A video imaging a group of Catholic school students in Make America Great Again hats razzing Native American elder Nathan Phillips went viral on social media this weekend — and now, Phillips has come forward to describe the events leading up to the incident.
Phillips, a 64 -year-old Marine, veteran of the Vietnam War, and longtime Native American activist from Michigan, was in Washington , D.C. on Friday afternoon for the Indigenous People March. Phillips told the Detroit Free Press that the viral occurrence was triggered when a mob of approximately 100 people, including the teens seen in the video, gradually splintered off from a March for Life occurrence to confront a nearby group of Black Hebrew Israelites.
As the teenagers began to attack the Black Israelites — and Phillips have also pointed out that the Black Israelites also began to say “some harsh things” in reprisal and self-defense — Phillips made a spur of the moment decision to intervene and avoid the situation from escalating further. He physically placed himself between both groups, and the indignation from the students, a group of predominantly lily-white, male adolescents, was then guided at him.
“There was that instant when I recognized I’ve put myself between beast and prey, ” Phillips told the Free Press. “These young men were beastly and these old black men was their target, and I stood in between them and so they needed their pounds of body and they were looking at me for that.”
The students, who attend Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky, began jeering at Phillips as “hes taken” his drum and began singing. In the video, the teens can be heard chanting “Build the wall ” and yelling derogatory language and slurs. One son strolled up to Phillips and stood inches away from his face, smiling and unmoving.
Phillips said the kind of glee in the teenagers’ face was “ugly” and reminiscent of photographed reactions to lynchings from the mid-2 0th century. He described their behavior as a reaction to learning “there’s more fact out there than what they’re being taught” in their academies — and they took issue with people who are not like them.
“One thing that I was taught in my Marine Corp training is that a scared man will kill you, ” he said. “And that’s what these sons were. They were scared.”
Phillips be mentioned that the students’ chaperones, teachers, and instructors should be held accountable for letting security incidents to happen. Speaking to the broader political climate, Phillips also said the incident was symptomatic of larger sociopolitical crannies in the United States, and he explicitly noted that President Donald Trump’s racist and xenophobic rhetoric has only subdivided the two countries further.
Covington Catholic High School has since issued an apology to Phillips and condemned the students’ activities. In a statement, the school said that the matter is under investigation and appropriate action going to take, including expulsion if necessary.
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