The day after a viral video circulated widely on social media showing a group of Kentucky high school students, many wearing the red “Make America Great Again” cap create by the Donald Trump presidential campaign, confronting and taunting Native American elder Nathan Phillips (pictured above), the Covington Catholic High School student at the center of the video issued a lengthy statement claiming that the media and online portrayal of the students as racist was not accurate, as Newsweek reported.
In the statement, Covington junior Nick Sandmann — seen in the video apparently staring down Phillips, 64, and smirking at him — claimed that he was actually attempting to defuse a volatile situation and that he bears “no ill will” toward Phillips. However, in the statement — posted on Twitter by CNN host Jake Tapper — he refers to Phillips only as “this person” or “the protester.”
In fact, in the statement, Sandmann claimed that Phillips had been in the instigator of the confrontation, saying “I never felt like I was blocking the Native American protestor. 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.”
But on Monday, a report by the Louisville Courier-Journal revealed that Sandmann’s statement had been crafted by a Republican-linked public relations firm founded in part by a former staff member and adviser to current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, also of Kentucky.
Scott Jennings has also been a conservative commentator on CNN since 2017, according to his online biography, post by the Louisville-based RunSwitch Public Relations. On its site, the firm states its “mission” as “to ensure that the right people know the right thing about your issue.”
RunSwitch told the Courier-Journal in a written statement that it “has been retained by the Sandmann family to offer professional counsel with what has become a national media story. We are working with the family to ensure an accurate recounting of events which occurred this past weekend.”
Among the firm’s clients, according to the site, include the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and the Philip Morris tobacco company.
Another of the RunSwitch co-founders, Steve Bryant, said that the firm became involved with the Sandmann case when the teen’s family “reached out to our firm, and we responded,” according to the Louisville paper’s report.
In the statement crafted with the PR firm, Sandmann claims that he and his family have received “death threats” after the video of his confrontation with Phillips went viral.