Nathan Phillips received tons of support online following a heated rally on Friday. He spoke about the moment he was confronted by a teenage boy.
Phillips was among other Native Americans and Indigenous people like himself. They were just finishing up a rally. Two other groups were present near Washington's Lincoln Memorial.
One was Kentucky's Covington Catholic High School, who was present for an anti-abortion March for Life rally. The other was a group of religious African Americans known as Hebrew Israelites.
Videos that surfaced online did not appear to give the whole picture of what happened. However, at least one showed up of the Hebrew Israelites spewing racially-charged speech towards another group.
According to the New York Times, it escalated until the students, young white men, and the religious group looked to become confrontational. That's when Phillips wound up at the center of things.
In an interview with CNN, he described what happened:
"Then there was this young group of young students that came there and were offended by their speech, and it escalated into an ugly situation that I found myself in the middle of."
At the time Phillips, 64, was beating his drum as he walked up to the students. He said, "it was just [in the] spur of the moment." According to him, the situation had come "to a boiling point."
However, things got even tenser when a student, Nick Sandmann, confronted Phillips. He blocked his path and stood his ground, all with a smile on his face.
Online, many found his facial expression extremely disrespectful. Sandmann was strongly vilified and reprimanded. He claims the hate is unfounded.
"I did not speak to him. I did not make any hand gestures or other aggressive moves."
"I was not intentionally making faces at the protester. 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."
Both men said they were trying to diffuse the situation. Phillips called his way of doing so "prayer." He said he couldn't just stand there as he thought the students might hurt the young men due to their skin color. He was afraid, he said.
"To be honest, they looked like they were going to lynch them. They were in this mob mentality. Where were their parents?"
Phillips said he felt there was a lot of racism and hatred, but he had no escape except "just to go forward." Philips himself was raised in foster care, not within his people, so he felt he somewhat related to the white kids.
However, he was averse to the hatred he felt and did not accept the excuse that the kids were "just chanting" their school songs. Phillips laughed it off, and so did many others online.
"They were there looking for trouble, looking for something. Everybody knows the right to life and (pro-choice), it's been like this and they're hateful to each other."
Then he pointed to his place as a veteran:
"And it's because I'm a veteran -- I'm a Vietnam veteran -- that these two groups even have the right in this country to have protests, to have conflicting opinions."
Phillips claimed the kids were also chanting "Build the wall," but one might not hear it on the videos. He said it was a "he-said, she-said" thing but assured the interviewee that he would pray for the kids.
The students were reportedly given permission on the day in question to do the chants. Yet their actions were later condemned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington.
A statement from spokeswoman Laura Keener said:
"We condemn the actions of the Covington Catholic High School students towards Nathan Phillips specifically, and Native Americans in general, Jan. 18, after the March for Life, in Washington, D.C. We extend our deepest apologies to Mr. Phillips. This behavior is opposed to the Church's teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person."
The organization said they were investigating what happened and would take appropriate action "up to and including expulsion."
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