Nathan Phillips, the Native American elder at the center of a viral controversy with Covington Catholic High School students, spoke out Thursday about the confrontation near the Lincoln Memorial.
“Even though I’m angry, I still have that forgiveness in my heart for those students,” Mr. Phillips said on NBC’s “Today” show.
Mr. Phillips criticized Nick Sandmann, the student seen standing across from him in the videos, for giving an interview that was “coached and written up for him.” The Native American activist said he should be low on the list of people the student owed an apology to, but it would have to be sincere.
Mr. Phillips described his version of the incidents as wanting to get involved to defuse the tension between the school group and another group of protesters.
“All that anger was directed at the four individuals — the Black Israelites — and the youth there. It was getting really explosive,” he said.
After he approached, Mr. Phillips said he was “surrounded” by the school group. He reaffirmed his claim that he heard students yell “build the wall,” although no video evidence of that has surfaced in reports.
Videos emerging in the days following the confrontation show several Black Hebrew Israelites yelling racial slurs at the Covington Catholic students. Mr. Phillips and his group of activists walked between the groups and into the middle of the students’ gathering, where he stood across from Mr. Sandmann.
“That’s what I was trying to do,” he said. “I was blocked.”
In his written statement, Mr. Sandmann claimed he wasn’t blocking Mr. Phillips and would have let him through if he tried to get around him. During his interview, the student said he didn’t want to be disrespectful and walk away if Mr. Phillips was trying to start a conversation.
Mr. Phillips, who was previously reported to be a Vietnam veteran, also addressed the confusion about his service record. He said that he went to boot camp and served in the Marines, but he never stepped foot in Vietnam.
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