Covington high schooler Nick Sandmann says he wishes he 'could have just walked away' from his viral encounter with Native American activist Nathan Phillips

  • Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann told “Today” he wishes he could have walked away from his encounter with a group of Black Hebrew Israelites on Friday.
  • He also said he wishes he could have walked away from Native American activist Nathan Phillips, who he stared down in a viral encounter after the incident with the Black Hebrew Israelite group.
  • Sandmann said he’d smiled to indicate that Phillips couldn’t provoke him.

Nick Sandmann said he wishes he could have just “walked away” from the encounter that made him go viral and become the centrepiece in a new political culture war.

Sandmann, a student at Kentucky’s Covington Catholic High School,was at the center of a viral video recorded Friday that showed him staring down Native American activist Nathan Phillips at the Indigenous Peoples March in Washington, DC, while he wore a “Make America Great Again” hat. His classmates – in town to participate in the anti-abortion rally March for Life – stood nearby and made stereotypical Native American war cries and appeared to make “tomahawk chop” gestures.

Sandmann’s family hired a public-relations firm amid his ongoing media tour following the incident. And in an interview with Savannah Guthrie on NBC’s “Today” show, he attempted to focus on the Black Hebrew Israelites who used insults and homophobic slurs against him and his classmates before his encounter with Phillips.

“In hindsight, I wish we had just found another spot to wait for our buses,” Sandmann told “Today.” “But at the time, being positive seemed better than letting them slander us with all of these things. I wish we could have walked away.”

Read more: A Kentucky PR firm was reportedly behind high schooler Nick Sandmann’s statement on his viral confrontation with a Native American protester

Videos of the encounter between the students and the Black Hebrew Israelites show the students jeering in response to the group. Sandmann didn’t answer Guthrie’s question about whether he or his classmates responded with racial slurs against 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.

Phillips said he and his group came between the high-school students and the Black Hebrew Israelite group to defuse the situation.

The viral video shows Sandmann staring down Phillips with an expression many read as smirking as Phillips beats a drum and chants the American Indian Movement song.

Sandmann gave “Today” two different explanations of his behaviour. He told Guthrie he was making an expression meant to signal that Phillips couldn’t provoke him. He also said he was receptive to Phillips having a conversation with him at that moment.

“Now, I wish I would have walked away. I didn’t want to be disrespectful to Mr. Phillips and walk away if he was trying to talk to me,” he said. “But I was surrounded by a lot of people I didn’t know that had their phones out, had cameras, and I didn’t want to bump into anyone or seem like I was trying to do something.”

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