Native American tribal elder and Vietnam war veteran Nathan Phillips on Sunday recounted the events leading up to a tense standoff last week with an “ugly mob” of young Catholic students wearing MAGA hats, video of which has gone viral.
According to Phillips, the high school students had just completed their participation in the anti-choice March for Life in Washington, D.C., and had confronted a small group of Black Hebrew Israelites who were proselytizing nearby.
Over the course of an hour, the student group kept growing, until it numbered into thd hundreds, Phillips explained to MSNBC’s A.M. Joy.
“They surrounded these black kids, these black guys — taunting them and throwing racial taunts back and forth,” he said.
“First they came, there were about six of them. They went away. They came back with about 20. They went away, came back with about 60. They surrounded these black kids, black guys,” Phillips recounted.
“Taunting them — racial taunts back and forth. We were just at the sidelines watching this. This is about an hour. Then they went away. The 60 came back, 100, maybe 200 of them. They were just a big mob. Just ugly, ugly mob.”
Phillips said he worried that the high school students might actually violently attack the Black Hebrew group. The viral moment with the smirking student arose after he chose to insert himself between the growing confrontation.
“So when I started singing our songs, our prayers to God, that drum is an instrument we use to communicate to God,” he said.
“So when I started the drum beat it was in my mind that, ‘God, look at us here now, you know? I’m praying, God.’ We’re at the end of our indigenous people’s March and we want to end this in a good way. Look at my America. Look at my black and white brothers tearing at each other. We’re at a point where you can’t stand by and watch this.”
“If you’re an American and you see America getting torn apart, being burned down — you gotta do something. You gotta stop it.”
The Indigenous Peoples Movement, which organized Friday’s march, called the confrontation “emblematic of our discourse in Trump’s America.”
Many have pointed out that it has become a common phenomenon for white Trump supporters to harass marginalized people simply by chanting his slogans, as these students did yelling “Build that Wall.”
As Phillips pointed out in a separate interview, indigenous people lived in North America for hundreds of years with no walls at all.
Many of the students were seen wearing clothing that identified them as attending Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Kentucky. School officials and the Catholic Diocese of Covington released a joint statement Saturday condemning the students’ behavior. They promised to investigate the incident and “take appropriate action, up to and including expulsion.”
Phillips stopped short of agreeing that the students should be expelled, but did say that the chaperones should be fired for allowing such behavior.