Nathan Philips said he was trying to play peacemaker when he saw a group of young Catholic high school students getting into a verbal confrontation with a group of Black Hebrews, but things went terribly wrong.
A viral video showed the ensuing confrontation between students from Covington Catholic High School and Philips, a Native American elder and longtime peace advocate. Images of students taunting Philips as he performed a traditional Native American song have sparked outrage and calls for the students to be expelled, and this weekend, Philips shed new light on exactly how the incident unfolded.
Philips, a Vietnam veteran who has performed a ceremony to honor Native American veterans buried at Arlington National Cemetery, told the Indian County Times that he saw the small group of Black Hebrews making anti-Trump remarks near the Lincoln Memorial. The group has been known for being confrontational and making racially charged remarks, and a video from the event this week showed them accusing Donald Trump of being a homosexual and verbally jawing with some passersby.
Philips said some of the young men from the Catholic school — who wearing “Make America Great Again” hats and shirts — began yelling at the men, and Rolling Stone noted that it appeared some were taunting the Black Hebrew group.
Nathan Philips said he saw the escalating tensions and decided to step in to diffuse the situation. He beat a drum and played the “Raymond Yellow Thunder Song,” which he said is about “resistance and remembrance.” That was when some of the students began taunting Philips, with reports that they yelled “build that wall” and surrounded the man.
Nathan Philips of the Omaha Nation speaks out about MAGA harassment - and it's incredibly powerful https://t.co/7uLJT3EIFR— The Independent (@Independent) January 20, 2019
Philips said the situation was frightening, but he felt obligated to step in and help diffuse a situation that could have grown out of control.
“It’s when that moment comes and you got to stand your ground. That commitment that you made to either fulfill that or you don’t. I mean, I was scared and I didn’t want to. I really, I really didn’t want to, but nobody else was,” Phillips said. “We’re indigenous. We’re different than that. When we see our youth going the wrong way, we will go up and say, ‘You are doing the wrong thing there nephew, or grandson. This is just the wrong way.’ I tell them, ‘This is the way you have to behave. This wrong, this is right.'”
While the viral video of the incident has led to the condemnation of the students and Covington Catholic High School — for not properly supervising the teens — many have reached out to help Nathan Philips and the non-profit he once led, Native Youth Alliance. A series of online fundraisers have drawn thousands of dollars to support the organization, which works with at-risk youth.