MAGAkids incident

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MAGAkids incident
File:Convington Jan18 2019 incident.jpg
A still of a viral video of a Covington Catholic High School student, and Nathan Phillips, a Native American activist
Date January 18–18, 2019 (2019-01-18 – 2019-01-18)
Location Lincoln Memorial stairs
Coordinates Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.
Participants

The 2019 Indigenous Peoples March Incident (also known as the Covington Catholic Incident also referred as Covingtongate and MAGAkids incident) was a widely discussed encounter on January 18, 2019, near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. that was captured on a viral video[1][2][3][4], and later described in a January 20, 2019 New York Times article as an "explosive convergence of race, religion and ideological beliefs — against a national backdrop of political tension... The encounter became the latest touch point for racial and political tensions in America, with diverging views about what really had happened."[5] A Vox editorial called it "nation’s biggest story" and "American politics in microcosm" based on the competing interpretations, "identity-focused politics," and intractable back and forth between left-leaning and right-leaning media organizations "despite the inherent uncertainty in the footage itself."[6]

In the late afternoon, when two rallies taking place that day at the National Mall had ended, an incident occurred at the Lincoln Memorial involving five Black Hebrew Israelites men, Covington Catholic High School teenage students (some of whom were wearing "Make America Great Again" hats) on an annual school trip to attend a pro-life March for Life rally, and Native American marchers attending the Indigenous Peoples March. The first short videos of the encounter that were uploaded to common social media platforms (e.g., Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube) received millions of views.[7] A photo of one of the students, later identified as 16-year-old Nicholas (Nick) Sandmann, standing face-to-face with Native American activist Nathan Phillips as Philips beat a ceremonial drum was published in numerous mass media outlets. The first social media video clips were short and focused on this moment, leading to harsh criticism of the high school students, who some described as mocking and harassing the elder. Some people affiliated with the March described the boys as appearing threatening due to their numbers, actions, and the "Make America Great Again" caps and clothing that some wore.[5] By January 20, longer videos had been uploaded, revealing how the encounter had unfolded. Phillips clarified that it was he who had approached the crowd of students, in what he said was an attempt to defuse what Phillips perceived to be a brewing conflict between the students and a third group of five men who identified as Black Hebrew Israelites who had been taunting the white students with racist and homophobic slurs.[8]

Over the next several days statements from a spokesperson for the March, an attorney for the Lakota People's Law Project, and from the student seen in the video standing face to face with Phillips, and other officials, offered different perspectives on the incident. In the wake of the widespread sharing of more detailed video clips, media analyses of the videos, and statements, public opinion became polarized, with some saying the students were completely absolved of all wrongdoing and others saying the students were disrespectful of a Native American elder on a day that should have been a celebration of the first Indigenous Peoples March.[5]

Incident

File:LincolnMemorialAussen.JPG
The stairs of the Lincoln Memorial, the site of the incident, pictured here in July 2004.

The incident took place in the afternoon of January 18, 2019, near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.. Among many people that had gathered in that space that day including the Indigenous Peoples March to help raise awareness of injustice against indigenous people.[9] Another group included students from the all-male Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Kentucky, who had finished attending the pro-life March for Life rally, and who were gathered near the memorial waiting for their buses to return home.[10][Notes 1] A third group including members of the Black Hebrew Israelites, where one of their members was holding a faith-teaching ceremony to his other followers.[11]

From longer video footage posted on January 20, 2019, the group of Israelites appeared to begin "taunting ... people of all colors, other black visitors, natives, and a Catholic priest" shortly after the end of the Indigenous Peoples March, and before the students arrived on the scene, according to CNN's Sara Sidner.[12][13][14] As the students began to arrive to wait for their bus, the Israelites began to shout directly at them.[5][13][15] According to witnesses and video subsequently appearing on social media, the Black Hebrew Israelite men shouted racially combative insults and slurs at both the Native Americans and the high school students.[5][12][16] They called the students "a bunch of incest babies", future "school shooters", and "dirty ass little crackers", called African American students the N-word, and said "you give faggots rights".[12][17][18][19] Many students reacted by saying things such as "woah" and "easy".[19] The Black Hebrew Israelites also called a passing Black man who tried to disagree with them a "coon", told Indian activists that the word Indian means "savage", and said to a woman who had stopped to argue with them: "Where’s your husband? Bring your husband. Let me speak to him."[17][20]

As more Covington students arrived, and in response to the taunts by the Black Hebrew Israelite men, the students performed school spirit chants, including a Māori haka.[13][21][Notes 2] One of the Native Americans who was there for the March said that he felt "the students were mocking the dance."[21]

Native American Nathan Phillips, one of the participants in the March, listened to the chants for what he said was about ten minutes. Believing that the confrontation had reached a "boiling point", he walked up to the teenage students while beating a drum and chanting. He said he was intending to defuse what he saw as the escalating tension.[22][23] Sidner said that two minutes after one of the students took off his shirt to lead the haka, the "drum beat of Phillips and another Native American drummer [was audible] in the video", and they were chanting the AIM Song, a Native American intertribal song.[13][22][24] Sidner said that while some of the students danced to Phillips' drum beat and chanted along with him for awhile, they were not "enjoying each other's company".[13] Soon, Phillips, was tightly "encircled" by about 30 students, "many of them white and wearing apparel bearing the slogan of President Trump", red baseball hats with the phrase "Make America Great Again" (MAGA).[5][25] Phillips continued to beat his ceremonial drum for nearly two minutes inches away from the face of one specific Covington student "[who was] staring at Philips" with what some viewed as a smirk on his face.[5][12][16][26] The student later explained that he smiled because he wanted Phillips to know "that I was not going to become angry, intimidated or be provoked into a larger confrontation."[12] Eventually, the Covington students' buses arrived and they departed the area without further incident.

Response

Within days of their first coverage of the incident, many news media outlets had revisited their reports and revised the narrative, as more information became available starting on January 21—Annual Commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, including longer videos which contextualized the incident, in-depth analyses and statements from spokesmen for the participants directly involved.[27] The media were sharply criticized for basing their initial reporting on social media, particularly the user-generated short videos, that did not include the minutes before and after the incident.[27] These new sources, which included interviews with participants directly, revealed the chronology of events showing a group of 4 or 5 Black Hebrew Israelites taunting the students before Phillips came on the scene.[13]

The first twenty-four hours

Participants at the Indigenous Peoples March posted the first videos of the incident in the evening of Friday, January 18, 2019, following the events. These first videos, which were roughly a minute long, were of the c. 60 seconds when Phillips was drumming, closely encircled by a large group of excited students. They did not include the minutes before and after that contextualized the incident. As described by Vox, the short videos gave the impression "that the boys were harassing the Native American elder"[27] One of these was a one-minute clip posted by Guam resident Kaya Taitano, a student at the University of the District of Columbia, who was with the small group of other participants at the Memorial late afternoon when the incident took place. She filmed the moment that CNN later described as "a smiling young man in a red Make America Great Again hat standing directly in front of Phillips while other students could be seen laughing, jumping around and making fun of Phillips' chants. Taitano had uploaded it to Instagram at 7:33 p.m.[28][29] and her video was later reposted that day to Twitter via user "2020fight", under the title "This MAGA loser gleefully bothering a Native American protester at the Indigenous Peoples March", which had received over 2.5 million views by January 21.[28][30] The second video, posted to YouTube by KC Noland, reached two million viewers in two hours Saturday morning, January 19, and over four and a half million by January 24.[31][32][33][34]

Initial strong reactions to the event were fueled by images from these short videos, and there was an immediate backlash against the school, the students, and their chaperones. The Post described the incident as a "tense encounter" that "prompted outrage".[7] One of the featured speakers at the Indigenous Peoples March, Ruth Buffalo, a North Dakota Representative and member of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation[35][36][37] said the students' disrespect of what was meant to have been a "celebration of all cultures" saddened her. She added, "The behaviour shown in that video is just a snapshot of what Indigenous people have faced and are continuing to face."[38] Buffalo suggested "some kind of meeting with the students to provide education on issues facing Native Americans."[38] House Representative Deb Haaland wrote, "The students' display of blatant hate, disrespect, and intolerance is a signal of how common decency has decayed under this administration. Heartbreaking."[31]

Shortly after the event took place, the Covington Catholic communications director released a statement expressing regret that the event had happened.[32] In a joint statement on January 19, the Diocese of Covington and the Covington Catholic High School extended apologies to Phillips, condemned the students' behavior, and said that after they reviewed the situation they would "take appropriate action, up to and including expulsion."[39]

As the backlash intensified, the parents of the Covington High School junior Nicholas Sandmann, the one CNN described as "smiling young man in a red Make America Great Again hat," retained the services of Louisville-based RunSwitch Public Relations, a company that specializes in crisis management.[Notes 3] They released a January 21 statement on behalf of the young man, in which he said misinformation and "outright lies" were being spread about the incident.[40] According to him, the situation began when a group of African-American protesters directed insults at the students, and the students responded with school spirit chants. The student said that he was confused when Phillips and other Native Americans subsequently approached him and the other students, and that he tried to remain calm to avoid trouble. He said he "did not witness or hear any students chant 'build that wall' or anything hateful or racist at any time."[22][41][42]

Taitano said she also heard the students chant "build that wall" and "Trump 2020" but chants were not audible in videos reviewed by CNN.[16][22][41][43] and the January 21 PR statement denied that the students chanted "Build the wall".[22][44][40][42][45] Phillips explained that he had heard the students chanting "build that wall" which was one of the principle concerns of the Indigenous Peoples March.[35][46] In a brief interview on Twitter, he said "This is Indigenous Land you know, we're not supposed to have walls here. We never did for millenniums before anybody else came here we never had walls. We never had a prison. We always took care of our elders and took care of our children. We always provided for them, we taught them right from wrong. I wish I could see that energy in that young mass of young men down there. To put that energy into making this country really great — helping those that are hungry..."[43] Some others affiliated with the March described the group of boys surrounding Phillips as appearing threatening due to their numbers, actions, and "Make America Great Again" attire.[5]

Alison Lundergan Grimes, Secretary of State of Kentucky, described the scene as "horrific" and said the students' actions did not reflect Kentucky's values. She wrote, "I refuse to shame these children. Instead I turn to the adults that are teaching them and those that are silently letting others promote this behavior. This is not the Kentucky I know and love. We can do better and it starts with better leadership."[47]

The Washington Post described the Indigenous Peoples March as "meaningful", and an example of how Native Americans will not be silenced.[48] The article drew attention to Donald Trump's joking about the Wounded Knee Massacre to mock the senior United States Senator from Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren.[49][50][Notes 4]

Following full video release

A longer hour-and-a-half-long video was made public on Sunday, January 20.[51] The longer video revealed more information about the incident, including the five Black Hebrew Israelites and their taunting of the students.[Notes 5] It showed Phillips' chanting and drumming as he walked towards the students.[13] The longer video gave a different picture of the students' role in the activities than the original minute-long videos suggested. In wake of the publication of the longer video, CNN Business reporter Donie O'Sullivan described 2020fight's video as the one that "helped frame the news cycle" of the previous days, and characterized the video as a "deliberate attempt" to mislead and "manipulate the public conversation on Twitter" — a violation of Twitter rules.[52] According to Molly McKew, an information warfare researcher, the tweet had been boosted by a network of anonymous Twitter accounts to amplify the story.[52][28][30][Notes 6]

The newly-revealed information of the whole incident shown through the longer videos created confusion in the ongoing reporting: while some still believed the students were partially responsible for poor attitudes, others felt that the students had been maligned by the initial coverage, and that several other actors in the event were to blame for the net result.[27]

The organizers of the March for Life initially released a statement criticizing the students' "reprehensible" behavior. But the organizers rescinded the statement on January 20, saying: "It is clear from new footage and additional accounts that there is more to this story than the original video captured."[41][53]

Chase Iron Eyes, a spokesperson for the March and an attorney for the Lakota People's Law Project, who witnessed the incident, said that: "Conservative people are fearful now—with the election to [C]ongress of our first two Native American women, Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids, and so many other powerful women... But yesterday the world saw, whether it was live media or social media, the fight ahead of us can be won—if we are united."[29][25] Another march organizer, Nathalie Farfan, said, "The good news is, that connection to the sacred may have resonated with some of the Catholic youths. What is not being shown on [the KC Noland February 18 video ] is that the same youth and a few others became emotional because of the power, resilience and love we inherently carry in our DNA. Our day on those steps ended with a round dance, while we chanted, 'We are still here.'"[25]

A January 21 New York Times report from Covington said that the local community had focused its energy on "absolving the students of any wrongdoing" in the incident.[54]

Kentucky Representative Thomas Massie wrote that after watching videos from four different cameras he believed the media had misrepresented the incident, and that: "In the context of everything that was going on (which the media hasn’t shown) the parents and mentors of these boys should be proud, not ashamed, of their kids’ behavior."[55]

Several commenters on the incident faced backfire. Vulture writer Erik Abriss, who tweeted that he wanted the Covington students and their parents to die, was fired from his second job at INE Entertainment.[56] Comedian Ben Hoffman came under fire for inciting violence against the involved student.[57] Film producer Jack Morrissey, who had suggested the "MAGAkids go screaming, hats first, into the woodchipper," later apologized for his "fast, profoundly stupid tweet".[58][59]

On January 22, shortly after tweeting it, Kathy Griffin deleted a Twitter message in which she accused Covington basketball players making a 3-pointer sign of "throwing up the new nazi sign".[60] The same day Jim Carrey tweeted an art work labeling the Covington students as 'baby snakes'.[61]

President Trump in a January 22 tweet said the Covington students "have become symbols of Fake News and how evil it can be."[62]

After several conflicting media interviews were given to Nathan Phillips, NBC's Savannah Guthrie interviewed Covington High School junior Nicholas Sandmann, airing on the Today Show on the morning of January 23. While Sandmann did not feel a need to apologize for his actions, he expressed respect for Phillips and a desire to talk to him. In hindsight, he wished that he had simply walked away.[63] In his interview with NBC, Phillips said the while "Sandmann owes many people an apology" as he continues to believe the "students were "mocking" Native Americans, and Sandmann "was the leader of that", he forgives those involved.[64] Phillips also acknowledged that both of them had received death threats since the incident.[64][Notes 7] Guthrie was criticized for giving Sandmann a national platform and for asking Sandmann if he should apologize to Phillips.[65]

On January 23, 2019 CNN's Kirsten Powers deleted her Twitter app after she was criticized and, in her own words, "harassed" on Twitter after stating a day prior that "watching all the videos (which I did) does not change the fundamental problem: the boys disrespecting an Indigenous elder."[66]

On January 24 Essence published an article by Michael Arceneaux, in which he wrote that if Sandmann would have been black, "he would have been harmed if not flat out killed".[67][68]

Analysis of media coverage

The news media has been criticized for how it covered the incident, specifically on jumping their initial reporting of the story based on social media posts without fully investigating the situation, subsequently fueling the controversy over the incident through social media.[69][27][70][71][72]

See also

Notes

  1. The March For Life also had a permit for a First Amendment demonstrations on the National Mall on that day. According to The Cut, CovCath sends an annual delegation of its students to attend the anti-abortion March For Life in Washington.
  2. A haka is a type of traditional ceremonial dance or challenge in Māori culture. They have been adopted in popular culture, often in sports.
  3. According to Grace Schnieder's January 21, 2019 article in the The Courier-Journal, RunSwitch Public Relations, Kentucky's largest public relations and public affairs company, which "specializes in crisis management", confirmed that the Sandmann family, the parents of Nick Sandmann, the one CNN described as "smiling young man in a red Make America Great Again hat." the young man in the first video had retained their services. RunSwitch partners Steve Bryant and Gary Gerdemann, are ensuring that the "recounting" of events of this "national media story", is accurate. Schnieder wrote that Scott Jennings, who is a "conservative political commentator and a columnist for the Courier Journal, is the third partner in RunSwitch."
  4. Warren has often been criticized for her claim of Native American ancestry. See Beinart's article in The Atlantic.
  5. The one-hour forty-six-minute YouTube video, published by Réactionnaire Médiatique on January 20, began with the five five Black Hebrew Israelites at the Memorial loudly preaching while a few people watched. Several Native Americans attempted to calmly engage with them in conversations. Students began to arrive in the background with a small group of them wearing MAGA hats. There was a vendor nearby and they had just purchased them. At 1:08 minutes the preacher turns to a larger group of students assembling on the stairs and begins to taunt them and then boo him. They begin their school sports chants at this time. By 1:09 dozens of students are jumping up and down roaring in excitement, while one young man pulls off his shirt to lead them in their haka. The black preacher taunts them again as the students formed a huddle in a group looking away from the preacher. At 1:11:53 the American Native drumming can be heard and one minute later Phillips and the second drummer walk slowly in front of the preacher. Phillips pauses in front of the students who are excitedly jumping up an down to the beat. The African American narrator can be heard saying that our elder has come to the rescue. At 1:13 Phillips has stopped walking but continues chanting and drumming. The stairs are full of students looking in his direction. Gradually the crowd filled in around Phillips in front of the African American narrator who says that it was "serious mockery" at a "Native rally with a Make America Great Again hat". The drumming goes quiet. The preacher continues to insult the students who remain at a distance. Their chaperone calls for the students to pack it up at 1:16 and they begin to leave.
  6. The 2020fight Twitter account that reposted Taitano's original video @2020fight was at first considered to be suspicious. According to O'Sullivan's CNN article, Rob McDonagh from Storyful, a company under contract with CNN that monitors and verifies social media content, had reviewed @2020fight's account history, and found it suspicious: it has a "high follower count", a "highly polarized and yet inconsistent political messaging", an "unusually high rate of tweets", and used "someone else's image in the profile photo". At that time CNN reported this to Twitter as they had not been able to reach the account holder. She was later identified as a California school teacher. According to the NBC January 23 article, Twitter had briefly suspended the account based on CNN's report until the account owner's identity was verified. The account owner then deleted the account.
  7. In the Fieldstadt January 24 interview, Phillips "clarified ...that he was a Marines reservist during the Vietnam War, but didn't serve in Vietnam. Some reports have said he served overseas in the war."

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