On Jan. 19 and 20, video clips emerged showing a Native American man, identified as Nathan Phillips, and a group of high school boys wearing “Make America Great Again” gear involved in a confrontation in Washington D.C.
The story was trending on Twitter and quickly went viral, receiving coverage from news outlets all over the country.
The group of boys were students from Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Ky. They were in D.C. for a March for Life rally. Phillips, a Native American veteran from Ypsilanti, Mich., was there for The Indigenous Peoples March.
The videos show one of the boys standing very close to Phillips while the group of boys around him were laughing and cheering.
Initial coverage of the story put the blame on the group of boys for approaching Phillips. As more videos were released, however, it became clear that Phillips was the one to approach the students. Phillips stated that he intervened in a confrontation between the mostly white students and a group of black religious activists. He saw the situation as potentially dangerous and intervened in an attempt to diffuse the situation. Phillips then found himself surrounded by the group of boys.
Students at Eastern Michigan University shared their reactions to the story.
Hannah Zwolensky, a junior at EMU and the President of EMU College Democrats, said she was disgusted with the way Phillips was treated.
“It was blatantly disrespectful,” Zwolensky said. “There’s no reason for it at all, and to see them imitate the way Nathan was singing is very disgusting to see.”
Heather Weigel, Vice President of EMU Democrats, shared the same sentiment. She also acknowledged the safety of the teen that was the focus of the video.
“My opinion is that Nathan was in the right,” Weigel said. “But I can’t justify doxxing him, because I wouldn’t want that to be done on the flip side.”
Reid Scott and Abdiqani Yaasiin, both members of the EMU College Republicans, expressed concern over the way the story was reported.
Scott, a member of Student Government, said: “What we all first saw was that devious clip, but I knew there had to be more to the story. . .Those kids were being hounded by grown adults. . .I think people just love to jump to conclusions based on what they emotionally want to see. They don’t necessarily care about the truth.”
Scott continued: “It’s really sad, I’m a journalism major and I love this profession, but this gives President Trump ammo for his fake news stuff. This literally was fake news.”
Yaasiin said that his initial reaction was confusion. “I thought that it was harassment [against Phillips]. Once you do some research, you find that it’s the exact opposite. . . Sometimes journalists intentionally fabricate things; I’ve seen it on both sides.”
One thing everyone agreed upon is that this controversy is very reflective of the current political atmosphere in the country.
Yaasiin said that he did think it’s a sign of the times. “You can see that people were driven to the fact that the guy was white and that he had a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat.”
“Right now there’s the debate between what is politically correct and what isn’t,” Zwolensky said. “It ties in a lot with free speech.”
Nationally, this event has been very polarizing. Public opinion has largely been along party lines with Democrats defending Phillips and Republicans defending the students.