Nick Sandmann, the Catholic school student in the center of the viral video showing him facing off with a native American elder, spoke for the first time to the “Today” show Wednesday, saying, “People have judged me based off one expression.”
“I wasn’t smirking,” the 16-year-old said, “but people assume that’s what I have (done), and they’ve gone from there to titling me and labeling me as a racist person, someone that’s disrespectful to adults. … They’ve had to assume so many things to get there without consulting anyone that can give them the opposite story.”
Looking back, Sandmann said, he wishes he would have just walked away from the situation. He said Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky doesn’t tolerate bigotry and none of his classmates are racist.
“I wanted the situation to die down, and I just wish he would have walked away, but I knew as long as I kept my calm, as long as I kept my composure and didn’t do anything he might perceive as aggressive or elevation of the conflict, it would hopefully die.”
A second video surfaced on Sunday showing another group, who identify themselves as members of the Hebrew Israelites, taunting students with disparaging and vulgar language before the encounter with the Native Americans.
Sandmann’s latest remarks came the day after Omaha Nation elder Nathan Phillips, with whom Sandmann was seen facing off in a viral video, offered to travel to Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky to talk about the importance of respecting diverse cultures, according to a statement from the Lakota People’s Law Project.
Phillips, the Indigenous Peoples March and the Lakota group are trying to set up meetings with the students, members of the community and church officials, the statement said.
Sandmann indicated he’s open to speaking to Phillips.
“My position is that I was not disrespectful to Mr. Phillips,” Sandmann said. “I respect him. I’d like to talk to him.”
School reopens today
Videos of the encounter from different angles led to polarized opinions on whether the teens were mocking Phillips or whether Phillips was agitating them. Phillips was at the memorial for the Indigenous Peoples March and the students were there for the March for Life rally.
Phillips said he decided to approach the teens when he saw an escalating situation between them and the Hebrew Israelites, leading to the faceoff with Sandmann. He described the situation as tense and said he feared for his safety.
President Donald Trump publicly sided with the group of students, calling them “symbols of Fake News and how evil it can be.” On Tuesday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the students were invited to the White House, but any meeting would take place after the partial government shutdown ends.
The school was closed Tuesday, but will reopen Wednesday morning, according to a letter from the high school to parents obtained by CNN affiliate WCPO. The letter notes there will be a police presence around the school and outlines various procedures that are being implemented following the reopening.
On Tuesday, the Diocese of Covington and Covington Catholic High School took precautionary measures after “threats of violence and the possibility of large crowds” at a planned protest at the school, a joint statement said.
The diocese and school said an “independent, third-party investigation” will begin looking into the incident this week.