Kentucky teen in confrontation with Native American in viral video: I didn't provoke
DETROIT — The student who stared and smiled at an elderly Native American protester drumming in his face outside the Lincoln Memorial as his schoolmates chanted and laughed says he did nothing to provoke the man in the videotaped confrontation and was only trying to calm the situation.
The student identified himself in an email statement Sunday evening as junior Nick Sandmann of Covington Catholic High School in a northern Kentucky suburb of Cincinnati. An official working with the family confirmed Sandmann's identity, speaking on condition of anonymity because the source didn't want to distract from the statement.
Videos posted of the confrontation drew wide criticism on social media. "I am being called every name in the book, including a racist, and I will not stand for this mob-like character assassination of my family's name," wrote Sandmann, who added that he and his parents have received death threats since video of Friday's confrontation emerged.
Both Sandmann and Nathan Phillips say they were trying to defuse tensions that were rising among three groups on a day Washington hosted both the March for Life and the Indigenous Peoples March. But video of Sandmann standing very close to Phillips, staring and at times smiling at him as Phillips sang and played a drum, gave many who watched it a different impression. Other students appeared to be laughing at the drummer; and at least one could be seen on video doing a tomahawk chop.
The dueling accounts emerged Sunday as the nation picked apart footage from dozens of cellphones that recorded the incident on Friday in Washington amid an increasingly divided political climate fueled by a partial government shutdown over immigration policy.
Phillips had approached Sandmann, but well before that, both his group and Sandmann's, which had taken part in the anti-abortion rally, were confronted by a third group that appeared to be affiliated with the Black Hebrew Israelite movement.
Videos show members of the religious group yelling disparaging and profane insults at the students, who taunt them in return. Video also shows the Native Americans being insulted by the small religious group.
Sandmann wrote that the students were called "racists," ''bigots," ''white crackers" and "incest kids" by the third group. He said a teacher chaperone gave the students permission to begin their school chants "to counter the hateful things that were being shouted at our group."
One of those chants, however, is what led Phillips and Marcus Frejo, a member of the Pawnee and Seminole tribes, to approach the youths.
It was a haka — a war dance of New Zealand's indigenous Maori culture, made famous by the country's national rugby team. Frejo, who is also known as Chief Quese Imc, told the AP in a phone interview that he felt the students were mocking the dance.
Phillips, an activist described by the Indian Country Today website as an Omaha elder and a veteran, said in an interview with The Associated Press that he was trying to keep peace between the high school students and the religious group.
He said he heard people chanting "Build that wall" or yelling, "Go back to the reservation." At one point, he said, he sought to ascend to the Lincoln statue and "pray for our country." Some students backed off, but one student wouldn't let him move, he added.
"They were making remarks to each other ... (such as) 'In my state those Indians are nothing but a bunch of drunks.' How do I report that?" Phillips said. "These young people were just roughshodding through our space, like what's been going on for 500 years here — just walking through our territories, feeling like 'this is ours.'"