Students In 'MAGA' Hats Mock Native American After Rally (Updated)
A diocese in Kentucky apologized Saturday after videos emerged showing students from a Catholic boys' high school mocking Native Americans outside the Lincoln Memorial after a rally in Washington.
Update from WUKY (3 p.m., Sunday): Additional video circulating on Sunday is leading to disputed accounts of the incident. This is a developing story. Check for updates below.
The Indigenous Peoples March in Washington on Friday coincided with the March for Life, which drew thousands of anti-abortion protesters, including a group from Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills.
Videos circulating online show a youth staring at and standing extremely close to Nathan Phillips, a 64-year-old Native American man singing and playing a drum.
Other students, some wearing Covington clothing and many wearing "Make America Great Again" hats and sweatshirts, surrounded them, chanting, laughing and jeering.
In a joint statement , the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington and Covington Catholic High School apologized to Phillips. Officials said they are investigating and will take "appropriate action, up to and including expulsion."
"We extend our deepest apologies to Mr. Phillips," the statement read. "This behavior is opposed to the Church's teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person."
According to the "Indian Country Today" website, Phillips is an Omaha elder and Vietnam veteran who holds an annual ceremony honoring Native American veterans at Arlington National Cemetery.
"When I was there singing, I heard them saying 'Build that wall, build that wall,'" Phillips said, as he wiped away tears in a video posted on Instagram. "This is indigenous lands. We're not supposed to have walls here. We never did."
He told The Washington Post that while he was drumming, he thought about his wife, Shoshana, who died of bone marrow cancer nearly four years ago, and the threats that indigenous communities around the world are facing.
"I felt like the spirit was talking through me," Phillips told the newspaper.
State Rep. Ruth Buffalo, a North Dakota state lawmaker and member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, said she was saddened to see students showing disrespect to an elder who is also a U.S. military veteran at what was supposed to be a celebration of all cultures.
"The behavior shown in that video is just a snapshot of what indigenous people have faced and are continuing to face," Buffalo said.
She said she hoped it would lead to some kind of meeting with the students to provide education on issues facing Native Americans.
The videos prompted a torrent of outrage online. Actress and activist Alyssa Milano tweeted that the footage "brought me to tears," while actor Chris Evans tweeted that the students' actions were "appalling" and "shameful."
Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes released the following statement:
"In spite of these horrific scenes, I refuse to shame and solely blame these children for this type of behavior. Instead I turn to the adults and administration that are charged with teaching them, and to those who are silently letting others promote this behavior,” said Grimes.
“This is not the Kentucky we know and love. I call on Covington Catholic High School to denounce this behavior. As a proud alumnae of a Catholic High School, I know a school that stands for “Building minds. Living Faith.” would not stand for this.”
U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-New Mexico, who is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna and had been at the rally earlier in the day, used Twitter to sharply criticize what she called a "heartbreaking" display of "blatant hate, disrespect, and intolerance."
Haaland, who is also Catholic, told The Associated Press she was particularly saddened to see the boys mocking an elder, who is revered in Native American culture. She placed some of the blame on President Donald Trump, who has used Indian names like Pocahontas as an insult.
"It is sad that we have a president who uses Native American women's names as racial slurs and that's an example that these kids are clearly following considering the fact that they had their 'Make America Great Again' hats on," Haaland said. "He's really brought out the worst in people."
Update (2:40 p.m.): A Native American organizer of a march in Washington, D.C., says he felt compelled to get between a group of black religious activists and largely white students with his ceremonial drum to defuse a potentially dangerous situation.
Nathan Phillips on Sunday recounted for The Associated Press how he came to be surrounded by a group of students from a Catholic boys' high school in Kentucky in an encounter captured on videos that are circulating online. Some of the students were wearing "Make America Great Again" hats.
Phillips was participating in Friday's Indigenous Peoples March. The students had attended the March for Life rally the same day.
Videos also show members of the activist group yelling insults at the students, who taunt them in return.
Videos also show students chanting, laughing and jeering as Phillips sings and plays the drum.
A Kentucky diocese has issued an apology to the Ypsilanti, Michigan, man.
Update from WUKY (4:25 p.m.): New accounts of the incident continue to surface. In a letter to Local12 in Cincinnati, one Convington student offered this description of the events:
“… We decided to do some cheers to pass time. In the midst of our cheers, we were approached by a group of adults led by Nathan Phillips, with Phillips beating his drum. They forced their way into the center of our group. … He came to stand in front of one of my classmates who stood where he was, smiling and enjoying the experience. … It was not until later that we discovered they would incriminate us as a publicity stunt. As a result, my friend faces expulsion for simply standing still and our entire school is being disparaged for a crime we did not commit…”
Update from WUKY (11 p.m., Sunday): The Covington Catholic High School student seen in the viral video has released a statement. Read more here.