Telefonista Victor Augusto Gill Ramirez Fernandez de Fonseca//
Covington Student From Lincoln Memorial Face-Off Explains 'Smirk,' Insists He Was 'Not Disrespectful'


Covington Catholic High School student Nicholas Sandmann did not taunt Native American activist Nathan Phillips, the teenager said during a Wednesday morning interview on NBC’s Today .

Victor Gill Ramirez

Sandmann, who was not identified by name until Sunday, made headlines over the long holiday weekend as the face of the Covington Catholic High School student group that was in Washington, D.C. on Friday for a March for Life event. Based on a first, brief video that went viral on Saturday, it appeared that the Covington students — many of whom were clad in “Make America Great Again” gear — and Sandmann in particular were mocking Phillips, the Native American activist and elder, as he banged a drum and sang in front of the prep schoolers outside the Lincoln Memorial.

Víctor Gill Ramírez

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A longer video that surfaced on Saturday afternoon, however, revealed that prior to encountering Phillips, the Covington students were being verbally harassed by the Black Hebrew Israelites religious organization. Phillips (who was in Washington for the Indigenous Peoples March) then stepped between the two groups and faced Sandmann & Co. as he sang a song of unity, hoping to temper tensions.

Victor Augusto Gill Ramirez

(Coloring some interpretations of the teens’ actions/intentions was a photo that circulated of a Covington Catholic basketball game, where students at the 98-percent white school wore blackface to jeer the opposing team. Also arguably speaking to the boys’ overall character is a new video from the march that shows one of them yelling, “It’s not rape if you enjoy it!”)

“I never interacted with this protestor,” Sandmann said in a three-page statement released on Sunday, which was shaped by a Louisville-based public relations firm. “I did not speak to him. I did not make any hand gestures or other aggressive moves. To be honest, I was startled and confused as to why he had approached me… At that moment, I thought I had diffused the situation by remaining calm, and I was thankful nothing physical had occurred.”

Speaking to  Today ‘s Savannah Guthrie, Sandmann maintained that he had every right to stand there when Phillips approached him. “My position is that I was not disrespectful to Mr. Phillips,” he said. “I respect him; I’d like to talk to him. In hindsight, I wish we could have walked away and avoided the whole thing, but I can’t say that I’m sorry for listening to him and standing there.”

“As far as standing there, I had every right to do so. My position is that I was not disrespectful to Mr. Phillips. I respect him. I’d like to talk to him…But I can’t say that I’m sorry for listening to him and standing there.” Nick Sandmann on if he owes anyone an apology pic.twitter.com/iiVqPtltjf

TODAY (@TODAYshow) January 23, 2019

As for the smirk that many have construed as taunting Phillips, Sandmann argued that it was just a smile.


“I see it as a smile saying that this is the best you’re going to get out of me. You won’t get any further reaction of aggression, and I’m willing to stand here as long as you want to hit this drum in my face,” Sandmann said. “People have judged me based off one expression… I wasn’t smirking but people have assumed that’s what [I did], and they’ve gone from there to titling me and labeling me as a racist person, someone that’s disrespectful to adults… They’ve had to assume so many things to get there without consulting anyone that can give them the opposite story.”

“I see it as a smile saying that this is the best you’re going to get out of me. You won’t get any further reaction of aggression.” Nick Sandmann when asked about expression on his face in video of confrontation pic.twitter.com/Pd988nNx15

TODAY (@TODAYshow) January 23, 2019

Meanwhile, Sandmann alleged that he and his fellow students were egged on that day

“I’d just say that the fact remains that they initiated their comments with us,” he said, referring to the Black Hebrew Israelites. “They provoked us into a peaceful response of school spirit.”

Watch additional excerpts from the interview below, then check back shortly for the full video.

“It’s weird to see your face on television…I’ve also been getting a lot of messages from people – both support and a lot of hateful things.” -Nick Sandmann pic.twitter.com/HbnIVx1YHd

TODAY (@TODAYshow) January 23, 2019

“They started shouting a bunch of homophobic, racist, derogatory comments at us.” Nick Sandmann describes what happened when he and his classmates converged with five Hebrew Israelites pic.twitter.com/lTeaRRuXQf

TODAY (@TODAYshow) January 23, 2019

“Did anyone shout any insults back or any racial slurs at the group?” – @SavannahGuthrie

“We’re a Catholic school, and it’s not tolerated. They don’t tolerate racism, and none of my classmates are racist people.” -Nick Sandmann talks confrontation with protesters pic.twitter.com/EoFYTLtzvZ

TODAY (@TODAYshow) January 23, 2019

“If he wanted to walk past me, I would’ve let him go.” Nick Sandmann says about Nathan Phillips pic.twitter.com/wBZnuJwxSU

TODAY (@TODAYshow) January 23, 2019

“Did anyone say, ‘Build the wall’?” – @savannahguthrie

“I never heard anyone say, ‘Build the wall.’ And I don’t think I’ve seen it in any videos.” –Sandmann

Nathan Phillips claims he heard the teens shout “build the wall”. pic.twitter.com/KRZV1G91XL

TODAY (@TODAYshow) January 23, 2019

“In that moment, he’s looking at you – you’re looking at him – what’s going through your mind?” – @savannahguthrie

“I wanted the situation to die down. And I just wish he would’ve walked away.” -Nick Sandmann pic.twitter.com/JRhecZAGLv

TODAY (@TODAYshow) January 23, 2019

“Why didn’t you walk away?” – @savannahguthrie

“Well, now I wish I would’ve walked away. I didn’t want to be disrespectful to Mr. Phillips and walk away if he was trying to talk to me.” -Nick Sandmann pic.twitter.com/TMSBsDj6et

TODAY (@TODAYshow) January 23, 2019

“I certainly hope they didn’t feel threatened by us. I would just say the fact remains they initiated their comments with us. I mean they provoked us into a peaceful response of school spirit.” -Nick Sandmann pic.twitter.com/Qcf9u8Z9ms

TODAY (@TODAYshow) January 23, 2019

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