A Covington Catholic student at the center of a viral encounter with a Native American said on NBC’s ‘Today’ Wednesday morning he didn’t walk away from the man because he didn’t want to be disrespectful to him.
Nick Sandmann, a Covington Catholic junior, told NBC’s Savannah Guthrie that the conflict began when a group of Black Hebrew Israelites were shouting homophobic, racist and derogatory comments toward them while they stood on the Lincoln Memorial steps Friday.
“They were a group of adults and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next,” Sandmann said.
The Covington Catholic students began shouting their school chants to drown out the comments received by the Hebrew Israelites, Sandmann said.
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Sandmann said he wishes they would have found another spot to wait for their buses.
“At the time, being positive seemed better than letting them slander us with all these things,” he said.
Covington Catholic students were in D.C. for the March for Life anti-abortion rally. Native American elder Nathan Phillips had attended the Indigenous Peoples March, also in D.C.
Phillips previously said he put himself in between the Hebrew Israelite members and the Covington Catholic students when tensions began to flair between the two groups.
“There was that moment when I realized I’ve put myself between beast and prey,” Phillips told the Detroit Free Press. “These young men were beastly and these old black individuals was their prey, and I stood in between them and so they needed their pounds of flesh and they were looking at me for that.”
Phillips began beating a drum in front of Sandmann and singing the ‘American Indian Movement’ song. Video shows Sandmann smiling while Phillips beat his drum.
When Guthrie asked Sandmann about that smile, Sandmann responded, “I see it as a smile saying, ‘This is the best you’re going to get. You’re not going to get any further reaction of aggression and I’m willing to stand here as long as you’re willing to hit this drum in my face.’”
Sandmann said he had every right to stand where he was and believes he was not acting disrespectful to Phillips. He said he did not walk away from Phillips because he did not want to be disrespectful to him.
“Now I wish I would have walked away. I didn’t want to be disrespectful to Mr. Phillips and walk away if he was trying to talk to me,” he said.
No insults or racial slurs were said by Sandmann and his classmates in retaliation to either group, Sandmann insisted.
“It’s been terrible. People have threatened our lives,” Sandmann told Guthrie of the aftermath of Friday’s incident.
Sandmann previously released a statement, in which he said he was not intentionally making faces at Phillips.
The Covington Diocese will undergo an independent, third-party investigation this week into what occurred last week in Washington D.C. with the Covington Catholic student, according to the Associated Press.
The Diocese called the incident “a very serious matter that has already permanently altered the lives of many people,” the Associated Press reported. He later said facts will be gathered to determine “what if any corrective actions, if any, are appropriate.”
Covington Catholic High School was back in session Wednesday with extra security on the premises, according to multiple media sources. The school was closed Tuesday due to security concerns.
Speaking on the U.S. Senate floor Wednesday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said families in his home state “are paying the price for exercising their freedoms.” and said it’s unclear when “any sense of normalcy might return” to Covington Catholic.
“Because of what some highly-partisan observers thought they saw in a few seconds of confusing video, these kids, their school and their families were met with a deluge of partisan vitriol and hatred,” he said.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Fox News Tuesday night the White House has reached out to the Covington Catholic students.
“We’ve reached out and voiced our support,” Sanders said. “If the president does have them here, it will be sometime after the shutdown, if that happens.”
Monday night and Tuesday morning, President Donald Trump tweeted his support to the students.
Tuesday, Gov. Matt Bevin appeared on Fox News’ ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight’ and defended the actions of the high schoolers.
“I find it offensive that people have insulted these students as they did,” Bevin said. “Could they, themselves, in every instance, perhaps behaved more gentlemanly? Probably so. But as someone who has a 20-year-old and six teenagers to boot, I can tell you, sometimes teenagers act silly and goofy and irresponsible. But these children acted far more responsible during the course of that 20-minute interaction or so than any of the adults that were involved.”