Nicholas Sandmann, the Kentucky high school student seen in a “Make America Great Again” hat during a viral confrontation with a Native American protester on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial last month, is suing the Washington Post for its coverage of the incident.
And President Trump is cheering him on.
“Covington student suing WAPO,” Trump tweeted Wednesday after quoting part of the lawsuit. “Go get them Nick. Fake News!”
The family of Sandmann filed suit against the Post on Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Covington, Ky., alleging the paper published seven “false and defamatory” articles online or in print. They are seeking $250 million in damages, the amount that billionaire Jeff Bezos bought the newspaper for in 2013.
“In a span of three days in January of this year commencing on January 19, the Post engaged in a modern-day form of McCarthyism by competing with CNN and NBC, among others, to claim leadership of a mainstream and social media mob of bullies which attacked, vilified, and threatened Nicholas Sandmann, an innocent secondary school child,” their complaint reads.
They added: “The Post ignored basic journalist standards because it wanted to advance its well-known and easily documented, biased agenda against President Donald J. Trump by impugning individuals perceived to be supporters of the President.”
Kristine Coratti Kelly, a Washington Post spokeswoman, said the paper is reviewing the lawsuit and plans to “mount a vigorous defense.”
Sandmann, a 16-year-old junior at Covington Catholic High School, was seen facing off silently with Nathan Phillips, a 64-year-old Native American protester, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Jan. 18. Phillips was beating a drum and praying as several students made a “tomahawk chop” gesture that Native Americans consider racist. Phillips said he heard students chant “Build the wall,” although the recordings don’t support that.
The Covington students, who were in Washington for the anti-abortion March for Life, were waiting for a bus outside the Lincoln Memorial when they were heckled by a different group of protesters identifying themselves as Hebrew Israelites, an African-American religious sect.
The students responded by chanting school fight songs when Phillips and a group of Native American protesters, who were at the end of the Indigenous Peoples March, approached.
“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,” 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.”
The video of their brief encounter sparked a firestorm online. The frame that went viral showed Sandmann with an expression that was widely described as a smirk. Sandmann insisted he wasn’t smirking and that he was trying to defuse the situation with a smile.
Sandmann also said he meant no disrespect to Phillips. But his lawsuit calls Phillips “a phony war hero [who] was too intimidated by the unruly Hebrew Israelites to approach them, the true troublemakers, and instead chose to focus on a group of innocent children.”
Trump has repeatedly expressed support for the students, who he claimed were being “treated unfairly” and “smeared” by the media.
“Nick Sandmann and the students of Covington have become symbols of Fake News and how evil it can be,” Trump tweeted four days after the incident. “They have captivated the attention of the world, and I know they will use it for the good — maybe even to bring people together. It started off unpleasant, but can end in a dream!”
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