A group of teenagers were seen harassing a group of Native American activists during a march in Washington, D.C.
During Friday’s Indigenous Peoples March in Washington, D.C., a group of teenagers wearing Make America Great Again hats were caught on video harassing and taunting a group of Native American activists, including Omaha Tribe elder Nathan Phillips.
In videos of the confrontation, which quickly went viral, Phillips, 63, can be seen playing a drum and chanting while standing in front of a smiling teen wearing a red MAGA hat and peering down at him. 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.
Opening up about how it began, Phillips told MSNBC on Sunday that the incident “started at the end of our rally,” and originated between two separate groups who were not “part of our organization.”
Phillips, a Marine veteran and former director of the Native Youth Alliance, said that one group was made up of students, and the other consisted of a few black men, who he believed were Black Hebrews.
During the course of about two hours, tensions increased between the students — whose numbers grew from about six to an “ugly, ugly mob” of around 100 to 200 — and the other protestors, Phillips said.
“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.
In an effort to end the conflict, 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.”
“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,” he added as his voice filled with emotion.
In an interview with NBC News, Phillips shared that some of the students chanted “build the wall and other things that were even worse.”
“They were brought up to believe I’m less than human,” he added.
“You know, this is indigenous land. We’re not supposed to have walls here. We never did for a millennium, before anybody else came here, we never had walls,” he remarked in an interview clip that was taken after the confrontation, adding that he wished he could see the teens’ energy being put into efforts that would actually make “this country really great.”
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Although it is not yet clear where all the students involved in Friday’s incident went to school, NBC News reported that some of them attended the all-male Covington Catholic High School in Covington, Kentucky.
The New York Times — which noted some of the teens wore clothing associated with Covington Catholic — reported the students were on a field trip to rally at the March for Life, which also took place in D.C. on Friday.
The Diocese of Covington, which oversees the 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 has written 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.”