Nicholas Sandmann, a Kentucky teenager and pro-life advocate, will be speaking Tuesday night at the Republican National Convention. The teen was involved in a 2019 viral video that appeared to present the narrative of him antagonizing an elderly Native American man, for which he was portrayed as a villain in some segments of the media. In fact, Sandmann was himself a victim of aggressive taunting from another group of individuals -- a fact that didn't come to light until after much of the damage had been done.
He Came To Washington To Protest Abortion, But He Left Being Portrayed As A VillainJanuary 18, 2019, would be a day that would change Nicholas Sandmann's life. On that day, he and several other students from Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Kentucky, had convened on the Lincoln Memorial to participate in the March for Life, a demonstration aimed at protesting the legality of abortion.
Also at the memorial that day was a smaller group of Native American activists, calling attention to their own issues.
At some point, the teenagers began performing chants, including a Maori Haka, a traditional Pacific Islanders dance. Native American activist Nathan Phillips, who would later say that he thought the teenagers were mocking him and his associates, confronted the Kentucky teenagers. In a viral video, Phillips could be seen addressing Sandmann and pounding on his drum while inches from the teen's face. Nicholas, wearing his red "Make America Great Again" hat, could be seen smiling and keeping his cool.
Videos of the incident went viral. Initially, as The New York Times reported, the videos appeared to present the narrative that the teenagers had been mocking the elderly man. That prompted something of an outrage among certain elements; for example, as Fox News reported, comedian Kathy Griffin called on her followers to "doxx" Sandmann and his companions. Further, multiple news outlets also presented a similar narrative based on the initial videos.
The boys' school started receiving threats of violence, and at one time was forced to temporarily close.
He Was Actually A Victim Of Malicious Taunting, Too
Not long after the confrontation went viral and the narrative that Nick Sandmann and his classmates were smug teens who hassled an elderly Native American was presented, it came to light that there was more to the story.
Specifically, a third group of individuals was also demonstrating at the Lincoln Memorial that day. A group of African American demonstrators, calling themselves the Black Hebrew Israelites, were also there that day. The group reportedly had a reputation for loudly berating passers-by. They purportedly did not spare their ire for Sandmann and his classmates and allegedly shouted offensive slurs at the boys.
It was in response to that taunting that Nick and his friends began singing their school spirit chants, including the Haka. It was that chanting that caught Phillips' attention.
He Settled Multi-Million-Dollar Lawsuits Against News Organizations
Nick and his family later filed multiple lawsuits against major news organizations for their initial coverage of the incident, claiming that The Washington Post, among others, had published false, misleading stories about him or had otherwise published "vicious" and "direct attacks" toward him. His family similarly sued CNN.
On January 7, 2020, Sandmann and CNN settled their $275 million lawsuit; the outcome of which was not disclosed to the public. Months later, on July 24, 2020, the Post settled its own lawsuit with the Sandmann family; the settlement was also not disclosed. A third lawsuit, against NBCUniversal, is still pending.