Nathan Phillips, the Native man who was surrounded and mocked by Covington Catholic High School students in D.C. last Friday, offered his side of the story Thursday on NBC’s “Today” show. Phillips said he forgave the boys but condemned Nick Sandmann’s use of a PR firm to smooth over the controversy.
“Coached and written up for him. Insincerity. Lack of responsibility. Those are the words I came up with, but then I went to go pray about it,” Phillips said on “Today.” “And then I woke up, and I woke up with this forgiving heart. So I forgive him.”
The Covington junior became the focal point of the dayslong controversy sparked by a viral video of him grinning in Phillips’ face as his peers jumped, heckled, and mocked the elder on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. To smooth things over, Sandmann’s family hired a PR team called RunSwitch that is run by a former adviser to GOP leader Mitch McConnell. He then appeared on "Today" and said he had a right to do what he did and that he and his classmates were showing a “peaceful response of school spirit” to a small group of Black Hebrew Israelites, even though lengthy videos show the boys chanting and jumping as a group with one student rushing to the front to remove his clothes as the other boys cheered him on.
The students, many in MAGA hats, were in D.C. with about 240 other students and chaperones from Covington for the anti-abortion March for Life, and Phillips was there as part of an Indigenous peoples gathering.
Phillips said he didn’t find Sandmann’s explanations convincing.
“What it says is, he has a PR firm. So those aren’t even his words if he has a PR firm,” Phillips said.
The Covington kids had engaged verbally with the Black Hebrew Israelites, and Phillips said that he put himself between the two groups because the situation was getting “really explosive.”
"When I was in prayer, it wasn't that I felt like I could stop anything or do anything. But I felt like I was spiritually moved into that center, into the center of that whirlwind," he said.
Eventually, Phillips said he was blocked from leaving.
"That's what I was trying to do. I was trying to walk away. There was a spot, there was a place I could take my peoples because we were surrounded, we couldn’t go right, we couldn’t go left," he said.
This article originally appeared on VICE News US.