On Jan. 20, a video clip was uploaded to YouTube by organizers of an indigenous people’s march showing a crowd of 50 or more students from Covington Catholic High School surrounding an elder of the Omaha Nation, Nathan Phillips, as he beat a ceremonial drum. The students can be clearly seen performing a tomahawk chop and poor imitations of indigenous musical vocals that are obviously intended to mock, harass and intimidate Phillips. That they wore “Make America Great Again” caps and that they were there to participate in a separate march to protest a woman’s right to have an abortion — their autonomy and their health care — is also apparent. These facts make the undeserved campaign of revisionism that has seen mass apologia toward them baffling.
One could argue that in making this statement, I am underinformed, as an article in the libertarian publication Reason so claims. In citing the full video, they state that the students were at first reacting to a demonstration by the Black Hebrew Israelites, who are documented saying — without diving into the actual content of their speech — hateful things toward the students. They also state that Phillips approached the students first, and not the other way around.
The apologia by the media for the Covington Catholic students was swift. Many media figures retracted their initial thoughts on the incident that were formed by the first video clip. Some were moved in this manner by the statement of Nick Sandmann, the student featured most prominently in that clip, the one smirking at Phillips. In a statement that could only have been written by a lawyer, Sandmann states that, in fact, he was trying to defuse the situation, not preserve it or make it worse.
It all reeks of gaslighting. Neither the full video, nor the Reason article, nor Sandmann’s “apology” (written by a public relations firm associated with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and tobacco companies) fundamentally change what we saw in the initial video whatsoever. The presence of the five-or-so Black Hebrew Israelites and their invective does not, and should not, give the 50-or-so Covington Catholic students permission to surround an indigenous man approaching them at a snail’s pace. It does not excuse the racist imagery of tomahawk chops and musical imitations that they used to harass Phillips. In fact, the full video raises more questions than it answers. Why, for instance, did the chaperones of this trip think it was OK for their students to engage the demonstrators? Why did they allow them to shout school pride slogans as if that would “defuse the situation?”
I also suppose that if we must look for further context, we must also look at other videos of the Covington Catholic students. And other videos plainly show some of them verbally harassing people in Washington, D.C. In one, they clearly shout “MAGA” and other invective at female passersby. The Covington Catholic students can say whatever they want in response to the allegations that they said these things — that the people that said them don’t attend the school and as such don’t know its character, for instance. That particular claim does not condemn the act in which they partook (which would not be nearly enough on its own), and, more importantly, it may be a lie. This is a school, after all, whose students paint themselves in blackface for sports events and pass it off as simply being “school spirit.”
Given this further context, we must conclude that the Covington Catholic students, in general, are no angels deserving of pity and forgiveness. They do not deserve the current campaign of revisionism that is in their favor, and Phillips himself deserves an apology from Reason and all of the people in the media carrying water for this racist narrative of revisionism.
Jacob Hanna is a junior majoring in economics.