PARK HILLS, Ky. – Residents of this affluent northern Kentucky town emerged from a turbulent holiday weekend with a question: How did a viral video showing local students interacting with a drumbeating Native American man on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial suck their community into the fractious national debates about politics and race?
President Donald Trump was tweeting about them. Out-of-town protesters were showing up with signs, chanting in the street. And death threats had shut down Covington Catholic High School. No one knew when it would be safe to open again.
Residents warily watched the furor unfold from behind closed doors, largely resisting the opportunity to speak out – even as they stewed over the way they were being portrayed. They felt they had become the latest victims of a hyper-political atmosphere, where one video clip can ignite a nationwide fury, magnified by social media and 24-hour news coverage.
“They are kids. Everyone forgets that,” said Park Hills Mayor Kathy Zembrodt, who expressed anger about the initial portrayal of the students as aggressors in the Lincoln Memorial encounter.
Her sentiments were reflected across this town of 4,000, where many said the students were unfairly maligned in a rush to judgment based on a truncated video clip. The viral video showed a large group of Covington Catholic High School boys on the memorial steps in Washington, where students travel annually for the antiabortion March for Life. One of the boys stands inches away from the face of Nathan Phillips, a Native American elder, who was beating a drum during the Indigenous Peoples March. The boy’s classmates stood nearby, laughing and gesturing – what many interpreted as mocking.
But longer versions of the encounter soon appeared, showing it began when a group of Hebrew Israelites hurled offensive language at the teens. And the students said they were dancing and singing along with the Native American music, not mocking it.
Like many Americans, Park Hills City Council member Wesley Deters discovered the original video clip on social media.
She found it odd. The behavior didn’t fit what she knew of the students at Covington Catholic, where her husband is an alumnus and her three sons are likely to enroll.
But after a nearly two-hour video of the incident started making the rounds, her confusion turned into anger.
“Our children were used as pawns for an ulterior leftist agenda,” she said.
In a series of tweets Tuesday, Trump emphasized that perspective, saying the students of Covington Catholic “have become symbols of Fake News and how evil it can be.”
MAGA hats, the March for Life, Covington Catholic—and the mob.
Of the most culturally deplorable boxes one can check in progressive America in 2019, the boys of Covington Catholic High School have most of them: white, male, Christian, attendees at the annual March for Life in Washington, and wearers of MAGA hats. What’s not to dislike? So when four minutes of video footage emerged online this weekend showing the students appearing to harass a Native American Vietnam veteran named Nathan Phillips, America’s media and cultural elite leapt to judgment.
A short video clip of student Nick Sandmann supposedly “smirking” as Mr. Phillips banged his drum in the student’s face went viral, and instantly the boys of Covington Catholic in Kentucky were branded racists.
Best-selling author Reza Aslan tweeted that the high school junior had a “punchable face.” Former Democratic Party chief Howard Dean opined that Covington Catholic is “a hate factory.” GQ’s Nathaniel Friedman urged people to “Doxx ‘em all,” i.e., make their personal information public.
.- While chanting and playing ceremonial drums, a group of Native American rights activists reportedly led by Nathan Phillips attempted Jan. 19 to enter Washington, D.C.’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception during a Saturday evening Mass.
The group of 20 demonstrators was stopped by shrine security as it tried to enter the church during its 5:15 pm Vigil Mass, according to a shrine security guard on duty during the Mass.
“It was really upsetting,” the guard told CNA.
“There were about twenty people trying to get in, we had to lock the doors and everything.”
The guard said the incident was a disappointment during a busy and joyful weekend for the shrine.
“We had hundreds and hundreds of people from all over the country come here to celebrate life, to celebrate each other together. That a protest tried to come inside during Mass was really the worst.”
The guard told CNA the situation was “tense.”
“I’m just really grateful that nothing too bad happened, they were really angry.”
A source close to the shrine’s leadership corroborated the security guard’s account, telling CNA that during the Mass, Phillips and the group tried to enter the church while playing drums and chanting, and were prohibited from entering the building by security personnel, who locked the main basilica doors with the congregation still inside.
The shrine’s spokeswoman would not confirm or deny that the group attempted to enter the Mass. She told CNA that “a group did assemble on Saturday evening outside the the shrine” and that they “left without incident.”
Philips was the subject of national media attention on Saturday, after video went viral on social media depicting parts of a Jan. 18 incident involving him and several teenagers, some of whom were students from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky. The incident has become the subject of intense national debate, and Phillips has been accused by some of instigating an encounter with the students, and subsequently altering his initial account of events.
Covington Catholic High School was closed Jan. 22, following threats against students and staff in the wake of media coverage of Friday’s incident.