Nathan Phillips, the Native American man involved in last week’s widely covered standoff with Nick Sandmann, said Thursday that the MAGA-hat-wearing teen’s recent “Today” show interview was insincere and seemed “coached.”
Footage showed Sandmann and his Covington Catholic High School peers ― a group of white, mostly male teens from Kentucky ― surrounding Phillips in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the Indigenous Peoples March in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 18. As the 64-year-old Phillips performed an American Indian Movement song with a drum, the students jeered and mocked him.
Phillips spoke with NBC’s Savannah Guthrie on Thursday, one day after she sat down with Sandmann, who told her his actions were “not disrespectful.”
“I was upset. I was made to sit down and watch it,” Phillips told Guthrie of the teen’s interview. “Someone tried to show it to me before I went to my prayer ceremony, and I got into about the first 30 seconds, 40 seconds of it, and I said, ‘Well that’s all I needed to hear.’”
Sandmann told Guthrie he “had every right” to stand before Phillips and that neither he nor his peers are racist.
Phillips said Sandmann’s interview seemed “coached and written up for him,” citing a public relations agency that released a statement on the teen’s behalf. Phillips said he wished Sandmann showed sincerity and responsibility for his actions.
The viral standoff prompted nationwide outrage from people across the political spectrum. The situation appeared more complicated after a longer version of the encounter emerged this week appearing to show a group of Black Hebrew Israelites shouting at the students, who were there for an anti-abortion March for Life rally and shouting what Sandmann said were school chants. Phillips has said in multiple interviews that he approached the teens with his song to prevent possible violence between the two groups.
Phillips also said he heard the students — many of whom were wearing “Make America great again” hats — shouting “Build the wall,” a reference to President Donald Trump’s push for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“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,’” Phillips told The Washington Post. “I started going that way, and that guy in the hat [Sandmann] stood in my way, and we were at an impasse.”
Sandmann denied blocking Phillips but said he wished he had walked away.
“There’s a lot of time he [Sandmann] could have walked away,” Phillips said.
Guthrie questioned Phillips’ veteran status during the interview because of previous reports falsely stating he was a Vietnam veteran. Phillips responded that he was in the Marine Corps Reserve during that time and that “what I’ve always said is I’ve never stepped foot in South Vietnam.”
Phillips said that he’s still upset about the incident but that he forgives Sandmann, the other teens and their chaperones, “who should have just said ... ‘This isn’t the place.’”
“Even though I’m angry, I still have that forgiveness in my heart for those students,” Phillips said.
Both interviews with Guthrie brought backlash from people on Twitter who said Sandmann and Phillips were not treated equally.