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What the media got wrong about the ‘MAGA hat kid’ confronting a Native American vet

If you’re reading this, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the kids wearing MAGA hats who harassed a Native American veteran. From there, the headlines and articles write themselves, and our cup of outrage runneth over.

There’s only one problem with it – it’s not factually correct.

At best, the situation was wildly mischaracterized by the media. At worst, journalists didn’t take a minute to check the facts behind a story before reporting on it.

But before we get too far into this, let’s start things out with a few quick reminders.

I’m liberal. I didn’t vote for Trump. In fact, I’ve never cast a vote for a member of the republican party. I don’t like Trump. I’ve written many articles that are critical of Trump. I’ve posted numerous times about how I don’t like Trump on Twitter and Facebook. The most positive thing I can say about Trump is that he is a human person that exists.

That said, I know that many people will fail to actually read this article before they comment something about how I’m a MAGA supporter myself, or use some other type of personal attack. That’s fine. They’re wrong, but that’s fine. There’s no sense in trying to reason with unreasonable people.

This isn’t about defending a group of kids from a Catholic high school. In fact, I probably disagree with most of their ideologies – religious or otherwise. This is about defending the truth and demanding that the media do better.

The video

It was widely reported, based on a short video clip, that this group of high school students harassed a Native American veteran named Nathan Phillips. And I’ll admit that after reading a few headlines about the incident, and seeing the smug smile on the cover images, I was angry.

But this video paints a slightly different picture of the events.

The widely reported incident of the students harassing Phillips occurs around 1:12:30 in the video. Prior to that, members of Black Hebrew Israelites (the Southern Poverty Law Center calls this group racist and black supremacists) were harassing the students. 

During the lead-up to the “confrontation”, I saw the high school students behave about as well as you can expect a group of high school students who are being accosted. Phillips then made his way into the middle of the group of students – even a member of the Black Hebrew Israelites group notes that they “came to the rescue” (at 1:13:00).

At no point did I hear the students chant anything about a wall or anything derogatory to Phillips. In fact, at 1:13:40, the person shooting the video (one of the members of the Black Hebrew Israelites group) notes that the students are joining Phillips with his chant. You can also hear at least one kid ask “What is going on?”

Phillips himself said that the students “were in the process of attacking these four black individuals”. He went on to say that “These young men were beastly and these old black individuals was their prey, and I stood in between them and so they needed their pounds of flesh and they were looking at me for that.” While Phillips may truly believe that to be the case, he is incredibly mistaken in his cursory assessment. The Black Hebrew Israelites group had been calling the group of students “faggots” and “pedophiles” in the hour leading up to Phillips’ intervention.

What I did see is Phillips walk into a crowd of high school students, banging a drum, and him put the drum just a few inches away from the high school student’s face.

Some people have even said that the students “had it coming” because they were wearing MAGA hats. Yeah, they were. They were attending an anti-abortion rally. I would expect members of the religious right to dress in a manner consistent with their dunderheaded ideology. I would also expect people attending a pro-choice rally to wear Bernie or Clinton shirts. 

The student’s response

The student who was involved in this – the one who was featured on all the cover images, including this article – released a statement describing the experience from his point of view. While I may not agree at all with his political views, his description of the events is far more consistent with the video evidence we have than any of the media reports I saw.

I am providing this factual account of what happened on Friday afternoon at the Lincoln Memorial to correct misinformation and outright lies being spread about my family and me.

I am the student in the video who was confronted by the Native American protestor. I arrived at the Lincoln Memorial at 4:30 p.m. I was told to be there by 5:30 p.m., when our busses were due to leave Washington for the trip back to Kentucky. We had been attending the March for Life rally, and then had split up into small groups to do sightseeing.

When we arrived, we noticed four African American protestors who were also on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I am not sure what they were protesting, and I did not interact with them. I did hear them direct derogatory insults at our school group.

The protestors said hateful things. They called us “racists,” “bigots,” “white crackers,” “faggots,” and “incest kids.” They also taunted an African American student from my school by telling him that we would “harvest his organs.” I have no idea what that insult means, but it was startling to hear.

Because we were being loudly attacked and taunted in public, a student in our group asked one of our teacher chaperones for permission to begin our school spirit chants to counter the hateful things that were being shouted at our group. The chants are commonly used at sporting events. They are all positive in nature and sound like what you would hear at any high school. Our chaperone gave us permission to use our school chants. We would not have done that without obtaining permission from the adults in charge of our group.

At no time did I hear any student chant anything other than the school spirit chants. I 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. Our chants were loud because we wanted to drown out the hateful comments that were being shouted at us by the protestors.

After a few minutes of chanting, the Native American protestors, who I hadn’t previously noticed, approached our group. The Native American protestors had drums and were accompanied by at least one person with a camera.

The protestor everyone has seen in the video began playing his drum as he waded into the crowd, which parted for him. I did not see anyone try to block his path. He locked eyes with me and approached me, coming within inches of my face. He played his drum the entire time he was in my face.

I never interacted with this protestor. I did not speak to him. I did not make any hand gestures or other aggressive moves. To be honest, I was startled and confused as to why he had approached me. We had already been yelled at by another group of protestors, and when the second group approached I was worried that a situation was getting out of control where adults were attempting to provoke teenagers.

I believed that by remaining motionless and calm, I was helping to diffuse 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.

During the period of the drumming, a member of the protestor’s entourage began yelling at a fellow student that we “stole our land” and that we should “go back to Europe.” I heard one of my fellow students begin to respond. I motioned to my classmate and tried to get him to stop engaging with the protestor, as I was still in the mindset that we needed to calm down tensions.

I never felt like I was blocking the Native American protestor. He did not make any attempt to go around me. It was clear to me that he had singled me out for a confrontation, although I am not sure why.

The engagement ended when one of our teachers told me the busses had arrived and it was time to go. I obeyed my teacher and simply walked to the busses. At that moment, I thought I had diffused the situation by remaining calm, and I was thankful nothing physical had occurred.

I never understood why either of the two groups of protestors were engaging with us, or exactly what they were protesting at the Lincoln Memorial. We were simply there to meet a bus, not become central players in a media spectacle. This is the first time in my life I’ve ever encountered any sort of public protest, let alone this kind of confrontation or demonstration.

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.

I harbor no ill will for this person. I respect this person’s right to protest and engage in free speech activities, and I support his chanting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial any day of the week. I believe he should re-think his tactics of invading the personal space of others, but that is his choice to make.

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. My parents were not on the trip, and I strive to represent my family in a respectful way in all public settings.

I have received physical and death threats via social media, as well as hateful insults. One person threatened to harm me at school, and one person claims to live in my neighborhood. My parents are receiving death and professional threats because of the social media mob that has formed over this issue.

I love my school, my teachers and my classmates. I work hard to achieve good grades and to participate in several extracurricular activities. I am mortified that so many people have come to believe something that did not happen – that students from my school were chanting or acting in a racist fashion toward African Americans or Native Americans. I did not do that, do not have hateful feelings in my heart, and did not witness any of my classmates doing that.

I cannot speak for everyone, only for myself. But I can tell you my experience with Covington Catholic is that students are respectful of all races and cultures. We also support everyone’s right to free speech. I am not going to comment on the words or account of Mr. Phillips, as I don’t know him and would not presume to know what is in his heart or mind. Nor am I going to comment further on the other protestors, as I don’t know their hearts or minds, either.

I have read that Mr. Phillips is a veteran of the United States Marines. I thank him for his service and am grateful to anyone who puts on the uniform to defend our nation. If anyone has earned the right to speak freely, it is a U.S. Marine veteran.

I can only speak for myself and what I observed and felt at the time. But I would caution everyone passing judgement based on a few seconds of video to watch the longer video clips that are on the internet, as they show a much different story than is being portrayed by people with agendas.

I provided this account of events to the Diocese of Covington so they may know exactly what happened, and I stand ready and willing to cooperate with any investigation they are conducting. (via Reason.com)

We currently have a president who regularly attacks the media, calling them “the enemy of the people” – for propagating fake news. So when the media actually reports on news that isn’t real, it gives MAGA-hatters ammunition. Their prophecy has been fulfilled, and now they can gleefully point to this incident as an example of the media reporting fake news.

And look, I could be wrong with my assessment of the situation. Maybe there was a kid off to the side somewhere chanting “build the wall” to Phillips and his group. But I watched a decent portion of the video I embedded above of the incident, and I didn’t hear that, and I certainly didn’t see the high school students behave in a disrespectful manner towards Phillips.

And this isn’t just my hot take on the situation. This is something more and more people are beginning to admit. There’s the New York Times‘ story “Fuller Picture Emerges of Viral Video of Native American Man and Catholic Students”, people are beginning to realize that the situation was not what it originally seemed. Writing for The Atlantic, her story “I Failed the Covington Catholic Test”, Julie Zimmerman said:

As I watched the longer videos, I began to see the smirking kid in a different light. It seemed to me that a wave of emotions rolled over his face as Phillips approached him: confusion, fear, resolve. He finally, I thought, settled on an expression designed to mimic respect while signaling to his friends that he had this under control. Observing it, I wondered what different reaction I could have reasonably hoped a high-school junior to have in such an unfamiliar and bewildering situation. I came up empty.

I’ve seen countless comments saying that the student had a “shit-eating grin” or was clearly in the wrong for “smirking” at Phillips. If you’re basing your thoughts on a situation like this on nothing more than a picture paired with a headline, I’m not sure why I should take anything you say seriously.

Outrage porn

When you have facts on your side, there is nothing to hide. So go back and watch the full video – not just the ridiculous narrative put forward by sites like Occupy Democrats. I watched their edit of the incident (embedded below), and didn’t see anything remotely close to what they claimed in the caption or in the cringy text in the video.

Nevertheless, as of this writing, over 1.7 million people have seen that video, and 45,000 people have shared it. Despite the caption(s) being completely made-up, they posted it anyway because they knew people wouldn’t care if it was true or not – it’s a convenient story.

You don’t need to make up or embellish stories to prove your point. Make your case based on facts, leaving emotion out of it. If you can’t make your case based on the facts that are available to you, you might need to adjust your argument accordingly.

And to be completely fair to the media, they’re only partially to blame for the worst fake news story of 2019 (so far). So many media outlets ran with the story because they knew many readers would eat it up and share it with others. So as consumers of information, we need to do better before we share a story because it fits perfectly with our prior assumptions.

If we, as liberals, decide that facts don’t matter, then what do we have left to stand for?

Written by Dan Broadbent

Science Enthusiast. Atheist. Lover of cats.

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