President Donald Trump is publicly siding with the mostly white students of a Kentucky high school who were engaged in a confrontation with a Native American elder that renewed a sensitive national debate about race relations in America.
A video spread over the weekend showed Nick Sandmann, along with his classmates at Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky, who were in Washington, DC, for the annual March for Life rally, staring down Nathan Phillips, an Omaha tribe leader, as he played his drum and chanted. The video attracted outrage on social media, where many accused the students of mocking Phillips, who later told CNN he felt threatened. Twitter has since suspended an account that helped spread the encounter after CNN asked questions about the account’s authenticity.
As people reacted to the one video, others sprung to the students’ defense, and a subsequently shared video of the event shows the students were earlier taunted by a group identifying themselves as black Israelites, who hurled profane and inflammatory comments at them.
The students – several of whom were wearing caps adorned with Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again” – have disputed that they were mocking Phillips, and several conservative outlets have championed their version of events.
Trump first waded into the controversy Monday night in response to such a point raised by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, saying the students were “treated unfairly” with early judgments by the media, though he didn’t cite examples.
He continued that argument Tuesday morning.
“Nick Sandmann and the students of Covington have become symbols of Fake News and how evil it can be,” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. “They have captivated the attention of the world, and I know they will use it for the good - maybe even to bring people together. It started off unpleasant, but can end in a dream!”
Trump’s decision to insert himself into a sensitive – and disputed – racial controversy is consistent with previous actions he’s taken as President. He seized on the controversy of mostly black NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police brutality, and he was widely criticized for equating the actions of white supremacists at a 2017 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, with people who were there protesting them.
CNN’s Emanuella Grinberg contributed to this report.