COVINGTON, Ky. – A Kentucky boys’ school shut down its campus Tuesday as a precaution and a small protest was held outside their diocese as fallout continued over an encounter involving white teenagers, Native American marchers and a black religious sect outside the Lincoln Memorial last week.
President Donald Trump tweeted early Tuesday that the students at Covington Catholic High School “have become symbols of Fake News and how evil it can be” but says he hopes the teens will use the attention for good, and “maybe even to bring people together.”
The recorded images that initially generated outrage on social media were tightly focused on the students wearing “Make America Great Again” hats, who seemed to laugh derisively as they surrounded an elderly Native American beating a drum.
Longer videos from wider perspectives emerged later over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend. They revealed the drummer – Omaha Nation elder Nathan Phillips – had intervened between the boys and the religious sect. That came when the teens seemed to be getting rowdier, and the black street preacher who had been shouting racist statements against both groups was escalating his rhetoric.
Soon, all sides were pointing fingers, giving their own accounts about feeling victimized and misunderstood.
“We just don’t know what the volatility of the situation is with these people that react and they don’t know the full story. And it’s very scary,” Jill Hamlin of Cincinnati, who was a chaperone as the boys attended an anti-abortion rally, told FOX News Tuesday morning.
The American Indian Movement Chapter of Indiana and Kentucky held a small protest outside the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington, with activists outnumbered by the media.
Albert Running Wolf, a Native American from Fort Thomas, Kentucky, referred to Nathan Phillips during the event as “an honorable man” who was trying to be a peacemaker, but ended up being verbally attacked. He said that Phillips deserves an apology for what he endured.
“It doesn’t matter what color they were, what political factions they were. It was disrespect – straightforward.”
Protesters ended the rally on a street corner near the diocese by singing a song from the American Indian Movement while two Native Americans beat on drums.
Kathleen Seither of Cold Spring, Kentucky, said she attended the rally in support of Native Americans, saying later she was appalled by the students’ behavior.
“They have embarrassed their school, their city, their parents, their state, their country.”
Seither said their actions are an example of “white male privilege, a product of everything in today’s world including the president. It’s frightening.”
A smaller group that came to support the teens converged closer to the diocese building.
Among them was Cincinnati resident Maureen Green, a former Catholic and mother of three. She held a sign that said: “I stand with the boys. Facts not fiction.” She said she thought the boys had been mispresented and “railroaded” by some media accounts.
“I think these boys are learning a lot about how the world really works. It’s a life lesson,” she said.
Meanwhile, the school’s principal, Robert Rowe, said that “after meeting with local authorities,” they decided to close the campus “to ensure the safety of our students, faculty and staff.” Police cars blocked school entrances Tuesday afternoon.
Phillips, for his part, offered to visit the boys’ campus for a dialogue with them about cultural appropriation, racism and the importance of listening to and respecting diverse cultures.
“Let’s create space for the teaching of tolerance to happen,” his statement said, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. “I have faith that human beings can use a moment like this to find a way to gain understanding from one another.”
The diocese, which issued a weekend statement criticizing the boys’ behavior, was unavailable for comment Tuesday. The school and the diocese websites were taken offline.
Twitter, meanwhile, has suspended an account that helped the video go viral. Twitter prohibits the creation of “fake and misleading accounts,” and the encounter once again demonstrated the power of social media to not just amplify but manipulate narratives, aided by bots and malicious actors out to shape public discourse.
A Twitter representative wrote in an email that “Deliberate attempts to manipulate the public conversation on Twitter by using misleading account information is a violation of the Twitter Rules.” It didn’t elaborate.
Kentucky’s governor also weighed in, saddened by what happened.
“It was amazing how quick those who preach tolerance and non-judgment of others were to judge and label some high school students based on partial information,” Gov. Matt Bevin tweeted. “In a world where we have a wealth of information at our fingertips, we have increasingly little discernment and wisdom… Facts matter…The truth matters…Context matters… A little more genuine caring for one another and a little less digital vitriol would be good for all.”
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