Interviews and additional video footage have offered a fuller picture of what happened in this encounter, including the context that the Native American man approached the students amid broader tensions outside the Lincoln Memorial. Read the latest article here.
They were Catholic high school students who came to Washington on a field trip to rally at the March for Life.
He was a Native American elder who was there to raise awareness at the Indigenous Peoples March.
They intersected on Friday in an unsettling encounter outside the Lincoln Memorial — a throng of cheering and jeering high school boys, predominantly white and wearing “Make America Great Again” gear, surrounding a Native American elder.
The episode was being investigated and the students could face punishment, up to and including expulsion, their school said in a statement on Saturday afternoon.
In video footage that was shared widely on social media, one boy, wearing the red hat that has become a signature of President Trump, stood directly in front of the elder, who stared impassively ahead while playing a ceremonial drum.
Some boys in the group wore clothing associated with Covington Catholic High School, an all-male college preparatory school in Park Hills, Ky., near Cincinnati.
The school had advertised that students would attend this year’s March for Life Rally, which took place in Washington on Friday. In a letter to parents, the trip was described as an opportunity for students to live out their faith and demonstrate in support of all life “born and unborn.”
In a statement, the Diocese of Covington and Covington Catholic High School condemned the behavior by the students and extended their “deepest apologies” to the elder, as well as to Native Americans in general.
“This behavior is opposed to the Church’s teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person,” the statement said.
The school’s website and Facebook page were down as of Saturday afternoon.
The encounter became the latest touchpoint for racial tensions in America, particularly under Mr. Trump, who has painted immigrants in broad strokes as rapists and drug dealers and recently mocked Senator Elizabeth Warren with a reference to Wounded Knee and Little Bighorn, sacred ground for Native Americans whose ancestors fought and died there.
Across the country, Mr. Trump’s name — and his campaign for a wall on the southern border with Mexico — have been used to goad minorities, including by high school students at sporting events.
[Read more about the Wounded Knee massacre, the Battle of Little Bighorn and why the president invoked them to attack Senator Elizabeth Warren, a 2020 presidential candidate. And a new book by David Treuer, “The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee,” shows the history of American Indians as more than victimhood.]
The episode drew widespread condemnation from Native Americans, Catholics and politicians alike.
“This veteran put his life on the line for our country,” Representative Deb Haaland, a Democrat of New Mexico who recently became one of the first Native American women to serve in Congress, said on Twitter. “The students’ display of blatant hate, disrespect, and intolerance is a signal of how common decency has decayed under this administration. Heartbreaking.”
Sisters of Mercy, a group of Roman Catholic women who take vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and service, condemned the behavior in the videos as disturbing and bigoted. “Racism and intolerance in all forms go directly against Catholic social teaching,” the Sisters of Mercy said.
In a statement on Saturday, the Indigenous Peoples Movement identified the man in the videos as Nathan Phillips, an Omaha elder, a veteran and the former director of the Native Youth Alliance, a group that works to ensure that traditional culture and spiritual ways are upheld for future generations. Mr. Phillips also holds an annual ceremony honoring Native American veterans in Arlington National Cemetery, the group said.
Mr. Phillips could not be reached for comment on Saturday. He told The Washington Post that he noticed the teenagers taunting participants at the Indigenous Peoples March.
“It was getting ugly, and I was thinking: ‘I’ve got to find myself an exit out of this situation and finish my song at the Lincoln Memorial,’” Mr. Phillips told The Post. “I started going that way, and that guy in the hat stood in my way and we were at an impasse. He just blocked my way and wouldn’t allow me to retreat.”
In a video by Kaya Taitano, posted to Instagram, Mr. Phillips stood outside the Lincoln Memorial and wiped his eyes. “I heard them saying ‘Build that wall! Build that wall!’” he said. “This is indigenous land. We’re not supposed to have walls here.”
Darren Thompson, an organizer for the Indigenous Peoples March, said that the all-day event on Friday, which started with a prayer outside the Bureau of Indian Affairs and ended with a rally outside the Lincoln Memorial, was meant to raise awareness about Native Americans and other indigenous groups around the world. A few thousand people attended the march to show that “we are still here and we still have issues we are raising and are concerned about,” he said.
The exchange between the students and Mr. Phillips “clearly demonstrates the validity of our concerns,” Mr. Thompson said, who added that “traditional knowledge is being ignored by those who should listen most closely.”
But in its statement, the Indigenous Peoples Movement also said that there was more to the rally at steps of the Lincoln Memorial — and the encounter with the high school students — than was shown in the videos.
“What is not being shown on the video is that the same youth and a few others became emotional because of the power, resilience and love we inherently carry in our DNA,” another organizer, Nathalie Farfan, said. “Our day on those steps ended with a round dance, while we chanted, ‘We are still here.’”
Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky’s Democratic secretary of state who graduated from a Catholic high school, said in statements on social media that she was alarmed to see the students from her state taunting and harassing Mr. Phillips.
“In spite of these horrific scenes, I refuse to shame and solely blame these children for this type of behavior,” she said. “Instead, I turn to the adults.”
She called on Covington Catholic to denounce the behavior. “Kentucky,” she said, “we are better than this.”Correction: Jan. 22, 2019
An earlier version of this article, using information from the Indigenous Peoples Movement, gave an incorrect description of Mr. Phillips’s military service. Mr. Phillips said in an interview on Sunday and again on Wednesday that he had served during the Vietnam era, but was never deployed in South Vietnam. A copy of his record released Wednesday indicates that he enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in 1972 and served until 1976, but is not a Vietnam veteran.