Covington Catholic student Nicholas Sandmann spoke out for the first time on Wednesday, defending himself after video of him seemingly taunting Native American tribal elder Nathan Phillips went viral over the weekend.
“As far as standing there, I had every right to do so. My position is that I was not disrespectful to Mr. Phillips. I respect him. I’d like to talk to him,” Sandmann told “Today” host Savannah Guthrie. “But I can’t say that I’m sorry for listening to him and standing there.”
Sandmann also denied that he or his classmates had said racist things, noting that such talk would have been forbidden by his school.
“We’re a Catholic school, and it’s not tolerated. They don’t tolerate racism, and none of my classmates are racist people,” he said, while adding that the situation was first provoked by members of the Black Israelites, which video confirms had been shouting slurs at the student.
“I would just say the fact remains they initiated their comments with us. I mean they provoked us into a peaceful response of school spirit,” Sandmann said.
Footage of the moment sparked heated passions over the weekend and a broad wave of denunciations toward the teenagers.
The Catholic Diocese of Covington condemned the students. The school promised an investigation and possible expulsion, Internet vigilantes — like former Vanity Fair contributor Kurt Eichenwald — said the kids involved should all be denied work “in perpetuity.” He also shared close ups of every student’s face to his Twitter account so they could be identified. A writer for GQ urged his followed to doxx the students. A writer for Vulture said he wished the students and their families would die.
Longer footage of the incident, however, suggests the actual facts were more nuanced. In a widely shared article for Reason Magazine, Robby Soave said the media had broadly botched the story in their rush to judgement.
“Far from engaging in racially motivated harassment, the group of mostly white, MAGA-hat-wearing male teenagers remained relatively calm and restrained despite being subjected to incessant racist, homophobic, and bigoted verbal abuse by members of the bizarre religious sect Black Hebrew Israelites, who were lurking nearby,” wrote Soave. “Phillips put himself between the teens and the black nationalists, chanting and drumming as he marched straight into the middle of the group of young people.”
“In hindsight, I wish we could’ve walked away and avoided the whole thing.”
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) January 23, 2019