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Teenagers mob, mock Native American man; outrage as video goes viral

A young man in MAGA (‘Make America Great Again’) hat was seen standing defiantly close to Nathan Philips, the 64-year-old Naive America who is a veteran of the Vietnam War, blocking his way, staring at him with an unwavering sneer.

world Updated: Jan 20, 2019 20:42 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Native American mocked,Trump supporters,Nathan Philips
A student from Covington Catholic High School stands in front of Native American Vietnam veteran Nathan Phillips in Washington, US, in this still image from a January 18, 2019 video by Kaya Taitano. (Kaya Taitano/Social Media/via REUTERS )

Shock and outrage swept social media Saturday over video footage that appeared to show a group of white teenagers wearing Trump campaign’s “Make America Great Again” hats mobbing and mocking a Native American man as he sang and beat his drum, with remarkable calm and dignity.

A young man in MAGA hat was seen standing defiantly close to Nathan Philips, the 64-year-old Naive America who is a veteran of the Vietnam War, blocking his way, staring at him with an unwavering sneer.

Philips told The Washington Post in an interview he had felt threatened by the teens as they swarmed around him but continued singing — a song of unity — and thinking of his wife who died of cancer four years ago and challenges faced by indigenous communities around the world.

“I felt like the spirit was talking through me,” Phillips told the Post.

The footage had gone viral by then sparking shock and outrage, and comments that the incident was a sign of the times, rising ethnic and racial tensions that have followed the 2016 elections.

“This Veteran put his life on the line for our country. The students’ display of blatant hate, disrespect, and intolerance is a signal of how common decency has decayed under this administration,” Deb Haaland, one of the first two Native Americans ever elected to the US House of Representatives last November, wrote on Twitter. ”Heartbreaking.”

President Donald Trump has been criticized for invoking stereotypes to attack Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren for her claims to Native American ancestry, calling her “Pocahontas” after a historical figure who came in touch with the first settlers, and married one of them.

The teenagers came to be identified shortly as students of Covington Catholic High School of Kentucky. They had come to Washington DC to participate in the annual March for Life anti-abortion rally on Friday, which was addressed by Vice President Mike Pence in person and by President Trump through a video-taped message.

Some distance away, Philips and other Native Americans held their Indigenous Peoples March.

As the marchers dispersed, some from the pro-life rally began taunting and heckling the indigenous march activists, according to one account. And some of them were chanting, “Build that Wall”, “Build that Wall,” a popular Trump campaign rally slogan about the wall the president have promised to build in the south to prevent illegal immigrants from entering the United States.

This took place on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

“It was getting ugly, and I was thinking: ‘I’ve got to find myself an exit out of this situation and finish my song at the Lincoln Memorial,’ ” Phillips said to the Washington Post. “I started going that way, and that guy in the hat stood in my way and we were at an impasse. He just blocked my way and wouldn’t allow me to retreat.”

He told CN: I “fear for those youth, fear for their future, fear for their souls, their spirit, what they’re going to do to this country”.

Alternate accounts of the incidents, cited mostly by conservatives, sought to blame Philips for provoking the teenagers by drumming in their face as they chanted a school slogan. In one clip posted by them, a Native American appears to yelling at the students they should go back to Europe, that America is not their land.

As outrage swelled, Covington Catholic High School, an all-male school apologized for the incident in a joint statement with the Diocese of Covington. Condemning the actions of the students towards Philips and Native Americans in general, they said, We extend our deepest apologies to Mr Philip.” They also said the matter was being investigated and appropriate action will be taken, “up to and including expulsion”.

First Published: Jan 20, 2019 16:45 IST