MAGA KIDS INNOCENT! Or Hadn't You Heard They're White?
When the story broke this weekend about the MAGA hat-wearing Covington Catholic kids showing up at the March for Forced Birth in D.C. and taunting Native American elder and veteran Nathan Phillips, we figured it'd be only a matter of time before the white kid rapid response team was called in to exonerate them.
Back in 1992, four Los Angeles police officers were acquitted on charges of excessive force in the arrest of Rodney King. The verdict appalled those of us whose sight-producing eyes viewed the video footage of the officers beating King like he was a piñata. However, the mostly white jury pointed out that they'd seen the "whole" video, which presumably ended with an off-screen director shouting, "Cut!" and handing King a check for his performance.
The "whole" video of last Friday's incident came out Sunday, and the New York Times claims it paints a "fuller and more complicated picture" of the encounter. It looks like these students won't get their trip to Be Nice to Minorities Fantasy Camp after all. It's completely unnecessary as they are probably the true victims.
Interviews and additional video footage suggest that an explosive convergence of race, religion and ideological beliefs — against a national backdrop of political tension — set the stage for the viral moment. Early video excerpts from the encounter obscured the larger context, inflaming outrage.
We also heard from the student whose smirking face induced a thousand flashbacks to our bullied childhoods. He chose to go public, so we'll use his name here: He's Nick Sandmann, a junior at the all-male Catholic school with opinions on reproductive freedom. According to Sandmann's account, he and his classmates were waiting politely for the buses that would take them back to Kentucky.
When we arrived, we noticed four African American protestors who were also on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I am not sure what they were protesting, and I did not interact with them. I did hear them direct derogatory insults at our school group.
It could just be phrasing, but this implies Sandmann is still unsure of who the black men were and what they were protesting. They were the Black Hebrew Israelites, an American-based evangelistic group of people who believe they are the descendants of the original Israelites. If you've spent much time in either New York, Philadelphia, or DC, you are familiar with the aggressive way they engage passersby. This is all protected, although incredibly annoying, speech. You are usually not a captive audience, unlike the women who are screamed at when they try to enter an abortion clinic. You can always go elsewhere.
The protestors said hateful things. They called us "racists," "bigots," "white crackers," "faggots," and "incest kids." They also taunted an African American student from my school by telling him that we would "harvest his organs." I have no idea what that insult means, but it was startling to hear.
"Organ harvesting" is not that strange a concept. These are just high school kids, though, and probably haven't seen episodes of "Nip/Tuck." We don't support the harassment of even little creeps who show up to protest against women's bodily autonomy. Remember, this was a March on Uteruses not the March on Washington. It is a bummer that religious extremists met religious conservatives from a different branch of the fanatic tree and couldn't get along.
Because we were being loudly attacked and taunted in public, a student in our group asked one of our teacher chaperones for permission to begin our school spirit chants to counter the hateful things that were being shouted at our group. The chants are commonly used at sporting events. They are all positive in nature and sound like what you would hear at any high school. Our chaperone gave us permission to use our school chants. We would not have done that without obtaining permission from the adults in charge of our group.
If a teacher gave permission to do this, the teacher is a moron. Shouting down the Nazis with a rousing rendition of the French national anthem might've worked in Casablanca, but in real life, this type of direct confrontation from children is senseless and could've gotten their asses kicked. These brilliant educators also allowed the students to wear hats bearing Donald Trump's polarizing campaign slogan. Black kids aren't supposed to wear hoodies in the rain, but schools are fine with their students wearing MAGA hats to a city that's almost half black or, as we prefer to be called, "Trump-Hating Americans." You can both-sides this to death and say it's no more provocative than a gay student just existing on a school trip to Kentucky, but conservatives should at least have enough self awareness to recognize the demographics of DC.
At no time did I hear any student chant anything other than the school spirit chants. I did not witness or hear any students chant "build that wall" or anything hateful or racist at any time. Assertions to the contrary are simply false. Our chants were loud because we wanted to drown out the hateful comments that were being shouted at us by the protestors.
This is a really strange statement. You can't dispute what Sandmann "heard" or "witnessed," but then he claims that any assertion to the contrary is "simply false." How can he speak so definitively about what the other kids were doing? What's most puzzling, though, is his insistence that none of his classmates chanted "build the wall or anything hateful or racist." He wore a red "Make America Great Again" hat, demonstrating his support for Trump who unfortunately he'll be old enough to vote for in 2020. Why would he think "build the wall" is "hateful" or "racist"? It's a major Trump policy and a phrase chanted at all his rallies. It beggars belief that Trump supporters wouldn't invoke the term when challenging those they perceive as a threat to them.
Also, why does their school spirit chants involve the tomahawk chop?
The protestor everyone has seen in the video began playing his drum as he waded into the crowd, which parted for him. I did not see anyone try to block his path. He locked eyes with me and approached me, coming within inches of my face. He played his drum the entire time he was in my face. I never interacted with this protestor. I did not speak to him. I did not make any hand gestures or other aggressive moves. To be honest, I was startled and confused as to why he had approached me. We had already been yelled at by another group of protestors, and when the second group approached I was worried that a situation was getting out of control where adults were attempting to provoke teenagers.
I believed that by remaining motionless and calm, I was helping to diffuse the situation.
The "protestor" has a name, which Sandmann does get around to using later in his statement. It's curious, though: Would Sandmann describe himself as a "protestor"? He and Phillips were both in DC for similar, though politically different, reasons. It's a common conservative tactic to make "protestor" synonymous with "troublemaker." The media enables this as well. The New York Times referred to the attendees at the March for Life as "demonstrators."
Phillips disputes Sandmann's account. He says he was attempting to defuse the escalating situation.
"There was that moment when I realized I've put myself between beast and prey," Phillips said. "These young men were beastly and these old black individuals was their prey, and I stood in between them and so they needed their pounds of flesh and they were looking at me for that."
Lisa Sharon Harper has a really solid thread on Twitter about how even the extended video backs up Phillips's account. Unfortunately, conservatives have swarmed to protect and serve Sandmann's good name, and the media has already started falling all over itself to apologize for even seeming to rush to judgment against a white kid who voluntarily wears a red Trump hat. FOX News this week will likely also hammer the media and demonize both Phillips and the "scary" Black Hebrews.
In fairness, maybe what we perceive as smug sadism on Sandmann's face in the viral video is just an insecure teenager trying to mask his own fear. But I remember when we were in DC last summer for my father's 70th birthday. He was most excited to see the paintings of the Obamas at the National Portrait Gallery. It frustrated him to see the throngs of young men, all probably high school aged, wearing red MAGA hats and posing in wildly disrespectful ways with the former president's painting. They flashed their version of gang signs. They stuck out their tongues. And they had a look on their face not so different from Sandmann's. They weren't afraid, either.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle.