‘Coached and written up for him’: Nathan Phillips says Nick Sandmann’s response to his viral encounter wasn’t sincere

  • Native American activist Nathan Phillips told NBC’s “Today” that he doesn’t think Nick Sandmann’s comments about their encounter Friday were sincere.
  • He believes they were written by the public relations firm Sandmann’s family hired.
  • He still forgives Sandmann and other students at his school after they surrounded Phillips and his group, some seeming to make racist “tomahawk chop” gestures and mocking Native American war cries.
  • Phillips is still upset at the adult chaperones overseeing the kids at their anti-abortion protest.

Native American activist Nathan Phillips said he doesn’t believe Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann’s comments about his experience at the center of a viral encounter between them – but he still forgives him.

“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 told Savannah Guthrie on NBC’s “Today” show Thursday. “And then I woke up, and I woke up with this forgiving heart. So I forgive him.”

Phillips and Sandmann are both at the center of a controversial encounter in Washington, DC that went viral Friday. The students were in town to participate in the anti-abortion March For Life, while Phillips was there as part of the Indigenous Peoples March. After seeing a group of Black Hebrew Israelites jeering Sandmann and his classmates with racist and homophobic slurs, Phillips and a group of other Native American activists put themselves between the two groups.

The students surrounded the activists, some of them making stereotypical Native American war cries and appearing to make “tomahawk chop” gestures. Sandmann stared down Phillips in the middle of the circle, wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, while Phillips beat a drum and chanted the American Indian Movement song.


In his interview with Guthrie, Phillips criticised the statement Sandmann issued after videos of the event went viral. Sandmann’s family hired a public relations firm, RunSwitch PR, amid the media coverage.

“I did hear the statement that he wrote, and the video statement he put out,” Phillips said. “What it says is he has a PR firm. So those aren’t even his words if he has a PR firm.”

Phillips also trashed Guthrie’s interview with Sandmann from Wednesday, where he attempted to focus on his earlier encounter with the Black Hebrew Israelite group, gave two conflicting explanations for why he stared down Phillips, and refused to apologise to him.

“I was upset I was made to sit down and watch it,” Phillips said. “I got into the first 30 seconds, 40 seconds of it. And I thought, well, that’s all I needed to hear.”

Read more:
Covington high schooler Nick Sandmann says he wishes he ‘could have just walked away’ from his viral encounter with Native American activist Nathan Phillips

Nick sandmann today show
Nick Sandmann on NBC’s ‘Today’ show. Today/NBC/YouTube

In his interview with “Today,” Sandmann said he would have had trouble leaving the circle where he was surrounded by his classmates. But Phillips pointed out that he and the handful of Native American activists with him were the ones who were surrounded. While Phillips tried to leave, he said, Sandmann blocked his way.

“I was blocked,” he said. “I was trying to walk away … We couldn’t go right, we couldn’t go left, back.”

Covington Catholic High School students reported getting death threats, and Phillips said he has received death threats as well. He also told “Today” that while he forgives the students at the event, he’s still frustrated with the chaperones overseeing the children.

“Even though I’m angry, I still have that forgiveness in my heart for those students,” he said. “That forgiveness doesn’t go to those chaperones and those teachers.”

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