Nick Sandmann achieved fame earlier this year when a short video clip of him standing face-to-face with a Native American by the name of Nathan Phillips went viral back in January. Sandmann, who is wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat in the video clip, was chastised on social media as a racist who had taunted a Native American.
After the video went viral, several news organizations reported on the incident, including the Washington Post, NBC, and CNN. Sandmann sued all of them for allegedly defaming him by misrepresenting his actions and failing to report the full story.
Shortly after the video went viral, it was revealed that the Native American group was there with the Indigenous People’s March and Sandmann and his classmates were students from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky, who was in Washington D.C. for The March for Life. But it turned out those two groups weren’t the only ones outside the Lincoln Memorial that day. The third was a group of Black Hebrew Israelites who, it turned out, were heckling the students and other visitors to the memorial, claiming they were the result of incest and sodomy. The students pointed out to the group of Black Hebrew Israelites that their comments about sodomy were homophobic.
Nathan Phillips saw what was happening between the two groups and intervened, singing along with other Native Americans. The students surrounded Phillips and the other Native Americans, and that was when the video clip was taken of Sandmann facing Phillips as he sang.
After a while, the students and Native Americans exchanged some words and then went their separate ways peacefully. There were a few more interactions between the students and the members of the Black Hebrew Israelites before everyone left the Lincoln Memorial.
In addition to the public shaming Sandmann received on social media, reports claimed that Phillips felt threatened by Sandmann and the other students because they literally had him surrounded. He felt they were preventing him from moving forward or retreating.
In his lawsuits against the news outlets, Sandmann maintains he did not engage in racist conduct, nor did he hurt, threaten, or intimidate Phillips.
But the Washington Post never reported that Sandmann had threatened or intimidated Phillips. They reported that Phillips had felt intimidated by Sandmann’s actions and the actions of the other students who were with him. Expressing that sentiment is Phillips’s First Amendment right and the laws of defamation and libel don’t prohibit news organizations from reporting expressed feelings and opinions.
Sandmann has since come out saying he wishes Phillips no harm and that he would be willing to have a conversation with him. Phillips has reciprocated the feeling, saying he’d be willing to meet with Sandmann and the other students on behalf of the international coalition that organized the Indigenous People’s March. Phillips also said that he intervened between the students and the Black Hebrew Israelites because he’s tired of seeing his country get torn apart.
Judge William Bertelsman dismissed Sandmann’s lawsuit against The Washington Post, but his defamation lawsuits against both CNN and NBC are still unresolved as of this writing.
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