The high school student at the center of controversy in a very public stare down with a Native American Vietnam War veteran during Friday’s Indigenous Peoples March has vehemently defended his actions. He claims that it was he who was singled out.
Nick Sandmann, a student from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky, was seen smugly staring at Nathan Phillips while his peers stared down the vet as he sang the American Indian Movement song on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
The teen, who was part of a group of students wearing “Make America Great Again” hats, said that both he and his family have received death threats following the highly publicized incident.
Since the scene went viral on Saturday, new video has emerged that provides further context to the situation. It depicts members of a group identifying themselves as the Black Hebrew Israelites that were shouting abuse at the students.
While the teens do not approach the group, Phillips eventually appears and quickly becomes surrounded by the students. However, in a statement released Sunday, Sandmann claimed that he had been singled out and felt as though the elder was “attempting to provoke the teenagers.”
Phillips, on the other hand, told CNN he was only attempting to thwart any potential violence between the two groups.
“I believed that by remaining motionless and calm, I was helping to [defuse] the situation,” Sandmann’s statement read. “I said a silent prayer that the situation would not get out of hand.”
Before the confrontation with Phillips, Sandmann claims he and his peers had been sightseeing when they noticed “four African American protesters” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial who directed “derogatory insults at our school group.”
“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,” he said. “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.”
Sandmann said that “after a few minutes of chanting,” the group was approached by Phillips and other Native American protesters who reportedly yelled at the students, telling them to “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,” he said.
In an interview with The Washington Post Saturday, Phillips, 64, said that Sandmann wouldn’t allow him to retreat from the situation.
“It was getting ugly, and I was thinking: ‘I’ve got to find myself an exit out of this situation and finish my song at the Lincoln Memorial,’” he said. “I started going that way, and that guy in the hat stood in my way, and we were at an impasse.”
Sandmann denies blocking Phillips and said that he is “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,” he said. “I believe he should re-think his tactics of invading the personal space of others, but that is his choice to make.”