Parents who chaperoned Kentucky high school students who were captured in a viral video mocking a Native American elder on a class trip are defending the teenagers.
The Covington Catholic High School students were criticized when a brief video surfaced on Friday showing them wearing Make America Great Again hats and mocking Omaha tribe elder Nathan Phillips during the school’s annual trip to a March for Life rally in Washington.
A second video surfaced on Sunday showing another group, who identify themselves as members of the Hebrew Israelites, taunting students with disparaging and vulgar language, before the encounter with the Native American.
Covington Catholic parents told CNN affiliate WKRC the students did not incite violence and were calm as taunts were hurled at them. One parent said he tried to intervene to defuse the situation.
The statements are some of the first public comments from chaperones after the encounter on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
“Our boys did nothing. No violence. They did not attack those gentlemen. They stood there waiting for their bus,” Jim Wilson told WKRC on Sunday.
School, students receive threats
The all-boys Covington Catholic high school, located south of Cincinnati, and some of its students have received threats since the viral video came out, Kenton County Commonwealth’s Attorney Rob Sanders told CNN. He would not elaborate on the nature of the threats.
He said school officials met with local law enforcement on Monday to come up with a plan to ensure student safety.
In a letter to parents, Covington’s principal Robert Rowe said an independent third party investigator will look into the incident.
In an interview Monday on Westwood One’s Ben Shapiro Radio Show, Kentucky Congressman Thomas Massie defended the students.
“I think the kids should be commended, not condemned,” he said.
“I almost fell for the narrative myself,” Massie said.
“This is almost like a psychology experiment where somebody tells you what you’re going to see, tells you what you’re going to hear, and then they give you a little snippet, and you’re like ‘yeah, that’s what I heard, that’s what I saw,’” he said. “And that’s what happened when that first video came out.”
Screenshots of a smirking Nick Sandmann, a junior, staring down Phillips, who was taking part in the Indigenous Peoples March, sparked widespread outrage.
Kaya Taitano, a student at the University of the District of Columbia who took part in the Indigenous Peoples Rally and shot the first viral video, said the teenagers were chanting “Build the wall” and “Trump 2020.” Those chants were not audible in videos reviewed by CNN.
In a statement on Sunday, Sandmann said the students’ actions were incorrectly painted as racist. He said they raised their voices to drown out the Hebrew Israelites’ inflammatory statements, not to mock or intimidate Phillips.
Phillips has also said the teenager blocked his escape. Sandmann has denied blocking Phillips’ path, saying Phillips “locked eyes” with him.
Sandmann also denied anyone said “build that wall” or anything hateful.
“I was not intentionally making faces at the protester. I did smile at one point because I wanted him to know that I was not going to become angry, intimidated or be provoked into a larger confrontation,” Sandmann said in the statement.
The Lincoln Memorial was the students’ meeting point following an afternoon of sightseeing, so they could board buses back to Kentucky, according to Sandmann.
‘They were targeted’
As the crowd of students grew, some of the men in the Hebrew Israelites group criticized their “racist” MAGA hats, calling them “crackers” and “incest children.”
The Sunday video showed some students walking away. Almost an hour into the video, students are shown amassing in large numbers on the steps behind the Hebrew Israelites.
WKRC showed footage of Wilson trying to intervene at one point.
“They were curious of those men, so I got in between those men and the boys and pushed the boys back,” Wilson told WKRC. “Eventually, I could get eight to 10 of the boys that knew me, and I said, “We need to get out of here.’”
In his statement, Sandmann wrote, “A student in our group asked one of our teacher chaperones for permission to begin our school spirit chants to counter the hateful things that were being shouted at our group. The chants are commonly used at sporting events. They are all positive in nature and sound like what you would hear at any high school.”
A student jumped in front of the group, ripped his shirt off and led his schoolmates in a chant and dance. He retreated, as other students bounced up and down, continuing to chant, attracting onlookers.
A drumming sound grew louder off screen, and Phillips, surrounded by several others, entered the frame and walked into the crowd.
“Our boys were targeted,” Jill Hamlin, a Covington Catholic parent and chaperone, told WKRC without elaborating.
“They were targeted from the get-go. Immediately there were all these people running around filming,” she told the station.
Hamilin added: “I can’t believe they even stayed and listened to the vitriol and the hatred that was being shouted at them. As a mother, it was horrible, horrible.”
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Kaya Taitano’s first name.
CNN’s Emanuella Grinberg, David Williams and Janet DiGiacomo contributed to this report.