Revisiting the Coverage of the High School Students and the Native American Veteran: A Lesson Learned and an Apology

On Saturday, I published an article discussing an incident involving Covington Catholic High School students who attended the March for Life and Native Americans, including veteran* Nathan Phillips, who attended the Indigenous People’s March.


My article described the video available at the time, identified Nathan Phillips, and provided additional information about him. I also linked to the high school’s website to confirm the trip had indeed been organized by the school, in order to make my overall point: Where were the adult chaperones who were supervising the trip, and why did they not intervene sooner? I then referred to the recent Gillette ad to emphasize “the importance of adults setting an example for impressionable children and adolescents.” Nowhere in my article did I call for the students to be suspended or expelled, nor did I encourage or make any attempt to doxx them individually. I was covering a viral news story, with the focus of my piece on the adults.

At the time I published my article, the only video available appeared to show the students surrounding the Native American group, with some chanting and doing tomahawk chops.

More videos became available later Saturday, as well as the statement of one student. Once I became aware of the student’s statement late Saturday night, I added his statement to my original piece as soon as I could, while my RedState colleague Jen Van Laar published a follow-up story yesterday that included the additional videos. Yesterday evening, the main student in the video released a statement as well.

Both the main student and Phillips state there were several men (now known to be Black Hebrew Israelites) engaging with the students. The main student says their chaperones gave them permission to chant to drown out the Black Hebrew Israelites (although the first student’s statement says the students “decided to do some cheers to pass some time” before any incidents occurred). Phillips had earlier told the Detroit Free Press he intentionally walked between the two groups in an attempt to separate them (although he also made other statements that so far have not been verified).


This is the point at which these details now seem to indicate that confusion and miscommunication created an unnecessarily tense situation. The main student says he was “startled and confused” by Phillips, particularly after the experience with the Black Hebrew Israelites, so he remained in place and kept smiling in an attempt to keep the situation calm; Phillips, on the other hand, seems to think he was surrounded and had unthinkingly put himself in a dangerous position because he wrongly believed the students to be the aggressors. Both of them appear to have misunderstood what the other was doing and why. Both of them appear to have assumed bad faith on the other’s part.

I do not have the confidence to state that I know with certainty what happened and why, particularly since the videos can be used to match both accounts. As Free Beacon executive editor Sonny Bunch noted, “there’s enough video from enough angles with enough stop/start times that no matter which side you take you have proof.”

But the main question from my original article remains true today: Why did the chaperones not intervene sooner? Both students’ statements imply the chaperones were there for both incidents: The first student’s statement says they were supposed to meet their chaperones at 5:30 pm and “5:30 came around and we were all gathered at the Memorial,” and the main student’s statement implies teachers were present at that time, since they provided permission to chant. Yet it appears they did not make any serious efforts to forcefully remove the students from the area. However, pointing out adults’ responsibility should also now include Phillips, an adult who could have more clearly communicated his intentions to the students.


It also includes me.

There are two things my first article should have not only included but also emphasized. The first is the possibility that more videos would reveal more information. I will emphasize that now: More details regarding this situation may come out. I am writing about the situation using the information that is currently available to me.

Second, the article should also have emphasized that doxxing and violence is never appropriate, particularly for minors who have not committed a crime. I truthfully did not even think to include this, and I wasn’t aware until much later that some people had attempted to find out the students’ names or called for violence — or the extent to which they had done so. I have frequently and explicitly spoken out against both death and doxxing threats and find both reprehensible. And, as Julie Irwin Zimmerman noted in an excellent piece for the Atlantic about the incident, “Let’s assume the worst, and agree that the boy was being disrespectful. That still would not justify the death threats he’s been receiving. It would not justify the harassment of the other Covington Catholic student who wasn’t even in Washington, but who was falsely identified as the smirker by some social-media users. Online vigilantes unearthed his parents’ address and peppered his family with threats all weekend long, even as they were trying to celebrate a family wedding, accusing them of raising a racist and promising to harm their family business.”


It must also be emphasized, however, that even with the new information, the chants and “tomahawk chops” by some of the students were not an appropriate response. And directing these chants and actions at Native Americans is certainly different than doing so at a football game in support of a team. This absolutely does not excuse the behavior shown on later videos by Black Hebrew Israelites, a group so extreme they have been classified as a hate group and described as “racist” and “increasingly militant” by the Southern Poverty Law Center; the hatred they spewed in the later videos was abhorrent and should be roundly condemned. Nor does it excuse any false statements by Nathan Phillips.

I often delay my pieces because I am a commentator, not a reporter, so I can wait to comment on current events. If I had waited, my piece could have included all the details listed here or in the update to my initial piece; unfortunately, the first video seemed clear-cut enough that I did not hold off, and for that I apologize, both to RedState readers and to Covington Catholic High School students. That will not happen again, and I’m sorry it happened at all.

*UPDATE at 5:45pm on 01/22/2019Please note that this sentence initially identified Phillips as a Vietnam veteran, per reporting by Indian Country Today and other news outlets. That descriptor has been removed upon additional reporting that, although Phillips served in the U.S. Marines from 1972 to 1976, he was not deployed to Vietnam. -SQ


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The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent those of any other individual or entity. Follow Sarah on Twitter: @sarahmquinlan.


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