FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A teen at the center of a video confrontation with a Native American organizer of a march in Washington, D.C., says he did nothing to provoke anyone and sought to calm the situation.
The student identified himself in an email Sunday evening as junior Nick Sandmann of Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky. An official working with the family confirmed Sandmann's identity, speaking on condition of anonymity because the source didn't want to distract from the teen's statement.
Sandmann says students were waiting at the Lincoln Memorial for buses to return to Kentucky on Friday when four African-American protesters there began insulting them.
The Native American, Nathan Phillips, told The Associated Press he approached the Kentucky students to keep the peace between them and the third group of protesters. Videos show Sandmann standing very close to Phillips and staring at him as he sang and played the drum. Other students — some in "Make America Great Again" hats and sweatshirts — were chanting and laughing.
Sandman says the students began yelling "school spirit chants" to drown out the protesters and he did not hear students chant anything "hateful or racist at any time."
Students at a Kentucky Catholic school who were involved in a video showing them in a confrontation with Native Americans outside the Lincoln Memorial after a Washington rally could potentially face expulsion, according to the diocese.
In a joint statement, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington and Covington Catholic High School apologized and said they are investigating and will take "appropriate action, up to and including expulsion."
The Indigenous Peoples March in Washington on Friday coincided with the March for Life, which drew thousands of anti-abortion protesters, including a group from Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Kentucky.
Videos circulating online show a youth staring at and standing extremely close to Nathan Phillips, a 64-year-old Native American man singing and playing a drum. Other students, some wearing Covington clothing and many wearing "Make America Great Again" hats and sweat shirts, surrounded them, chanting, laughing and jeering.
"We extend our deepest apologies to Mr. Phillips," the diocese statement read. "This behavior is opposed to the Church's teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person."
According to the "Indian Country Today" website, Phillips is an Omaha elder and Vietnam veteran who holds an annual ceremony honoring Native American veterans at Arlington National Cemetery.
Marcus Frejo, a member of the Pawnee and Seminole tribes who is also known as Chief Quese Imc, said he had been a part of the march and was among a small group of people remaining after the rally when the boisterous students began chanting slogans such as "make America great" and then began doing the haka, a traditional Maori dance. In a phone interview, Frejo told The Associated Press he felt they were mocking the dance.
One 11-minute video of the confrontation shows the Haka dance and students loudly chanting before Phillips and Frejo approached them.
Frejo said he joined Phillips to defuse the situation, singing the anthem from the American Indian Movement with both men beating out the tempo on hand drums.
Although he feared a mob mentality that could turn ugly, Frejo said he was at peace singing despite the scorn. He briefly felt something special happen as they repeatedly sang the tune.
"They went from mocking us and laughing at us to singing with us. I heard it three times," Frejo said. "That spirit moved through us, that drum, and it slowly started to move through some of those youths."
Eventually a calm fell over the group of students and they broke up and walked away.
The videos prompted a torrent of outrage online. Actress and activist Alyssa Milano tweeted that the footage "brought me to tears," while actor Chris Evans tweeted that the students' actions were "appalling" and "shameful."
As of Sunday morning, Covington Catholic High School's Facebook page was not available and its Twitter feed was set to private.