Covington High Student Says He Never Sought Staredown With Native American Elder

Video of their interaction went viral Saturday

Nick Sandmann, the Covington High School student seen wearing a “Make America Great Again” and smiling at Native American elder Nathan Phillips in a viral video posted Saturday, released a statement on Sunday giving his account of the incident and saying he never meant to engage in a staredown.

In the statement, which was posted by CNN’s Jake Tapper on Twitter, Sandmann said he was in Washington as part of the anti-abortion March for Life protest, which took place in Washington on Friday. While he and his classmates were waiting for buses at the Lincoln Memorial, Sandmann said that a group of African-American protesters began making derogatory insults at them, including calling them “incest kids.”

CNN reporter Sara Sidner said the network found video that “started a full hour before” Phillips arrived and came face-to-face with Sandmann. In the video, Sidner reported that a group of “about five black men who identify as Hebrew Israelites” were preaching, adding that they “start taunting people of all colors — other black visitors, Natives and a Catholic priest.”

Sandmann said that after receiving permission from their chaperones, the students countered by chanting their fight song at the group. He said no one in his group made any racist chants.

“At no time did I hear any student chanting anything other than the school spirit chants,” he wrote. “I did not witness or hear any students chant ‘build that wall’ or anything hateful or racist at any time. Assertions to the contrary are simply false.”

The student said that Phillips made eye contact with him and approached him, playing his drum while doing so. Sandmann said that he smiled, as seen in the video, because he believed Phillips was trying to be provocative and wanted to show that he would not engage.

“I was worried that a situation was getting out of control where adults were attempting to provoke teenagers,” Sandmann wrote. “I believed that by remaining motionless and calm, I was helping diffuse [sic] the situation.”

Sandmann went on to write: “I harbor no ill will for [Phillips]. I respect this person’s right to engage in free speech activities, and I support his chanting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial any day of the week. I believe he should re-think his tactics of invading the personal space of others, but that is his choice to make.”

Phillips, in his own interview with the Associated Press, said that he approached the students because he believed that there would be a confrontation between them and the African-American demonstrators, and he was trying to de-escalate the situation.

“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.”

The initial video of the stare-down between Sandmann and Phillips prompted a social media backlash: Many believed the students were trying to taunt or provoke the Native Americans. Covington High School locked its Twitter account, and the Diocese of Covington apologized to Phillips and promised a further investigation.

“We condemn the actions of the Covington Catholic High School students towards Nathan Phillips specifically, and Native Americans in general, Jan. 18, after the March for Life, in Washington, D.C. We extend our deepest apologies to Mr. Phillips. This behavior is opposed to the Church’s teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person,” the diocese statement read.

You can read Sandmann’s complete statement below.