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I Failed the Covington Catholic Test

Like many people who spend too much time on Twitter, I watched with indignation Saturday morning as stories began appearing about a confrontation near the Lincoln Memorial between students from Covington Catholic High School and American Indians from the Indigenous Peoples March. The story felt personal to me; I live a few miles from the high school, and my son attends a nearby all-boys Catholic high school. I texted him right away, ready with a lesson on what the students had done wrong.

 “They were menacing a man much older than them,” I told him, “and chanting ‘Build the wall!’ And this smirking kid blocked his path and wouldn’t let him leave.” The short video, the subject of at least two-thirds of my Twitter feed on Saturday, made me cringe, and the smirking kid in particular got to me: His smugness, radiating from under that red maga hat, was everything I wanted my teenagers not to be.

“Where were they chanting about building the wall?” my son asked. His friends had begun weighing in, and their take was decidedly more sympathetic than mine. He wasn’t sure what to think, as he was hearing starkly different accounts from people he trusted. I doubled down, quoting from the profile of Nathan Phillips that The Washington Post had quickly published online, in which he said he’d been trying to defuse a tense situation. I was all-in on the outrage. How could the students parade around in those hats, harassing a man old enough to be their grandfather—a Vietnam veteran, no less?

By Sunday morning, more videos had surfaced, and I started looking for the clip that showed them chanting support for the wall. I couldn’t find it, but I did find a confrontation more complicated than I’d first believed. I saw a few people yelling terrible insults at the students before Phillips approached, which cast an ugly pall over the scene. I saw Phillips approach the students; I had believed him when he said he’d intended his drumming to defuse the tension, but I also wondered how a group of high-school students could have gleaned that when he didn’t articulate it in a language they might understand.

Read more at The Atlantic.

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