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Covington student at center of controversy defends himself, schoolmates against 'outright lies'

A U.S. representative also is backing the Catholic high school students

Image source: YouTube screenshot

Nick Sandmann — the student accused of disrespecting a Native American man as the pair stood face-to-face on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial last week — is standing up for himself and ripped "outright lies" about him.

"I am providing this factual account of what happened on Friday afternoon at the Lincoln Memorial to correct misinformation and outright lies being spread about my family and me," Sandmann, a junior at the school, said in a statement.

Controversy erupted after a video showed Covington (Kentucky) Catholic High School students standing in front of a Native American man who was banging a drum and chanting. The students had attended the March for Life, which coincided with the Indigenous Peoples March. Numerous media outlets accused the students — many of whom were wearing Make America Great Again hats — of mocking, surrounding, and trying to intimidate the man, but additional video showed things didn't happen that way.

Indeed, in his statement, Sandmann said he "was confronted by the Native American protestor" — not the other way around.

"The protestor everyone has seen in the video began playing his drum as he waded into the crowd, which parted for him," Sandmann continued. "I did not see anyone try to block his path. He locked eyes with me and approached me, coming within inches of my face. He played his drum the entire time he was in my face."

Sandmann added, "I never interacted with this protestor. I did not speak to him. I did not make any hand gestures or other aggressive moves. To be honest, I was startled and confused as to why he had approached me." He also said, "I believed that by remaining motionless and calm, I was helping to diffuse [sic] the situation."

"I never felt like I was blocking the Native American protestor," Sandmann also said. "He did not make any attempt to go around me. It was clear to me that he had singled me out for a confrontation, although I am not sure why."

Sandmann added that he "was not intentionally making faces at the protestor. I did smile at one point because I wanted him to know that I was not going to become angry, intimidated or be provoked into a larger confrontation."

'They called us 'racists,' 'bigots,' 'white crackers,' 'faggots,' and 'incest kids''

Sandmann also said in his statement that prior to the Native American man walking up him, he and his classmates "noticed four African American protestors" who made "direct derogatory insults at our school group. The protestors said hateful things. They called us 'racists,' 'bigots,' 'white crackers,' 'faggots,' and 'incest kids.' They also taunted an African American student from my school by telling him that we would 'harvest his organs.' I have no idea what that insult means, but it was startling to hear."

More from his statement:

Because we were being loudly attacked and taunted in public, a student in our group asked one of our teacher chaperones for permission to begin our school spirit chants to counter the hateful things that were being shouted at our group. The chants are commonly used at sporting events. They are all positive in nature and sound like what you would hear at any high school. Our chaperone gave us permission to use our school chants. We would not have done that without obtaining permission from the adults in charge of our group.

At no time did I hear any student chant anything other than the school spirit chants. I did not witness or hear any students chant "build that wall" or anything hateful or racist at any time. Assertions to the contrary are simply false. Our chants were loud because we wanted to drown out the hateful comments that were being shouted at us by the protestors.

After a few minutes of chanting, the Native American protestors, who I hadn't previously noticed, approached our group. The Native American protestors had drums and were accompanied by at least one person with a camera.

'I will not stand for this mob-like character assassination'

Sandmann also said, "I am being called every name in the book, including a racist, and I will not stand for this mob-like character assassination of my family's name. My parents were not on the trip, and I strive to represent my family in a respectful way in all public settings."

More from his statement:

I have received physical and death threats via social media, as well as hateful insults. One person threatened to harm me at school, and one person claims to live in my neighborhood. My parents are receiving death and professional threats because of the social media mob that has formed over this issue.

I love my school, my teachers and my classmates. I work hard to achieve good grades and to participate in several extracurricular activities. I am mortified that so many people have come to believe something that did not happen -- that students from my school were chanting or acting in a racist fashion toward African Americans or Native Americans. I did not do that, do not have hateful feelings in my heart, and did not witness any of my classmates doing that.

CBS News correspondent has this to say

CBS News correspondent David Begnaud said the incident did not take place as originally reported:

Other notable folks reversed their positions:

U.S. representative backs Covington students

U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky) has backed the Covington students in the wake of the controversy, WLWT-TV reported, adding that he noted on Twitter that he "chose to wait for more facts before responding because the narrative did not match what I know to be the character of these students."

More from Massie's statement, according to the station:

"The honorable and tolerant students of Covington Catholic School came to DC to advocate for the unborn and to learn about our nation's Capitol. What they got was a brutal lesson in the unjust court of public opinion and social media mobs.

"I've now watched over an hour of other videos from 4 different cameras of the incident in front of the Lincoln Memorial. I urge everyone to watch the other videos before passing judgement. Would you have remained that composed at that age under those circumstances?

"In the face of racist and homosexual slurs, the young boys refused to reciprocate or disrespect anyone. Even when taunted by homophobic bigots, which was obviously bewildering to them, they insulted no one.

"In the context of everything that was going on (which the media hasn't shown) the parents and mentors of these boys should be proud, not ashamed, of their kids' behavior. It is my honor to represent them."

But school officials had something else to say

In a statement condemning the incident, Covington officials said administrators are investigating and that student expulsions could result.

"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 officials said, adding that "we will take appropriate action, up to and including expulsion."

Officials also apologized to the March for Life and the pro-life movement, explaining the incident has "tainted the entire witness of the March for Life."

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