The Covington Student Controversy


January 18, 2019, a video was released on twitter of Covington Student, Nick Sandmann at a  protest standing eye to eye with Native American counter-protesters who was chanting a traditional Native American song about peace. The Native American elder was later identified as Nathan Phillips. Outrage flooded social media after the video surfaced, and only worsened once the information came out that Phillips is a former U.S.  Marine. Sandmann, along with his classmates, attended the March For Life protest. He and his peers are pictured wearing a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat, as they stand face-to-face with Phillips, which he has stated is a song of peace. Prior to the standoff, bystanders claimed that Sandmann was yelled at by Black Hebrew Israelite Protectors. According to others at the march, Phillips came between the Black Hebrew Israelite and Sandmann and began chanting the peace song. Many people came to Sandmann’s defense, and just as many spoke out on behalf of Phillips.

The Today Show decided to conduct an interview with Sandmann, and received lots of online backlash. Many viewers, and some journalists, critically analyzed the Today Show’s portrayal of the events. People cited the use of certain adjectives, the camera angles (said to be used to make Sandmann look smaller and more child-like), and even lighting choices. Many who were exposed to the video on social media demanded that Sandmann be held accountable. As the controversy continued, more attendants of the protest spoke out, saying they witnessed Sandmann and his peers harassing a group of female counter-protesters.  These accusations created more online outrage, and many turned against Sandmann and Covington High School as a result.

To activists, the whole situation boiled down to two things: lack of accountability and privilege. Many called out the redundancy of the situation, pointing out other instances in which a white male evades any responsibility in the court of public opinion. The once perceived victim made out to be the antagonist. Like Clockwork, media outlets started finding dirt on Phillips. The New York Post came out with an article detailing Phillips’ criminal record. Phillips responded, extending an opportunity for a conversation with Sandmann and his peers in an attempt to establish an understanding. In response to the situation, President Trump tweeted“[Nick Sandmann and his Covington peers] have captivated the attention of the world, and I know they will use it for the good – maybe even to bring people together. It started off unpleasant, but can end in a dream!”

As of February 20th, Nick Sandmann’s parents are filing a lawsuit against the Washington Post for causing people to cyber-bully him. They’re suing for $250 million, the exact amount that Jeff Bezos paid to buy the Washington Post 6 years ago. According to the parents, $50 million of that money is compensation for the damage to Sandmann’s character. The other $200 million, according to Julie Sandmann, Nick’s mother, is being requested to, “teach the Post a lesson it will never forget.”