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PC Culture

Nathan Phillips’s Interview with CNN Is Full of Falsehoods, Inconsistencies, and Nonsense

Nathan Phillips on CNN (CNN/via YouTube)

As I wrote on the home page today, it’s disturbing to see the left-wing hate that is still being directed at the Covington Catholic students — days after the initial framing of the story was thoroughly debunked. Judging from the vitriolic online responses to my piece, it’s apparent that many folks on the left are basing their understanding of the incident by still taking Nathan Phillips entirely at his word about the incident. They credit his good intentions. They credit his good faith. And they credit his version of the story.

This is a grave mistake. As my colleague Kyle Smith documented in a viral piece this weekend, in his initial account of the event, Phillips gave substantially different accounts to the Washington Post and the Detroit Free Press. But the inconsistencies don’t stop there. Perhaps his longest statement is contained in this CNN interview, and — quite frankly, it’s simply incredible. There’s an alarming number of falsehoods, inconsistencies, and nonsensical statements. For example, there’s the interesting question of his alleged service in Vietnam (the Washington Post reported today that he served in the Marines from 1972 to 1976 but was not deployed). In the transcript, he appears to falsely state that he served in Vietnam twice:

CNN: Let me ask you about what happened to you. These boys in the middle of this group and you find yourself surrounded. How did that happen and what did that feel like as a person standing there face to face with a young man who seems to be staring at you or glaring at you? How would you describe that moment?

Phillips: When I was there and I was standing there and I seen that group of people in front of me and I seen the angry faces and all of that, I realized I had put myself in a really dangerous situation. Here’s a group of people who were angry at somebody else and I put myself in front of that, and all of a sudden, I’m the one whose all that anger and all that wanting to have the freedom to just rip me apart, that was scary. And I’m a Vietnam veteran and I know that mentality of “There’s enough of us. We can do this.” (Emphasis added.)

Here’s the second:

CNN: One of the things they said is we weren’t protesting against Native Americans. We were there for the March for Life and we were just chanting — and this is kind of putting the blame on you — and that this person came into our space and we were just getting all hyped up. Do you buy that?

Phillips: Not in the least.

CNN: What really happened?

Phillips: They were there looking for trouble, looking for something. Everybody knows the right to life and (pro-choice), it’s been like this and they’re hateful to each other. And it’s because I’m a veteran — I’m a Vietnam veteran — that these two groups even have the right in this country to have protests, to have conflicting opinions. If they were doing that, they should’ve done that there and then when they come into public, that wasn’t the place for that. That was a public forum where we was at. We were still under the protection of our permit for the indigenous peoples rally. (Emphasis added.)

If you watch the available video, the first transcript entry is wrong. He says the more ambiguous “Vietnam-times.” I can’t find video of his second statement (CNN apparently aired only excerpts of the larger interview), but why emphasize Vietnam when you didn’t serve there? This is deceptive at best and an outright lie at worst. But look closer at those same transcript excerpts. Do they comport with the video evidence of the event? He disagrees with the kids’ defense that Phillips “came into our space and we were just getting hyped up.” He says that is “not in the least what happened.” But the video is crystal clear. He walked into their midst just after they did a series of school cheers.

Moreover, he says they were “looking for trouble, looking for something.” Yet again, the video shows something substantially different. The Black Israelites were hurling homophobic and racist taunts. If anyone was “looking for trouble,” it was the people who were calling kids homophobic slurs, “crackers” and “incest babies.” But “looking for trouble” is a subjective judgment, so it’s difficult to categorize as a flat-out lie. Let’s be charitable and simply say that his statement is flat-out inconsistent with the available evidence. Moreover, read the way he describes the confrontation between Black Israelites and the Covington Catholic kids:

Phillips: Oh, what I was witnessing was just hate? Racism? Well, hate. What I’m saying is that when these folks came there, these other folks were saying their piece, and these others they got offended with it because they were both just expressing their own views. And if it’s racism, that’s what it was because the folks that were having their moment there, they were saying things that I don’t know if I agreed with them or not, but some of it was educational, and it was truth, and it was history about religious views and ideologies, but these other folks, the young students, they couldn’t see it. They had one point of view, it seemed, and that was that their point of view was the only point of view that was worthwhile. And that’s now what I was feeling.

Again, this is an astounding statement. Is this at all consistent with the video? The adult Black Israelites were taunting the kids, relentlessly. Anyone who has encountered the Black Israelites (and I have) knows how they conduct themselves. You know they are full of rage and hate. But, right, the kids were the real problem. (Or, as Phillips described them to the Detroit Free Press, they were the “beast,” and the Black Israelites were the “prey.”) But there is no video evidence I’ve seen that indicates these boys threatened the Black Israelites — and at the point where Phillips walked into their midst, the boys were keeping their distance.

Also, please read this exchange and compare it with the video:

CNN: Were you trying to calm the situation down basically when you saw kind of things seemed to spiral out of control?

Phillips: I think so. I think that was the push, that we need to use the drum, use our prayer and bring a balance, bring a calming to the situation. I didn’t assume that I had any kind of power to do that, but at the same time, I didn’t feel that I could just stand there anymore and not do something. It looked like these young men were going to attack these guys. They were going to hurt them. They were going to hurt them because they didn’t like the color of their skin. They didn’t like their religious views. They were just here in front of the Lincoln — Lincoln is not my hero, but at the same time, there was this understanding that he brought the (Emancipation Proclamation) or freed the slaves, and here are American youth who are ready to, look like, lynch these guys. To be honest, they looked like they were going to lynch them. They were in this mob mentality. Where were their parents? Because they were obvious a student group. Where were their–

What does he mean that he “thinks” he was trying to calm them down? Either he was or he wasn’t, and if he was, it is truly odd to do so by not speaking words the boys could understand and walking straight into their midst with an entourage that is actively taunting the kids, telling them to “go back to Europe.” That is odd behavior. It’s not peacemaking. If you’re trying to make peace, say so. The drumming and chanting have no independent, calming power — especially when they’re accompanied by angry taunts.

But then, later, he contradicts himself — saying something that seems much closer to the truth. He told CNN that one of his people said they should “reclaim our space.”

Phillips: When they said, “Let’s go hit the drum, let’s go sing, let’s reclaim our space here” because this was the Indigenous Peoples March rally, and when these two groups came together and started that and I was witnessing as it escalated from just two small groups, then the other one just went back and got more people, went back and got more people, went back and got more people until there were over 100 people, maybe 200 young men there facing down what? Four individuals? Why did they need 200 people there other than it’s hate and racism? They had their target. They had their prey. And so I wish somebody would’ve been able to stand in front of the 7th Cavalry and my relatives at Wounded Knee. I wish somebody would’ve stood there and said, “No, you can’t do this.”

And there it is again, the claim — without any evidence — that the Covington kids looked at the Black Israelites as their “prey.” Finally, here’s Phillips even denying the kids were chanting school chants — something that’s plainly obvious from the relevant videos. One of them is even the very old and corny, “We got spirit, yes we do.”

CNN: Does it feel like hatred toward you because the kids will say, “Oh we were just chanting our school chants and this person came in between us as we were chanting our school chants and we were not being hateful.” What did it feel like to you?

Phillips: I’m sorry. I don’t mean to laugh. Well, yes, I do, I guess. I heard that rhetoric before and it’s just one of those things, it’s got to be like water off a duck’s back. Time for lies to be not accepted anymore. I don’t accept their “I’m just chanting a school chant.”

But again the video contradicts Phillips. They’re clearly and plainly chanting about their school. If you have eyes and ears you can see it and hear it.

I’ve been to dozens of high school football and basketball games. In the South at least, this is what student bodies do. They chant. They jump around. They get loud. And if they’re being taunted by racists, it actually seems like a constructive response to hate speech. Don’t engage, have fun. But then came Nathan Phillips, he walked into their midst, he sang words they didn’t understand, and then he spewed falsehoods in the national media. Why are so many progressives taking his word as true? Because he’s telling the story they want to hear, not because he’s telling the truth.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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