Donald Trump: looks like MAGA hat-wearing students in protester standoff were ‘treated unfairly’
CORRECTION: Jan. 22 — A previous version of this story said Nathan Phillips was a Vietnam War veteran. The Washington Post has reported that Phillips served with the U.S. Marines, but never deployed to Vietnam.
U.S. President Donald Trump voiced support Monday for students at Kentucky’s Covington Catholic High School who were embroiled in a standoff with an Indigenous protester in Washington, D.C. last week.
Trump tweeted that it looks like student Nick Sandmann, who was seen standing close to an Indigenous protester and smiling as fellow students laughed and performed “tomahawk chops,” and his colleagues were “treated unfairly with early judgements [sic] proving out to be false.”
The story first unfolded on Saturday, when a video emerged that showed Sandmann standing face-to-face with Indigenous elder Nathan Phillips in front of the Lincoln Memorial, where both an Indigenous Peoples March and a March for Life rally were happening.
Initially, it looked like Sandmann was confronting Phillips.
WATCH: Kentucky student says he wasn’t smirking or disrespectful to Indigenous man, but says he’s ‘not sorry’
However, a video released on Sunday provided a broader context for the encounter.
That video initially showed a man with the Hebrew Israelites hurling insults at Indigenous activists, saying, “you’re not supposed to worship eagles, buffaloes… all types of animals. This is the reason why the Lord took away your land.”
Then, the video showed one of the Hebrew Israelites turning his attention to the teens, some of whom were wearing “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) hats, and calling them “dirty crackers” and “incest babies.”
Students were subsequently seen gathering at the memorial in heavy numbers, and chanting back at the ones taunting them.
Phillips could then be seen leading a group of drummers toward the teens.
Phillips said that he approached them in an effort to defuse racial tension that was building at the scene.
WATCH: Video purports to show boys in MAGA hats mocking elderly Indigenous protests at Washington rally
The video then showed Phillips entering the group of teens and singing, while the students continued to chant excitedly.
Phillips said he heard the students chanting “go back to the reservation” and “build that wall,” according to the New York Times.
WATCH: Video shows minutes before alleged confrontation between MAGA hat-wearing teens, Indigenous people
Phillips also told CNN that Sandmann stood in his way as he meant to continue moving forward.
“I don’t like the word ‘hate,'” Phillips said. “I don’t like even saying it, but it was hate unbridled. It was like a storm.”
Sandmann issued a statement Sunday to “correct misinformation and outright lies being spread about my family and me.”
He said he did not see or hear any students chanting “build that wall” or “anything hateful or racist at any time.”
Indigenous protesters approached their group, drums in hand, and Phillips in particular “waded into the crowd,” Sandmann added.
Phillips, Sandmann said, “locked eyes with me and approached me, coming within inches of my face.”
WATCH: Teen in MAGA hat denies mocking Native American, says incident was ‘misinterpreted’
He said he was “startled and confused as to why he had approached me.”
Sandmann said he did not speak to Phillips, nor make any “hand gestures or other aggressive moves.”
“I believed that by remaining motionless and calm, I was helping to [defuse] the situation. I realized everyone had cameras and that perhaps a group of adults was trying to provoke a group of teenagers into a larger conflict,” he said.
WATCH: Indigenous man at Washington protest speaks about alleged mocking by teens
One member of Phillips’ group also yelled at a fellow student and said they had “stole our land” and that they should “go back to Europe,” Sandmann added.
- With files from Katie Dangerfield and Rahul Kalvapalle
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