Teenager Nick Sandmann is suing The Washington Post for $250 million over its coverage of a controversial incident between a Native American elder and a group of students wearing “Make America Great Again” hats.
The Native American – Omaha tribe elder Nathan Philips – was at the Lincoln Memorial performing an American Indian Movement song as part of the Indigenous Peoples Rally.
Nick, 16, and his friends were in DC attending the annual March for Life rally as part of a school field trip. They were instructed to meet at the Lincoln Memorial before heading back to Kentucky.
Video footage of the event appears to show the students mocking Phillips during his performance. In the video, Nick is standing directly in front of Philips smiling (see photo above).
The video went viral and the incident was covered by several media sources.
In a lawsuit filed Tuesday, Nick’s attorneys claim The Washington Post’s coverage of the incident “caused permanent damage to his life and reputation” and insist the paper “wrongfully targeted and bullied” Nick “because he was the white, Catholic student wearing a red MAGA souvenir cap.”
The Post plans to fight the lawsuit.
Additional footage of the incident, released later, shows a group of black men shouting racist slurs at the students and mocking the Native American activists. The men identified themselves as “Hebrew Israelites,” a movement that believes some black Americans are the descendants of an ancient Israelite tribe.
The men described the students as “young Klansmen” and “future school shooters” and laughed at their MAGA hats. They also shamed black students for associating with their “oppressors.”
Nick told reporters he was trying to help diffuse the situation, and explained how the students raised their voices in order to drown out the inflammatory comments coming from the Hebrew Israelites.
“A student in our group asked one of our chaperones for permission to begin our school spirit chants to counter the hateful things that were being shouted at our group,” said Nick. “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.”
When asked why he was smiling during the video, Nick said he was not “intentionally making faces at the protestor,” but that he “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.”
From Philips’s point of view, Nick was blocking his escape.
“It was getting ugly, and I was thinking: ‘I’ve got to find myself an exit out of this situation and finish my song,’” said Philips. “I started going that way, and that guy in the hat stood in my way, and we were at an impasse.”
In comments to reporters, Philips said he had forgiven Nick but believes there are “intentional falsehoods in his testimony.” Nick told reporters he wished he could have “walked away and avoided the whole thing.”
President Trump expressed support for the students and suggested they visit the White House.