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Covington Catholic High School Students v. Native American Elder—What Really Happened?

Faithfully Magazine Newsletter, Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The story involving group of predominantly White male teens from Kentucky’s Covington Catholic High School in confrontation with Omaha elder Nathan Phillips has taken quite a few turns since videos emerged over the weekend of what appeared to be a case of harassment and “racial insensitivity.”

The BBC News seems to have the main details intact:

At least three groups appear to have been involved in Friday’s incident.

Students from Kentucky’s Covington Catholic High School, who had finished taking part in March for Life, an anti-abortion rally, had gathered at the Lincoln Memorial. The group of teenagers was predominantly white, and many wore Make America Great Again caps.

Mr Phillips – a Vietnam War veteran – and many other Native American activists were also at the memorial, having taken part in the Indigenous Peoples March.

Meanwhile, a group of black men, who called themselves Hebrew Israelites, were at the scene. Video footage shows them shouting insults at many people, including Native Americans, as well as the schoolboys.

As the group shouted at the students, some of the teenagers began chanting, and one of them took his top off.

Mr Phillips then approached the students, singing and beating a drum, in what he said was a prayer to defuse tensions.

He was surrounded by the students, some of whom began chanting and singing as well.

The main student seen on camera directly facing Mr. Phillips, Nick Sandmann (shown above), has defended himself against accusers via a statement from a PR company, which you can read here.

In addition to this interview with Phillips, described as a “Native American advocate” and former Marine, I’d like to direct your attention to three separate commentaries on Twitter regarding the incident that may help round out your perspective and perhaps fill in some gaps…or raise further questions:

1. Father James Martin‘s expression of regret for having pounced on the controversy so quickly and condemning the students’ actions:

2. Lisa Sharon Harper‘s take as an attendee of the Indigenous People’s March and after watching “videos all day” of the incident–in which she mentions how “aggressive taunting” by a Black Hebrew sect was involved:

3. Religion reporter Sam Kestenbaum‘s breakdown of the House of Israel preachers, the “Black Hebrew” sect noted by Harper, seen in the videos:

It’s a messy situation that likely won’t be resolved anytime soon. … And I wouldn’t be surprised if the lone Black student from that Covington Catholic High School group is feeling pressure from various directions right about now.


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Nicola A. Menzie
Nicola A. Menzie
Nicola A. Menzie a religion reporter whose bylines have appeared on the websites of the Religion News Service, The Christian Post, CBS News and Vibe magazine. Nicola is the Managing Editor at You can find her on Twitter @namenzie. Email: nicola.menzie (at)


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