Earlier this week, the mainstream media painted Omaha elder Nathan Phillips as a victim; a single Native American activist who stood up to a smirking crowd of racist high school boys.
Phillips said it was a dangerous situation and characterized the boys as “angry” in an excerpt from an interview with CNN.
It was the narrative that dominated the story in its initial telling across the country.
Now that narrative has virtually disintegrated.
Other videos of the incident, now widely circulated on social media, show a different story. Instead of being surrounded from by teens Covington Catholic High School wearing “Make America Great Again” hats, Phillips is the one who can be seen starting the confrontation. Flanked by comrades with video cameras, he walked toward the schoolboys, seemingly tried to provoke a response that never came.
Even Phillips’ military service claims are beginning to unravel. In a Vogue article profiling Standing Rock Sioux Reservation protesters against a pipeline in North Dakota in 2017, he claimed to be a “recon ranger,” which any veteran will tell you is about as real as a space shuttle door gunner.
Humiliating corrections are now beginning to roll in as media outlets realize Phillips never served in Vietnam, either.
Before everything fell apart, Nathan Phillips appeared to be out for Covington Catholic blood.
“At first I wanted the teachers and chaperones to be reprimanded, some fired, for letting this happen,” he told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “For the students, I was against any expulsions, but now I have to revisit that.”
After the narrative shifted against him, Phillips took a different approach.
ABC News reports the Omaha tribe elder magnanimously plans to use his “sudden and unwanted fame” as a teaching moment.
In a complete turnaround from his previous statements, Phillips now says he wants to meet with both community leaders and the Covington boys. If they’re hoping for an apology, they may be left disappointed.
The meeting will apparently be less of a bread-breaking and more of “a dialog about cultural appropriation, racism, and the importance of listening to and respecting diverse cultures,” according to a statement from the Indigenous Peoples Movement reported by Indian Country Today.
An apparent activist to the core, this isn’t Phillips’ first time claiming victimhood in a high-profile case.
In 2015, he claimed to be the subject of racist insults and an attempted assault from students dressed as stereotypical Native Americans at Eastern Michigan University. Police were unable to find any evidence to back up his version of events.
Phillips was also the subject of a short documentary years before.
The film revolves around the so-called spiritual leader’s journey to cure his wife’s cancer. Eschewing Western medicine he saw as ineffective, the Omaha elder instead choose to build a “purification sweat lodge and ceremonial tipi” in front of the White House.
The media spotlight always seems to find its way towards Nathan Phillips. Whether this is by design or coincidence, we’ll likely never know.
But one thing is a virtual guarantee: After this week’s national firestorm over the Covington boys, mainstream media journalists will likely take additional steps to verify anything Phillips claims.
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