Over the past 24 hours, more details have emerged about the video featuring a Catholic school kid grinning at a Native American elder in a way that seemed both disrespectful and cruel.
It doesn’t negate all the initial impressions everyone had; it just provides more points of view to the controversy.
The story as I heard it shortly after it went viral suggested that the MAGA hat-wearing kids were surrounding that Native American man, Nathan Phillips, mocking him with this air of superiority, shortly after attending the anti-abortion march in Washington, D.C.
The more recent story is that the students were in a shouting match with Black Hebrew Israelites who were yelling undoubtedly vile slurs in their direction. (The student’s mom allegedly called the instigators “black Muslims” in an email to Heavy.com.) The kids tried to shut them up using their high school chants — and mostly succeeded — when Phillips stepped into the fray to defuse the situation.
So the boys were on the receiving end of faith-based hate and Phillips, trying to help the situation, came to them.
In a letter that Nick Sandmann, the infamous student, released via a public relations firm, he painted himself as the real victim in all this. He also does what so many politicians do when faced with scandal: He pointed to his faith to absolve himself of any wrongdoing:
Just in: Statement of Nick Sandmann, Covington Catholic High School junior, about the event at the Lincoln Memorial: pic.twitter.com/PkuMh2cVZM
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) January 20, 2019
I believed that by remaining motionless and calm, I was helping to diffuse [sic] the situation. I realized everyone had cameras and that perhaps a group of adults was trying to provoke a group of teenagers into a larger conflict. I said a silent prayer that the situation would not get out of hand.
I was not intentionally making faces at the protestor. 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. I am a faithful Christian and practicing Catholic, and I always try to live up to the ideals my faith teaches me — to remain respectful of others, and to take no action that would lead to conflict or violence.
He says he smiled “at one point” like it was a brief moment. The grin stayed on his face for much longer than that, and anyone who’s been on the receiving end of a look like that knows exactly what it signals. (I’ve also never seen people pray for peace with that look on their faces.)
The statement also doesn’t explain the tomahawk chops coming from the crowd, all the kids laughing in Phillips’ direction, why they all surrounded the Native American, why Sandmann didn’t just step away instead of grinning at Phillips in close range, or what a spokesman for the Indigenous Peoples Movement claimed were the kids’ chants of “build that wall.”
Nor does the statement include the phrase “I’m sorry.”
Nor does it take away from all the students who have shared their own horror stories about attending Christian schools — and Covington Catholic specifically.
As the saying goes, “No single raindrop believes it is to blame for the flood.” Sandmann wasn’t the only problematic kid caught on camera, but because he’s getting all the heat, he’s overcompensating by suggesting he bears no responsibility for any of it.
And no matter how people want to spin the conflict caught on tape, there’s no question that these MAGA hat-wearing kids from an all-boys Catholic school were in D.C. attending an event with a goal of controlling women’s bodies against their will. Their religious education still has them thinking it’s God’s Will to force women to give birth (no matter what the women desire) and Donald Trump‘s racist, irrational, and thoughtless policies are somehow making our country better.
Their lack of political understanding and compassion were evident well before Nathan Phillips came onto the scene.