Senior US politicians, including President Trump, have come out in defence of the Covington Catholic High School students.
Trump said the students were “treated unfairly” and “smeared by the media” after new footage emerged contradicting initial reports that the students engaged in racist behaviour.
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul also urged people to “stop going after people online with very little information” adding: “These kids are taking all sorts of abuse they do not deserve.”
He linked to tweets from Rep. Thomas Massie, who represents the congressional district in which Covington Catholic High School is located.
“I’ve now watched over an hour of other videos from 4 different cameras of the incident in front of the Lincoln Memorial,” Massie said. “I urge everyone to watch the other videos before passing judgement. Would you have remained that composed at that age under those circumstances?”
“In the face of racist and homosexual slurs, the young boys refused to reciprocate or disrespect anyone. Even when taunted by homophobic bigots, which was obviously bewildering to them, they insulted no one,” he added.
The students were vilified on social media following an exchange with a Native American tribal leader at the Washington March for Life on Friday, later identified as Nathan Philips from the Omaha tribe. Initial media reports suggested the students had engaged in racist behaviour, leading to condemnation the students’ school and local diocese, as well as from celebrities and politicians.
In response to the escalating fury on social media against these students, Covington High School and the Diocese of Covington issued a joint statement on Saturday condemning the students’ actions “toward Nathan Phillips specifically, and Native Americans in general.”
“We extend our deepest apologies to Mr Phillips. This behaviour is opposed to the church’s teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person,” they said, adding that the incident was “being investigated and we will take appropriate action, up to and including expulsion.”
The school and diocese also said the event “tainted the entire witness of the March for Life” and they apologised to those who attended and “all those who support the pro-life movement.”
However, other videos later emerged showing protesters taunting the students with racist slurs.
The student at the centre of the social media storm, Nick Sandmann, issued a statement on Saturday night saying: “The protestors said hateful things. They called us ‘racists,’ ‘bigots,’ ‘white crackers,’ ‘faggots,’ and ‘incest kids.’ They also taunted an African American student from my school by telling him that we would ‘harvest his organs.’ I have no idea what that insult means, but it was startling to hear.
The students began chanting “school spirit chants” in response, with permission of a chaperone, Sandmann added. He said he did not hear students chant other things.
“After a few minutes of chanting, the Native American protestors, who I hadn’t previously noticed, approached our group. The Native American protestors had drums and were accompanied by at least one person with a camera.”
“The protestor everyone has seen in the video began playing his drum as he waded into the crowd, which parted for him. I did not see anyone try to block his path. He locked eyes with me and approached me, coming within inches of my face. He played his drum the entire time he was in my face,” Sandmann said.
“I never interacted with this protestor. I did not speak to him. I did not make any hand gestures or other aggressive moves. To be honest, I was startled and confused as to why he had approached me. We had already been yelled at by another group of protestors, and when the second group approached I was worried that a situation was getting out of control where adults were attempting to provoke teenagers.”
“I believed that by remaining motionless and calm, I was helping to diffuse the situation. I realised everyone had cameras and that perhaps a group of adults was trying to provoke a group of teenagers into a larger conflict. I said a silent prayer that the situation would not get out of hand.”
The student said he has been called “every name in the book, including a racist” and has received death threats and hateful insults.
“I am mortified that so many people have come to believe something that did not happen — that students from my school were chanting or acting in a racist fashion toward African-Americans or Native Americans. I did not do that, do not have hateful feelings in my heart, and did not witness any of my classmates doing that,” he said.
The March or Life originally condemned the students in a tweet, but later said it had deleted it “given recent developments”.
“It is clear from new footage and additional accounts that there is more to this story than the original video captured. We will refrain from commenting further until the truth is understood,” they said.
CNS contributed to this report
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