The teenager at the center of a social media storm over a standoff with a Native American elder claimed Monday that the video posted online misrepresented events and has caused “outright lies” to be spread about his family.
Nick Sandmann became the focus of online vitriol after a video posted Saturday showed the high schooler in a MAGA hat smirking in the face of Native American activist Nathan Phillips at the Lincoln Memorial.
Phillips was taking part in the Indigenous Peoples March in the capital.
Since the video went viral, Sandmann said, he and his parents have received death threats. “One person threatened to harm me at school, and one person claims to live in my neighborhood,” he said in a statement.
The video shows Sandmann and a number of his classmates from Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Kentucky, surround Phillips as he beats a drum.
The teenagers were in Washington for the March for Life event, in a group supervised by parent and teacher chaperones.
However, Sandmann said the video, shared widely on Twitter and YouTube, does not accurately portray events on the National Mall — and video evidence appears to back up much of his claims.
The student said he and his classmates were subject to abuse by four African-American protestors who were part of a Black Hebrew Israelites group who were also protesting at the Lincoln Memorial.
This YouTube video shows the group shouting abuse at everyone, including calling the students “pompous bastards,” “incest babies” and “dirty-ass bastards,” pointing at their MAGA hats.
“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,” Sandmann said.
The video footage shows that the students did not react immediately to the abuse, but Sandmann says one of his classmates wanted to do something to counter the attacks.
“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 footage shows the students beginning chants, with one student taking off his shirt.
Phillips then walks towards the group beating his drum in what he says was a ceremonial plea to god to quell any pending violent interaction between the groups. The elder says he was the one who approached the students, not the other way around.
“Something caused me to put myself between [them] — it was black and white,” Phillips said. “What I saw was my country being torn apart. I couldn’t stand by and let that happen.”
Sandmann claimed he wasn't mocking Phillips but merely trying to defuse the situation:
“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,” Sandmann said. “I believed that by remaining motionless and calm, I was helping to diffuse [sic] the situation.”
Sandmann denies allegations that his classmates were chanting “Build the wall” as Philips approached, and claimed 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.”
Sandmann’s school has already condemned the incident, apologized to Phillps and said it is investigating.
However Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) said that after watching all the available footage of the incident, he felt the students were “honorable and tolerant” and “it is my honor to represent them.”
Cover image: A screen grab from one of the YouTube videos shot at the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday.