UPDATE: 2:45 p.m. Jan. 21 — More footage has emerged of the viral moment between a Native American man and a white teenager, complicating perceptions of the incident. Please see the updated story here.
A group of teens wearing “Make America Great Again” hats harassed a Native American Marine veteran during Friday’s first Indigenous Peoples March. Now the Native American elder is speaking out about the ordeal.
Video posted online captures the unsettling incident in Washington, D.C., after a group of teens surrounds Nathan Phillips, mocking and harassing him as he sang the American Indian Movement song on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Phillips served in the U.S. Marines and is the former director of the Native Youth Alliance, according to Indian Country Today.
The video, posted to YouTube by user KC Noland, also went viral on Twitter.
One teen, in particular, is seen blocking Phillips, smugly staring at the elder as he performs his song. Teens in the background appear to encourage the harassment.
Users on social media identified the teens as students from Covington Catholic school in Kentucky because of the insignia on some of their clothing. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington confirmed the teens were from Covington in a statement published Saturday:
“We condemn the actions of the Covington Catholic High School students towards Nathan Phillips specifically, and Native Americans in general,” the statement, obtained by WLTW, said. “The matter is being investigated and we will take appropriate action, up to and including expulsion.”
Friday’s Indigenous People’s March took place on the same day as the anti-abortion rally March for Life, and Covington Catholic’s website shows that students and faculty attended the rally. The school’s Twitter was made private following the viral video. Owensboro Catholic’s website also said its middle school students attended the rally.
HuffPost reached out to Covington and Owensboro Catholic schools for comment but did not receive a reply at the time of publication. President of Owensboro Catholic Schools Tom Lilly told the Owensboro Times the student seen wearing his school shirt made a “flippant remark” when he talked about land being stolen.
“Was that comment any more than a cynical remark? I hate for a kid to have made a flippant remark and get lumped in with Covington Catholic,” Lilly told the publication. “If the kid hadn’t had an Owensboro sweatshirt on it wouldn’t be an issue, but he did. He’s a good kid and I hate this.”
A video of Phillips’ response that appears to have been recorded Friday was posted Saturday to Twitter.
“I heard them saying ‘build that wall, build that wall,’” Phillips said while wiping away tears. “This is indigenous land, you’re not supposed to have walls here. We never did for a millennia. We never had a prison; we always took care of our elders, took care of our children, always provided for them, taught them right from wrong. I wish I could see that energy ... put that energy to making this country really, really great.”
Congresswoman Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) ― one of the first Native American women to be elected to Congress ― said the students displayed “blatant hate” against Phillips.
“This Veteran put his life on the line for our country,” Haaland said on Twitter. “The students’ display of blatant hate, disrespect, and intolerance is a signal of how common decency has decayed under this administration. Heartbreaking.”
Phillips also faced racial discrimination in 2015 when he said Eastern Michigan University students were dressed up in feathers with their faces painted, mocking the elder leader.
“[The students] started whooping and hollering,” Phillips told FOX 2 News at the time. “I said that wasn’t honoring, that was racist. Then at that time, it really got ugly.” Phillips said he was subjected to racist slurs from the group during that incident.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article, citing The Washington Post, referred to Phillips as a Vietnam veteran. He was a U.S. Marine who did not serve in Vietnam, according to The Post.