The Slatest

Student at Center of Face-Off With Native American Elder Defends Himself

A screengrab from the viral video showing Nick Sandmann standing in front of veteran Nathan Phillips in Washington, D.C. on January 18, 2019.
A screengrab from the viral video showing Nick Sandmann standing in front of veteran Nathan Phillips in Washington, D.C. on January 18, 2019.

The Kentucky high school student who went viral over the weekend due to video that showed him standing in front of a Native American tribal elder said he wanted to “correct misinformation and outright lies” about what happened near the Lincoln Memorial on Friday. Nick Sandmann, a junior at Covington Catholic High School, issued a statement through a lawyer and a spokesman Sunday night in which he characterizes himself as a victim of a situation that he didn’t quite understand.

“I never interacted with this protestor. I did not speak to him. I did not make any hand gestures or other aggressive moves,” the statement read. “To be honest, I was startled and confused as to why he had approached me. We had already been yelled at by another group of protestors, and when the second group approached I was worried that a situation was getting out of control where adults were attempting to provoke teenagers.” Although many have described Sandmann’s expression as smug, he said that he thought that “by remaining motionless and calm, I was helping to diffuse the situation.”

Throughout his telling of events, Sandmann characterizes himself as a peacemaker. Not only was he trying to prevent any escalation with the Native American elder, since identified as Nathan Phillips, he also called on a classmate to stop responding to a protester. “I never felt like I was blocking the Native American protestor,” Sandmann wrote. “He did not make any attempt to go around me. It was clear to me that he had singled me out for a confrontation, although I am not sure why.” He added that he was “mortified that so many people have come to believe something that did not happen—that students from my school were chanting or acting in a racist fashion toward African Americans or Native Americans. I did not do that, do not have hateful feelings in my heart and did not witness any of my classmates doing that.”

Since the controversy broke many have wondered why the high school students didn’t have any chaperones with them. But it turns out there were at least five at the scene. One of them talked to the Cincinnati Enquirer and assured he wouldn’t change a thing of how they reacted that day to the series of events. “There was nothing the chaperones could have done differently,” said Val Andreev, who was there with his 14-year old son. “I’m very proud the way the boys handled the situation.” Andreev said no one from the school thought much of the encounter until the next day when they saw the reaction it had sparked on social media. “If you look at any videos, there was no confrontation,” Andreev said. “There was nothing to control. There was not any aggression.”

As the story continues to spread, authorities are investigating threats that were made against Covington Catholic High School and some of its students. Officials declined to elaborate on the nature of the threats but said they involved threats of violence against the school and students. The school is working with local authorities to come up with a safety plan for when classes resume Tuesday.