"Nick Sandmann and the students of Covington have become symbols of Fake News and how evil it can be," President Donald Trump tweeted on Tuesday
President Donald Trump is once again taking aim at the media, this time for what he claims were unfair judgements against high school student Nick Sandmann and his classmates at a Kentucky Catholic school — who were recorded wearing “Make America Great Again” hats while in a standoff with a group of Native American activists at the Indigenous Peoples March in Washington, D.C. on Friday.
On Twitter Tuesday, the president stood up for the teenagers, writing: “Nick Sandmann and the students of Covington have become symbols of Fake News and how evil it can be.”
The students were initially widely condemned over the weekend after brief clips from the incident appeared to show them harassing and mocking the activists, including Omaha Tribe elder Nathan Phillips.
Sandmann could be seen standing directly in front of Phillips with a smirk on his face.
Longer footage from that day, which surfaced over the weekend, shows that Phillips intervened between the students and a small group of Black Hebrew Israelites who had been yelling obscenities at them and criticizing them for their pro-Trump attire.
Trump, in an unusual move, urged Sandmann and his peers on Tuesday to use the controversy as an attempt to mend fences.
“They have captivated the attention of the world, and I know they will use it for the good — maybe even to bring people together,” he tweeted. “It started off unpleasant, but can end in a dream!”
It was the second time Trump had tweeted support for the kids. Earlier, on Monday, he quoted a headline from friend Tucker Carlson, after writing, “Looking like Nick Sandman & Covington Catholic students were treated unfairly with early judgements proving out to be false — smeared by media. Not good, but making big comeback!”
“New footage shows that media was wrong about teen’s encounter with Native American,” the Carlson quote read.
Video of Sandmann’s confrontation quickly went viral on Friday, with many over the weekend chastising the teenagers for their behavior — including allegations they chanted “build a wall” — and arguing it was a side-effect of the Trump administration’s racial prejudice.
Among those who spoke out were both the boys’ school and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington.
In one clip from Friday, Phillips, 63, can be seen playing a drum and chanting while standing in front of Sandmann — something he later explained was a peaceful prayer trying to diffuse tensions between the students and the group of Black Hebrew Israelites.
Refusing to move, Sandmann peered down at Phillips in the clip while a large group around them, many of whom were also wearing MAGA apparel, laughed and seemed to make fun of Phillips’ chants. Others in the group clapped along. One boy got into an argument with an activist in Phillips’ group.
Phillips also told The Washington Post that he heard the students say, “Go back to Africa,” and that some chanted “build that wall, build that wall.”
Sandmann, who was on a field trip with his schoolmates to rally at the March for Life, claimed on Sunday in a statement that Phillips was actually the aggressor.
“He locked eyes with me and approached me, coming within inches of my face,” the student wrote of Phillips, attacking the “misinformation” and “outright lies” reported about what happened.
“I never interacted with this protestor. I did not speak to him. I did not make any hand gestures or other aggressive moves,” Sandmann said. “To be honest, I was startled and confused as to why he had approached me.”
He went on to say that although in the video he looks like he was smirking at Philips, he explained his demeanor as “remaining motionless and calm” to help “diffuse the situation.”
“I was not intentionally making faces at the protestor,” Sandmann continued. “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.”
The high school junior also 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.”
“The protestors said hateful things,” he claimed. “They called us ‘racists,’ ‘bigots,’ ‘white crackers,’ ‘f—–s,’ and ‘incest kids.’”
Meanwhile, Phillips, a father of two, maintains that Sandmann’s behavior was one of disrespect for an elder who honorably served in the military.
“I was standing there as a peacekeeper,” he told PEOPLE. “I was afraid for my people also, the indigenous people.”
“I sang that song for my country, for my children, for all of our children,” Phillips said. “They were acting not only as an angry, ugly mob but foolish. … I wanted to go there and stand between these two groups who are trying to tear my country apart.”
The Kentucky church diocese, which oversees the Covington Catholic High School, said in a statement it “will take appropriate action, up to and including expulsion.”
As for Phillips, he said he just hopes Sandmann learns from the situation.
“At first I only wanted chaperones and teachers to be fired right away to never let that kind of situation to happen. I didn’t ask for an apology,” he said. “Now today, since I’ve heard Mr. Sandmann’s statement and how he’s tried to flip the narrative on me, maybe he needs to have some kind of cultural sensitivity training, maybe that’s what he needs.”