|Nick Sandmann (L) says he was silently praying in this moment to diffuse
a tense situation between different groups of protestors at the Lincoln Memorial
The student from Covington Catholic High School who has found himself in the national spotlight thanks to the incident at the Lincoln Memorial last week has issued a statement, via his publicist, about his role in the episode.
He begins by identifying himself as Nick Sandmann.
From The New York Times:
In Mr. Sandmann’s statement, which was released by a public relations firm, he said he remained “motionless and calm” in an effort 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.
“I did smile at one point because I wanted him to know that I was not going to become angry, intimidated or be provoked into a larger confrontation,” he said. “I am a faithful Christian and practicing Catholic, and I always try to live up to the ideals my faith teaches me — to remain respectful of others, and to take no action that would lead to conflict or violence.
“I harbor no ill will for this person,” he continued. “I respect this person’s right to protest and engage in free speech activities, and I support his chanting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial any day of the week. I believe he should re-think his tactics of invading the personal space of others, but that is his choice to make.”
As I’ve previously written, I’ve watched all the video footage there seems to be about this sad episode.
I haven’t seen anything yet that disputes Nathan Phillip’s perspective on the story.
Phillips freely admits he approached both groups – in an effort to diffuse a tense situation. It is documented in his words and on the longer videos.
Mr. Sandmann says in his statement that Phillips ‘waded into the crowd which parted for him.’ He goes on to say he didn’t see anyone attempt to block the elder’s way.
Except Mr. Sandmann, who was the only student who chose to stand and not allow Phillips to pass.
Here is video of the moment Phillips encounters Sandmann.
Also, at the :27 mark, you can see Sandmann laughing and smiling. He doesn’t look like he views the situation as threatening.
As you can see, Mr. Phillips was surrounded by the Covington students, not the other way around.
Mr. Sandmann says, “I said a silent prayer that the situation would not get out of hand.”
Perhaps he was praying. It’s very possible that the above image from the moment in question is what prayer looks like.
Sandmann says he ‘did smile at one point’ during the incident. He actually is smiling (smirking?) for well over a minute. A minute is a long time.
I don’t have all the answers but I do have a few questions still:
What is it that people are actually upset about – on both sides?
That the Native American approached the teen and sang his song so close to the boy?
Or that the boy seems disrespectful by standing so close and staring at Mr. Phillips?
Why didn’t the boy simply step out of the way?
In almost every culture I know of, men standing within close proximity to another male, staring them down and ‘standing their ground’ is confrontational in nature. Regardless of who stepped up to who, at any moment Mr. Sandmann could have stepped away.
I’ve seen young leaders ‘step up’ in situations. In my experience, they turn to their friends and say, “Guys, let’s go” and exit the scene. This did not happen here.
Sandmann says he “motioned to my classmate and tried to get him to stop engaging with the protestor.” I don’t see any video of Sandmann motioning to anyone to stop. Anyone who has that footage, please send it to me and I’ll post it here.
Sandmann says a student turned to one of the teacher chaperones and asked “for permission to begin school chants to counter the hateful things being shouted” at his group.
So there was a chaperone there. Why didn’t the chaperones intercede? Why was Mr. Sandmann left in this position?
The Washington Post reports this from two witnesses – a lawyer and a photojournalist”
To Jessica Travis, a Florida attorney who was at the memorial with her mother, the students looked out of control.
“The kids really went into a mob mentality, honestly,” she said, adding that she didn’t see any chaperones trying to control the situation. She said she heard one student tell the Hebrew Israelites to “drink the Trump water.”
Jon Stegenga, a photojournalist who drove to Washington on Friday from South Carolina to cover the Indigenous Peoples March, recalled hearing students say “build the wall” and “Trump 2020.” He said it was about that time that Phillips intervened.
A few things:
• The statement was released by a PR office. My husband is a publicist with experience in crisis management. I’ve been ‘behind the scenes’ of a few instances where an incident needed explaining.
• The language used in the statement is clearly drafted by adults and lawyers, not the teen.
• Reading the statement and noting the time frame between the incident, escalation of outrage, and the eventual issuance of the statement, time was taken and each word was weighed. I don’t fault that.
• You’ll note that the statement refers to Phillips repeatedly as ‘the protestor.’ Subtle, but it’s there for a reason. These are PR people who know what they’re doing.
• Some of the students were doing a “Tomahawk chop” and dancing, as the video shows. I view this as mocking. I don’t see another ‘perspective’ on that. Feel free to share in the comments how that could be viewed as “living up to the ideals of faith.”
Also, Sandmann says he has only seen respect for “all races and cultures” at Covington Catholic High School.
In truth, the school has a history of issues with race.
One incident showed several school students in blackface standing near a black player from another school.
And then there’s this gay Covington student’s account of the treatment he experienced there:
Click through that tweet for the full thread.
I will offer this ‘gut’ response based on my experience and everything I’ve read and seen about this: I feel like the statement is crafted to fit the video footage available for people to see.
And, of course, to shine the best light on Mr. Sandmann.
According to his statement, he is not responsible for anything here. At no point does he express any regret for anything.
It seems to me he might have said something like, “I’m sorry this has become a national story – that was never my intention.”
Or he could have said, “Looking at the video, I see it might have been better if I had just stepped away.”
We all make mistakes – including me, god knows.
I go back to, though, what exactly are we upset about? I’m not sure everyone is on the same page about WHAT the outrage is over.
Sandmann does say he has received threats regarding physical harm, and even death. I do not support or encourage that in any way, shape or form. Threats of violence are not any answer.
Also, I do see that the Black Hebrew Israelites behavior appears aggressive towards the teens. I don’t condone the BHI behavior in the video.
Here’s Mr. Sandmann’s full statement issued by his publicist. Click the images to enlarge.