- A standoff on Friday at the Lincoln Memorial between a group of high-school students and Native American activists has continued to stoke debate and controversy.
- A key group involved in the conflict, the Black Hebrew Israelites, has shot into the spotlight.
- The group’s members are known for aggressively preaching in public and occasionally harassing passersby, and the Southern Poverty Law Center has scrutinised some factions as a hate group with increasingly militant views.
- The group is more than a century old, and believes that African Americans are the true descendants of the Hebrews of the Bible.
Amid ongoing controversy over a standoff on Friday at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, a group that initially escaped much of the media’s attention has suddenly shot into the spotlight: the Black Hebrew Israelites.
Multiple videos taken that day show the conflict first began when a handful of protesters affiliated with the group, who had been yelling at passersby, turned their ire toward students from Kentucky’s Covington Catholic high school, who have said they were waiting for their bus on the Lincoln Memorial steps.
Though the initial viral video of the incident showed just the Covington Catholic students with the Native American protesters – including the now-infamous clip of student Nick Sandmann staring down Native American activist Nathan Phillips – other videos have since shown that the confrontation actually began when several Black Hebrew Israelites began taunting the Covington Catholic students.
Who are the Black Hebrew Israelites?
Black Hebrew Israelites are a loose network of congregations who believe that African Americans are the true descendants of the Hebrews of the Bible, rather than Jews.
The Southern Poverty Law Center estimated in a 2008 report that there were likely thousands of adherents across the country, but some extremist factions in the movement’s “black supremacist wing” are growing “increasingly militant.”
Both the SPLC and the Anti-Defamation League have labelled certain factions of the movement as “hate groups.”
Most Black Hebrew Israelites are non-violent and don’t hold explicitly racist views, according to SPLC, but the most militant, vocal members of the movement are known for demonstrating open hatred of white Americans. Other groups the extremist sectors often target include Jews, Asians, LGBT people, and even continental Africans, whose ancestors they accuse of selling their peers to Europeans during the slave trade.
The group was first created more than a century ago, according to The Forward, a Jewish newspaper, and though no one founder exists, a leading patriarch of the movement was a former slave named William Saunders Crowdy, who taught his followers in the 1890s that blacks were the “lost sheep of Israel.”
Black Hebrew Israelites believe that scripture predicted the transatlantic slave trade, and that the Africans who were brought to the US as slaves were actually Israelites forcibly torn from their culture and religion. Modern Black Hebrew Israelites believe their movement is essentially a return to the heritage African-Americans left behind.
The movement has become best known for the more extremist members who aggressively preach on street corners and in public transportation hubs in large cities including Washington, DC, New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. They can often be heard railing against a variety of groups, calling for the death and enslavement of white people, “fraudulent” Jews, and LGBT people.
In the confrontation with the Covington students, for instance, the Black Hebrew Israelites could be heard shouting homophobic slurs and shouting about “sodomy” and “homosexuals.”
The Hebrew Israelites’ role in the Lincoln Memorial standoff
Videos of the Lincoln Memorial standoff have still left observers divided over what actually happened that day.
Some have portrayed the Black Hebrew Israelites as victims in the controversy. Rep. Ilhan Omar, a freshman Democrat from Minnesota, received some online backlash on Tuesday after accusing the Covington students of “taunting 5 Black men before they surrounded Phillips and led racist chants.” She has since deleted the tweet.
Phillips, too, has said in interviews he believed that the Covington students had been taunting the Black Hebrew Israelites, and that he hoped to separate the two groups and diffuse the tension.
“These young men were beastly and these old black individuals was their prey, and I stood in between them and so they needed their pounds of flesh and they were looking at me for that,” Phillips told The Detroit Free Press.
But the extended video of the incident shows that it was the Black Hebrew Israelites who first began the taunting, at one point shouting that the students are “a bunch of incest babies,” and later referring to the students as future “school shooters.”
In the ensuing days of controversy, the Covington students and the Native American activists have continued to dispute one another’s accounts of the conflict, with each side giving interviews to national media outlets.
On Wednesday, Sandmann told Savannah Guthrie of NBC’s “Today” show that neither he nor his classmates instigated the initial confrontation with the Black Hebrew Israelites.
“We’re a Catholic school, and they don’t tolerate racism. And none of my classmates are racist people,” Sandmann said.
When Phillips appeared on the “Today” show Thursday, he told Guthrie didn’t think Sandmann’s comments have been sincere.
“Coached and written up for him. Insincerity. Lack of responsibility. Those are the words I came up with, but then I went to go pray about it,” Phillips said on NBC. “And then I woke up, and I woke up with this forgiving heart. So I forgive him.”
- Read more:
- The school at the center of the controversy surrounding the viral video of a confrontation between students and a Native American protester closed Tuesday over safety concerns and threats
- People have accused Covington Catholic students of wearing blackface at a 2012 basketball game, but alumni say it was an innocent ‘blackout’ cheer theme
- Trump tweeted in support of the students involved in Native American protester confrontation at Lincoln Memorial
- A Kentucky PR firm was reportedly behind high schooler Nick Sandmann’s statement on his viral confrontation with a Native American protester
- ‘Coached and written up for him’: Nathan Phillips says Nick Sandmann’s response to his viral encounter wasn’t sincere
- Covington high schooler Nick Sandmann says he wishes he ‘could have just walked away’ from his viral encounter with Native American activist Nathan Phillips
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.