Report finds no evidence of racist statements from Covington students

Screengrab from a viral video showcasing a confrontation between a Native American drummer and a group of Catholic high school students in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 18, 2019. Screenshot via YouTube.  

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- An independent investigation into the much-discussed encounter that went viral between Catholic high school students, a Native American tribal leader and members of another protest group on the Lincoln Memorial grounds in Washington in January found no evidence that the students of Kentucky's Covington Catholic High School issued "offensive or racist statements."

A report on the investigation was released by the Covington Diocese Feb. 13.

Advertisement

Two days before releasing the report's findings, Covington Bishop Roger J. Foys wrote to parents of the high school students telling them he was pleased to let them know that his hope that an inquiry into the events of Jan. 18 would "exonerate our students so that they can move forward with their lives has been realized."

The investigation, conducted by Greater Cincinnati Investigation Inc., which has no connection with the high school or diocese, "demonstrated that our students did not instigate the incident that occurred at the Lincoln Memorial," the bishop said.

The four-page report signed Feb. 11 said that four investigators spent 240 hours looking into the events of Jan. 18 when the Covington Catholic High School students -- in Washington for the annual March for Life -- met up with other groups while waiting for their buses to pick them up. The investigators spoke with 43 students, 13 chaperones and a number of third-party witnesses. They also reviewed about 50 hours of internet footage or comments focused on the groups' exchange.

The investigation "demonstrated that our students did not instigate the incident that occurred at the Lincoln Memorial," the bishop said.

Investigators were unable to question Nathan Phillips, tribal elder for the Omaha Tribe, who was chanting and beating a drum by the students, or Nick Sandmann, the student most prominent in viral footage of the encounter.

The incident in question gained national attention from a viral video of it that showed students surrounding Phillips, who was chanting and beating a drum. The students appeared to be mocking him and Sandmann, inches away from the drummer, who never moved and was smiling, was accused of flagrant disrespect.

The clip caused immediate outrage, particularly on social media. But by the next day, extended footage of how the situation unfolded revealed that another group had taunted the students. Phillips had walked over to the group as a type of intervention.

Just days after the video prompted rounds of criticism, Sandmann issued a statement saying he had "received physical and death threats via social media, as well as hateful insults."

 

In a Jan. 22 statement, the Covington Diocese said the incident and the reaction to it was "a very serious matter that has already permanently altered the lives of many people. It is important for us to gather the facts that will allow us to determine what corrective actions, if any, are appropriate."

The investigators' report said it found no evidence of the students responding in an offensive manner to the black Hebrew Israelites who first addressed them nor did the students chant "build the wall" as some had speculated.

According to the report, the students asked their chaperones if they could perform a school cheer to drown out the remarks of the protest group. The students also said they felt "confused" by being approached by Phillips and although some performed a "tomahawk chop" none of the students said "racist or offensive statements" to Phillips.

Some students said chaperones had reminded them that if "they engaged in a verbal exchange with the black Hebrew Israelites, they would receive detention when returning to school."

Bishop Foys said that in the weeks since the original video went viral "two well-worn and oft-used adages have come to mind: Seeing is believing and perception is reality."

The investigators also noted that most of the students wearing the "Make America Great Again" hats had bought them in Washington during their visit. In previous years, chaperones said some students bought "Hope" hats in support of President Barack Obama. There is no school policy prohibiting political apparel on school-sponsored trips, the report said.

In his letter to the Covington Catholic High School community, Bishop Foys said that in the weeks since the original video went viral "two well-worn and oft-used adages have come to mind: Seeing is believing and perception is reality."

He said the immediate 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."

"In truth, taking everything into account, our students were placed in a situation that was at once bizarre and even threatening. Their reaction to the situation was, given the circumstances, expected and one might even say laudatory," he wrote.

He said the students could "never have expected what they experienced on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial" and added that their "stance there was surely a pro-life stance."

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Charlotte Bloebaum
6 months ago

The report by outside firm may have "said it all" but seeing is believing and I saw what I saw. To say the red maga hats were innocent is the height of naivette. Barack Obama did not try to divide those hats sent a clear message and it had 0 to do with being pro choice. Maybe they did not "say" anything but their attitudes and that smirk said it all.

Rudolph Koser
6 months ago

The videos were damning. I find it interesting that the two principals involved were not interviewed. In any case most schools have dress policies for sponsored trips. More so should religiously sponsored school. I have a hard time believing the school is that naive.

THOMAS E BRANDLIN, MNA
6 months ago

So, you are saying the First Amendment does not apply to these high school students, or to anyone who supports returning this nation to the greatness that has been squandered over the past 60-70 years. Your attitude is the one out of alignment.

Colette Verdun
5 months 3 weeks ago

You say the boy was smirking. A man walked up to him and began beating a drum in his face. Maybe he was trying to smile at the drum beater. I think if you or I were photographed at any one point in time, someone else could read something negative into our faces.

Rhett Segall
6 months ago

It astonish me that even after this thorough investigation the honor of the students and Covington Catholic is still being demeaned. I am reminded of the lyric:
He that complies against his will
Is of his own opinion still
Which he may adhere to, yet disown,
For reasons to himself best known
Or more simply: "A man convinced against his own will is of the same opinion still!"

Loretta de Córdova
6 months ago

after learning of the drummer's actions in forcing his way into the boy's space, rather than the contrary, i congratulate the young man on maintaining a steely smile in the situation, refusing to look hostile or angry. The word "smirk" seems an incorrect nomenclature, unless one can read into the person's mind... Novelists and teachers can handle that one better than an unengaged bystander or eager reporter.

THOMAS E BRANDLIN, MNA
6 months ago

Could the reason the investigators could not speak with Mr. Sandmann and Mr. Phillips be because both of them are planning to sue various entities and people? I hope they both sue the media outlets involved, Covington Catholic High School, the Diocese of Covington, and Bishop Foys personally. All of these nincompoops rushed to judgment and smeared both Mr. Phillips and Mr. Sandmann. Surely true journalists and bishops know to get the facts before making a judgment. Obviously not. Mrs. Trump won $2-3 million dollars the other day from British "professional" news outlets. They never learn and they don't care - journalists, bishops, and so many others.

Ron Martel
6 months ago

I mean Melania is no example for any kind of integrity.

Michael Cardinale
6 months ago

How was Phillips smeared? The article says he was beating a drum within inches of the boy. That, I believe, is technically assault. He is an adult assaulting a minor.

Anthony Noble
6 months ago

I think the investigators are naive at best and the chaperones were negligent in not intervening quickly enough to break up the students' confrontation with the Native American elder. It appears that the 4 or 5 black Hebrew Israelites began yelling denigrating and obscene catcalls to the Catholic school group and the students responded with school cheers. This was a great way to respond to the heinous behavior they encountered. Then the elder steps in drumming a peace chant that the students probably didn't understand. Then a student walks up to the elder, inches from his face, and stares at the sole elder with a smirk while the student body stands behind him doing the tomahawk chop and the chaperones passively look on. If a young man stood inches in front of your face with a stare and a smirk, as captured in the video, how would you feel? If this was a friendly encounter by the student, why didn't he say hello or introduce himself? If a group of young men made offensive gestures about your ethnicity at you, how would you feel? Empathy is a virtue for all of us.

bridgetgradyspears@gmail.com
6 months ago

Anthony, you need to retract. Then watch at least 3 hours of the video. The student DID NOT walk up to Mr Phillips, it was Nathan Phillips (the one who lied about his military service and the one who that same day tried to interrupt and stage a protest at the National Cathedral) who walked 30+ feet over and pushed his way into their group. And yelled at them to, “Go back to Europe”

Warren Patton
6 months ago

I don't think Phillips yelled "Go back to Europe," though someone in his group may have.

Anthony Noble
6 months ago

While it is our First Amendment right to show nastiness, is this to be condoned or encouraged as Catholics?

Larry Mulligan
6 months ago

“No connection to ... ” anyone? Wouldn’t elementary journalistic integrity ask, who paid you to do this investigation, then disclose the answer?

Sue Harvey
6 months ago

Interesting comments...as a Catholic school alumnus 1-12 and mother of a student who also attended. Also a chaperone for student trips my questions were always what was wrong with the "chaperones"? There should have been intervention long before. Anyone who's been to Washington knows there are groups protesting something every day. Also when I was a chaperone or my daughter was going permission slips with outline of trip and expectations for dress, behavior were clear. In essence..you are representing yourself, your family, school and Catholic faith. Behave accordingly. Is this not expected from Catholic schools anymore?

Ron Martel
6 months ago

Chaperones should have moved the students away from the situation . The hats should not have been worn at a pro life rally.

Carol Zarek
6 months ago

Who were the boys in white hats with hate on their faces and why didn't the Catholic School boys and their chaperones intervene...If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem...

Michael Cardinale
6 months ago

"hate on their faces". Try yelling anything ("I love my children") with someone filming you. What look is on your face?

arthur mccaffrey
6 months ago

what is Bishop Foys going to do to atone for his own initial rush to judgement? At the very least he needs to put a lot of energy into disseminating this investigative report on social media which condemned the Catholic students on flimsy evidence. This independent report confirms what the reporter for Atlantic magazine discovered when she took the time to review all the tapes and also exonerated the students.
Sadly the damage has already been done, but I hope the Sandman boy sues the hell out of the vindictive media.
One other puzzling thing--there is no mention of the Covington principal saying anything about this independent investigation--does the Bish outrank the school CEO? Do all Catholic schools share this lack of autonomy?

Warren Patton
6 months ago

The Bishop apologized, and has since made statements in support of the boys. I think that's fine. What do you want him to do, walk across broken glass?

Daniel Smith
6 months ago

Now that they are cleared, Bishop Foys should feel free to have "MAGA" embroidered on his miter.

Advertisement

The latest from america

‘Blinded by the Light’ captures the angst and joy of being a teenager.
Kerry WeberAugust 16, 2019
(iStock/mediaphotos)
A bill to restore Pell grants for those in prison would be an investment in human capital, writes Raymond Moylan, but more importantly it honors the principles of Catholic social teaching and strikes a blow against “throwaway culture.”
Raymond MoylanAugust 16, 2019
A man walks past a memorial on Aug. 7, 2019, for those killed in a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, four days earlier. Three U.S. bishops' committee chairmen issued a statement Aug. 8 to call on the nation's elected officials "to exert leadership in seeking to heal the wounds" of the country caused by the Aug. 3 and 4 mass shootings and urged an end to hateful rhetoric many see as a factor in the violence particularly in Texas. The Aug. 3 shooting in El Paso, Texas, was followed less than 24 hours later by th
Unlike other nations that prohibit or narrowly restrict ownership of high-body-count weaponry and ammunition, the United States is hindered in establishing effective gun control by federal and state constitutional roadblocks. Understanding these roadblocks is essential to devising a route around
Ellen K. BoegelAugust 16, 2019
“Yo Soy Taino” is a new live-action puppet film by the screenwriter and director Alba Enid García (photo: HBO).
“Yo Soy Taino” offers a brief and necessary look into the complicated history between the United States and Puerto Rico.
Olga SeguraAugust 16, 2019