Nick Sandmann repeated much of President Donald Trump's complaints about the news

By Sean Neumann
August 25, 2020 11:49 PM
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Nick Sandmann speaking Tuesday night at the Republican National Convention.
| Credit: RNC2020

A Kentucky teenager who said he was unfairly maligned over a 2019 viral video showing him coming face-to-face with a Native American elder, used his speech Tuesday at the Republican National Convention to voice his support for Donald Trump and repeat the president's common criticisms against "unfair" news coverage.

Nick Sandmann argued that "no one in this country has been a victim of unfair media coverage more than President Donald Trump."

Sandmann was an 11th-grader at Covington Catholic High School last year when he spent weeks in the national spotlight after he was filmed smiling as he stood in front of Omaha tribe activist Nathan Phillips, who was chanting and playing a drum.

He and other students had encountered Phillips' group and a third group at the Lincoln Memorial.

Various clips from their interaction went viral — with many criticizing Sandmann and the other students' behavior in the footage, though Sandmann insisted he himself had done nothing wrong and was only smiling out of uncertainty.

A probe ordered by his school found “no evidence” the students made “offensive or racist statements” to a tribal elder or members of his group, though some of the students were filmed doing tomahawk chops in what a Native American group said "would naturally be taken ... as a mockery."

Sandmann went on to sue various news organizations.

He was invited by the Trump campaign to speak out at this week's RNC in support of the president.

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Nathan Phillips
| Credit: Michael Nigro/Sipa

"What I thought was a strange encounter quickly developed into a major news story complete with video footage," Sandmann, 18, said Tuesday night. "My life changed forever in that one moment."

Sandmann complained Tuesday that the media portrayed him as an "aggressor" after video of the 2019 incident went viral.

During his remarks, Sandmann accused news outlets of purposely ignoring facts while reporting on the video in order to promote what he called "anti-Christian, anti-conservative and anti-Trump" narratives.

"I leaner what was happening to me had a name: It was called being 'canceled,' " Sandmann said, "as in annulled, as in revoked, as in made void."

But he said, "I would not be canceled," before explaining how he sued both CNN and The Washington Post following the incident.

He settled with both outlets for undisclosed amounts.

What Happened in 2019?

Sandmann, who was 16 at the time, turned into a lightning rod on social media as footage from the 2019 encounter was seen by millions.

Critics vilified him as a smiling face for a group of students who could be seen at points in the encounter laughing in response to Phillips’ song and doing the tomahawk chop.

Both Sandmann and Phillips have said since that they were intending to de-escalate an increasingly tense scene on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where three separate groups had converged — including the Covington teens who gathered for a March for Life rally, the Omaha tribe who was demonstrating for the Indigenous Peoples March and a third group made up of members of the Black Hebrew Israelites.

Phillips previously told PEOPLE he walked into the group of students after they began chanting back at a handful of the Black Hebrew Israelites who were insulting the students and others.

Phillips told The Washington Post he tried to work through the crowd to reach the memorial's steps, where he planned to finish a prayer, while Sandmann said in a statement to CNN afterwards that he remained "motionless and calm" in front of Phillips with the belief that he could defuse the situation, adding that he smiled "because I wanted him to know that I was not going to become angry."

Trump tweeted last year that the students had "become symbols of Fake News."