President Donald Trump issued his support for the Kentucky students seen in a viral video in a confrontation with a Native American activist on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial last weekend.
"We've reached out and voiced our support” for the Covington Catholic High School students, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Tuesday. "Certainly no one understands better than this president when the media jumps to conclusions and attacks you for something you may or may not have done."
CNN reported that Trump had offered to host the teens at the White House but Sanders said it would have to be “sometime after the shutdown, if that happens.”
The incident went viral over the weekend after a short video showed Covington student Nick Sandmann smirking as he and Omaha Nation elder Nathan Phillips stared eachother down.
A longer video later showed that the students had gotten into a confrontation with a group of Black Hebrew Israelite protesters who had tried to provoke them. Phillips interjected himself into the confrontation, later saying he wanted to diffuse the situation.
The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that Trump’s White House lawyer is a graduate of Covington Catholic. White House counsel Pat Cipollone graduated from the school in 1984.
Phillips claims he wanted to diffuse situation:
Phillips told CNN that the Black Hebrew Israelite group was expressing their “freedom of speech” when the Covington teens “were offended by their speech, and it escalated into an ugly situation that I found myself in the middle of.”
“It looked like these young men were going to attack these guys,” he added. “They were going to hurt them. They were going to hurt them because they didn't like the color of their skin. They didn't like their religious views.”
Additional footage complicated the original narrative:
Though the initial viral footage was largely focused on for the encounter between Sandmann and Phillips, additional footage of the event brought into question whether the Covington boys had indeed "surrounded" Phillips or "provoked" the Hebrew Israelite protesters as Phillips had claimed.
Sandmann says he doesn’t owe apology:
Sandmann appeared on Today on Wednesday to deny that the teens were racist and to claim that their behavior has been mischaracterized.
“As far as standing there, I had every right to do so,” he said. “My position is that I was not disrespectful to Mr. Phillips. I respect him. I'd like to talk to him. In hindsight, I wish we could've walked away and avoided the whole thing, but I can't say that I'm sorry for listening to (Phillips) and standing there."
Sandmann said he did not see one classmate taunting Phillips with the tomahawk chop, which was captured in the video.
"I wasn't smirking," he said, "but people assume that's what I have (done), and they've gone from there to titling me and labeling me as a racist person, someone that's disrespectful to adults. ... They've had to assume so many things to get there without consulting anyone that can give them the opposite story."