Catholic diocese condemns teens’ viral standoff with Native American man

WASHINGTON — Viral video of a Native American man’s face-off with a group of teens after Friday’s Indigenous Peoples March at the Lincoln Memorial is drawing harsh condemnations.

Videos of the confrontation show a smiling young man in a red Make America Great Again hat standing directly in front of the man, who was playing a drum and chanting. Other kids can be seen mimicking the chant, laughing and jumping around.

Kaya Taitano, a student at the University of the District of Columbia who participated in the march and shot the videos, told CNN that the teens were chanting things like “Build the wall” and “Trump 2020.”

Taitano said it all started when the teens and a group of other young men started yelling and calling each other names. Taitano said Nathan Phillips, an elder with the Omaha tribe, started playing his drum and chanting to help defuse the situation.

Phillips walked through the crowd until he got to the grinning boy seen in the video, Taitano said. “This one kid just refused to move and he just got in Nathan’s face.”

Other boys circled around, according to Taitano: “They just surrounded him and they were mocking him and mocking the chant. We really didn’t know what was going to happen there.”

Some of the boys could be seen wearing hoodies and jackets with the name of Covington Catholic High School, an all-boys’ school in Northern Kentucky. The school’s website said a group of students had planned to attend Friday’s March for Life rally in Washington.

At least one student has spoken publicly about the face-off, saying it was a “publicity stunt” and that videos failed to show the full context. “As we have done for years prior, we decided to do some cheers to pass time,” the student wrote. “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.”

The student’s full statement is shown in this tweet from WKRC’s Adam Clements:

Another video posted to YouTube shows an alternate angle of the standoff, including an activist accompanying Phillips arguing with a student, and a separate group of men approaching the students to yell about religion and politics (warning, graphic language):

Covington Catholic is part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington, and in a statement given to CNN affiliate WLWT, spokeswoman Laura Keener said the diocese would investigate the incident and take appropriate action.

“We condemn the actions of the Covington Catholic High School students towards Nathan Phillips specifically, and Native Americans in general, Jan. 18, after the March for Life, in Washington, D.C. We extend our deepest apologies to Mr. Phillips. This behavior is opposed to the Church’s teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person.

“The matter is being investigated and we will take appropriate action, up to and including expulsion. We know this incident also has tainted the entire witness of the March for Life and express our most sincere apologies to all those who attended the March and all those who support the pro-life movement.”

CNN has reached out to the school and diocese for comment.

Phillips is a Vietnam veteran who says he served between 1972 and 1976. He is a former director of the Native Youth Alliance and holds an annual ceremony honoring Native American veterans in Arlington National Cemetery.

“I was scared, I was worried for my young friends. I don’t want to cause harm to anyone,” Phillips told CNN’s Sara Sidner. “I don’t like the word ‘hate.’ I don’t like even saying it, but it was hate unbridled. It was like a storm.”

The crowd kept growing as Phillips and the boy stood face to face, but Phillips kept on chanting and playing his drum. “What the young man was doing was blocking my escape. I wanted to leave. I was thinking, ‘How do I get myself out of this? I want to get away from it,'” Phillips said.

Phillips also appeared upset in a video Taitano posted after the confrontation. He wiped away tears as he talked about the chants of “build that wall.”

“I wish I could see that energy of the young mass of young men to, you know, put that energy into, you know, making this country really, really great by helping those who are hungry, you know,” Phillips said.

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