 20, 2019
-The #CovingtonCatholic boys were engaging a counter protest,
- then the Native man walked up to the crowd as they were doing a school chant, - then the full length video you saw passed around.
*THEY walked up to KID with the drums. KID DIDN'T walk up to THEM.* pic.twitter.com/B46HP4RxAw
The teenagers were engaging in banter with these adults, as most young men would, which is when Nathan Phillips decided to walk into the group of kids. But, nearly every video of this situation except the initial one shows that these kids did not act in the way originally described. It turns out it was adults who overreacted and showed poor character.
I will say this: I feel like I got spun, in a very cynical way, by the partial video yesterday. I think the full video presents a v. diff. story. And I think ppl are so invested in having hate figures to beat up on that they're digging in their heels & refusing to admit that.— Esoteric Jeff (@EsotericCD) January 20, 2019
It begins to look as if the people who did not pig-pile on this story before waiting to learn more about it made the right choice. https://t.co/LJ8EAvaYHC— Dan McLaughlin (@baseballcrank) January 20, 2019
Should the teenagers have simply walked away from the initial confrontation? Maybe. Should we all use this as a lesson, yet again, that perhaps it is best to withhold judgment before all sides of a story can be heard? Definitely.
The Diocese of Covington, KY and Covington Catholic High School issued a statement condemning the actions of these boys yesterday. Perhaps today they should issue a new statement and apology in support of these boys. The Church should also ask the faithful to pray for the conversion of the hate so rampant in their critics' hearts and that they use reason, patience, and wisdom instead of launching a vicious attack on children.