During the Indigenous Peoples March in Washington, D.C. on Friday, a group of MAGA hat-wearing teenagers were in attendance, which led to what looked like a standoff between the two groups. Nick Sandmann, one of the young men, was recorded staring down Nathan Phillips, a Native American veteran, in what looked like an attempt to mock him. The video quickly circulated online, leading many shocked viewers to condemn the boy's behavior, calling his actions insulting and racist.
The footage shows Phillips singing the American Indian Movement song in front of the Lincoln Memorial as Sandmann, a high school student from Kentucky, smugly sneers at Phillips inches away from his face.
However, Sandmann has claimed that he was singled out and his actions were taken out of context. On Sunday, a 106-minute-long video as well as Sandmann's statement were released, shedding new light on the details of what took place. In the newly-obtained footage, it appears as though another group of protestors, the Black Hebrew Israelites, were insulting the students prior to Phillips' arrival, calling them "future school shooters," among other things.
During an interview with the Washington Post, Phillips explained that tensions were escalating, prompting him to head in the direction of the students. “It was getting ugly, and I was thinking: ‘I’ve got to find myself an exit out of this situation and finish my song at the Lincoln Memorial,’” he said. “I started going that way, and that guy in the hat stood in my way, and we were at an impasse.”
In Sandmann's statement, he claims that he was singled out and was simply trying to remain calm. “I believed that by remaining motionless and calm, I was helping to [defuse] the situation,” Sandmann’s statement read. “I said a silent prayer that the situation would not get out of hand.”
Kaya Taitano, a student at the University of the District of Columbia, explained that she heard the students chanting things like "build the wall" and "Trump 2020." Phillips was prompted to approach the students after their brief encounter with the Hebrew Israelites and start singing what she called a healing prayer. In an interview with CNN, Phillips said that he felt scared for his safety and the encounter felt like "hate unbridled."
Once Phillips reached the group of high school students, Taitano explained that they encircled him, which is when tensions began heightening once more. "They just surrounded him and they were mocking him and mocking the chant. We really didn't know what was going to happen there," she said.
In light of Sandmann's statement as well as the extended video, many journalists and some celebrities took to social media to comment. While some apologized for blaming Sandmann, most commentators stood by their previous statements given the students' collective racist demeanor towards Phillips, as well as their decision to wear "Make America Great Again" hats, what many interpret as a symbol of racism.