Shocking video that has quickly sparked outrage online shows how a group of teenagers wearing “Make America Great Again” hats mocked and harassed a Native American elder at the Indigenous Peoples March in D.C. on Friday. The videos posted online show how the teenagers surrounded and proceeded to ridicule Nathan Phillips as he sang the American Indian Movement Song at the Lincoln Memorial. In a particularly galling moment of the video, a boy stands right in front of Phillips with a smug grin plastered on his face while others behind him clap and jeer as they cheer him on. Phillips is a Native American elder of the Omaha tribe and a Vietnam veteran, according to Indian Country Today.
Eagle-eyed Twitter users quickly came to the conclusion that the teenagers are students from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky and demanded answers from the school. On Saturday afternoon, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington and Covington Catholic High issued a joint statement condemning the students and vowed to take action. “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,” the statement reads. “This behavior is opposed to the Church’s teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person. The matter is being investigated and we will take appropriate action, up to and including expulsion.” The school’s website shows students and faculty members took part in the March for Life rally in Washington, which also took place Friday.
A video of Phillips responding to the harassment shows the elder visibly distraught about the way he was treated by the teenagers. “I heard them saying ‘build that wall, build that wall,’ ” Phillips said while wiping away tears. “This is indigenous land. You’re not supposed to have walls here. We never did for a millennia. We never had a prison. We always took care of our elders, took care of our children, always provided for them, taught them right from wrong. I wish I could see that energy … put that energy to making this country really, really great.”
The journalist who first identified Phillips, Vincent Schilling, spoke to the Cincinnati Enquirer about the shocking scene. “As a Native American journalist, I find this to be one of the most egregious displays of naïve—I can’t even say naïve. It’s racism. It’s blatant racism,” Schilling, who is a member of the Mohawk tribe and also a veteran, said.
New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland, who is Native American, condemned the students who mocked Phillips. “This Veteran put his life on the line for our country,” Haaland wrote on Twitter. “The students’ display of blatant hate, disrespect, and intolerance is a signal of how common decency has decayed under this administration. Heartbreaking.”