Nick Sandmann says he and his classmates are not racist

By Diane Herbst
January 21, 2019 08:35 AM
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Credit: Hunter Hooligan Instagram

The Kentucky high school student whose face-off with a Native American tribal elder went viral said on Sunday he wished to “correct misinformation and outright lies” about the incident.

Several outlets, including The Cincinnati Enquirer and CNN, published a statement from Covington Catholic High School junior Nick Sandmann, who has been accused of harassing and taunting a group of Native American activists, including Omaha tribe elder Nathan Phillips, with his classmates.

Sandmann’s account comes after viral videos of the confrontation, in which Phillips, 63, there for the Indigenous Peoples March, can be seen playing a drum and chanting while standing in front of the smiling Sandmann. The teen — who was on a field trip to rally at the March for Life — was wearing a red Make America Great Again hat and peering down at Phillips. Behind them, a large group of kids, many of whom were also wearing MAGA apparel, can be seen laughing and making fun of Phillips’ chants.

The school and the Diocese of Covington condemned the actions of the students and apologized to Phillips — but Sandmann wrote that Phillips “had singled me out for a confrontation, although I am not sure why.”

“The protestor everyone has seen in the video began playing his drum as he waded into the crowd, which parted for him,” Sandmann wrote. “I did not see anyone try to block his path. He locked eyes with me and approached me, coming within inches of my face. He played his drum the entire time he was in my face.”

“I never interacted with this protestor,” he continued. “I did not speak to him. I did not make any hand gestures or other aggressive moves. To be honest, I was startled and confused as to why he had approached me.”

PEOPLE has reached out to Phillips for comment.

In the video, Sandmann looks like he is smirking at Phillips, a Marine veteran, Omaha Tribe elder and former director of the Native Youth Alliance. Sandmann explained his demeanor as “remaining motionless and calm” to help “diffuse the situation.”

“I was not intentionally making faces at the protestor,” he said. “I did smile at one point because I wanted him to know that I was not going to become angry, intimidated or be provoked into a larger confrontation.”

In an interview with The Washington Post, Phillips shared that some of the students chanted “build that wall, build that wall.”

But Sandmann said he “did not witness or hear any students chant ‘build that wall’ or anything hateful or racist at any time. Assertions to the contrary are simply false.”

Sandmann described how the events began, when he and other classmates arrived at the Lincoln Memorial and saw four black men there.

“The protestors said hateful things,” he wrote. “They called us ‘racists,’ ‘bigots,’ ‘white crackers,’ ‘f—–s,’ and ‘incest kids.'”

The students responded by chanting “school spirit chants” one would hear at sporting events to “counter the hateful things that were being shouted at our group,” Sandmann claimed.

A few minutes after the Covington students began their chant, Phillips and his group arrived, according to Sandmann, but the Native American elder described the scene differently to MSNBC.

“It just needed that little spark and that mob would have descended on those four guys and ripped them apart — that’s what it looked like, that’s what it felt like,” Phillips said as he explained why he chose to walk up to the students.

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The encounter between the black men described as Hebrew Israelites, the students and then with Phillips can be seen in this full-length video, which contains offensive language.

Sandmann wrote that he has “received physical and death threats via social media, as well as hateful insults. One person threatened to harm me at school, and one person claims to live in my neighborhood.”

He said he is “mortified that so many people have come to believe something that did not happen — that students from my school were chanting or acting in a racist fashion toward African Americans or Native Americans. I did not do that, do not have hateful feelings in my heart, and did not witness any of my classmates doing that.”

Credit: ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images

Speaking about how he tried to keep peace during the confrontation, Phillips told MSNBC he started singing “prayers to god” and using a drum, which “is an instrument that we use to communicate to god.”

“When I started that drum beat, it was in my mind, god, look at us here now,” he told MSNBC’s Joy Reid on Sunday. “Look at my America here, look at my white, black brothers over here, they’re tearing at each other.”

He added as his voice filled with emotion, “We’re at a point where we can’t, you can’t stand by and watch this. If you’re an American and you see America getting torn apart, being burnt down…you got to do something. You got to stop it.”

The Diocese of Covington, which oversees Sandmann’s school, issued a statement condemning the actions of the students on Saturday.

“We extend our deepest apologies to Mr. Phillips,” the statement read. “This behavior is opposed to the Church’s teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person.”

“The matter is being investigated and we will take appropriate action, up to and including expulsion,” the statement continued.

In his interview with MSNBC, Phillips shared that while he doesn’t necessarily believe the students involved should be expelled, he does believe that any chaperones who were in attendance that day should be “immediately fired,” adding that he didn’t see any adults among the students.

In a statement, the Indigenous Peoples Movement — which organized Friday’s march — said that the incident was “emblematic of our discourse in Trump’s America,” adding that it “clearly demonstrates the validity of our concerns about the marginalization and disrespect of Indigenous peoples,” according to the Washington Post.

New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland, one of the first Native American women to ever be elected to Congress, called the incident “heartbreaking.”

“This Veteran put his life on the line for our country. The students’ display of blatant hate, disrespect, and intolerance is a signal of how common decency has decayed under this administration. Heartbreaking,” she wrote in a statement shared on Twitter.

Covington Mayor Joe Meyer penned an op-ed, calling the confrontation “disturbing, discouraging, and — frankly — appalling.”

“They are rightfully inspiring a tidal wave of condemnation,” he continued, adding that the “videos being shared across the nation do NOT represent the core beliefs and values of this City.”