The Catholic bishop of Covington, Kentucky, says an independent investigation “exonerates” students from Covington Catholic High School who were at the center of a national firestorm when a video supposedly showed a confrontation between the students and Native Americans at the Lincoln Memorial.
Those students had been in Washington, D.C., in January for the March for Life, an annual anti-abortion demonstration, when they were captured on video apparently encircling Native American elder Nathan Phillips in front of the Lincoln Memorial. The video went viral on Twitter before eventually being removed.
A longer video later emerged showing the students shouting back and forth with a group of the Black Hebrew Israelites, a religious sect known for street preaching. A group of Native Americans eventually moved between both groups and into the crowd of students.
The investigators, commissioned by the Diocese of Covington and Covington Catholic High School, found “no evidence of offensive or racist statements by students” to Phillips and other Native Americans.
The four investigators with Greater Cincinnati Investigation interviewed and took statements from Covington students and chaperones who attended, sought third-party witnesses, and combed through social media posts and news articles.
Covington Bishop Roger Foys said he was happy the investigation showed the students were not instigators.
“The immediate worldwide reaction to the initial video led almost everyone to believe that our students had initiated the incident, and the perception of those few minutes of video became reality,” Foys said in a news release.
One of the investigators, Chad Moran, said they spoke to nine faculty chaperones, four parents on the trip and 43 students. The team was unable to contact Phillips and used a written statement from the student at the center of the controversy, Nick Sandmann.
Among other conclusions: The team found no evidence of students chanting “Build the wall,” or of a student shouting, “It’s not rape if you enjoy it.” The investigators did say the teens performed a “tomahawk chop” and were wearing “Make America Great Again” hats.
“In truth, taking everything into account, our students were placed in a situation that was at once bizarre and even threatening,” Foys said. “Their reaction to the situation was, given the circumstances, expected and one might even say laudatory.”
Read the full report here.
The initial video that apparently showed the students mobbing Phillips went viral after it was shared on Twitter and prompted widespread condemnation from political leaders, media personalities and religious figures, including Foys and the Diocese of Covington.