NB: I have updated this post because of new information available today. –SPD
Want media coverage for the March for Life? You got it.
Pro-lifers complain every year about the lack of media coverage for the March for Life. That’s not true, as Deacon Greg Kandra writes here. Still, victimhood is everything for the pro-life movement. And the line still resonates inside their bubble, so they still use it. This year, however, they’re getting more media coverage than they ever imagined. Why?
Because this was the year boys wearing Make America Great Again hats, from a Catholic high school in Kentucky, who were in Washington, D.C., for the March, decided harass a Native American elder who was there for the Indigenous People’s March, scheduled for the same day.
Or at least that’s what was originally reported. Here is one of the videos that went viral on Saturday:
The elder is Nathan Phillips of the Omaha Nation. He is a Vietnam veteran. The Indigenous Peoples March was winding down near the Lincoln memorial when suddenly, he was surrounded by a throng of hostile teens from the March for Life. The Washington Post says:
“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 recalled. “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.”
So, he kept drumming and singing, thinking about his wife, Shoshana, who died of bone marrow cancer nearly four years ago, and the various threats that face indigenous communities around the world, he said.
The boys were from Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Kentucky. These boys went to bed Friday night unknowns. They woke up world famous.
More to the story
But it turns out, the Covington boys and Mr. Phillips and his small group weren’t the only ones there. A third group, members of a fringe outfit called the Black Hebrew Israelites also were there and, in a lengthy video (taken by one of their members), you can see them shouting anti-white, anti-Catholic epithets at the Covington Catholic students:
The link begins at about the 1:09 mark, but it ‘s worth watching the entire one-hour, forty-five-minute video. The Black Hebrew Israelites aren’t nice guys. They’ve been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
I don’t know what the Covington students were doing by the Lincoln Memorial. The Right to Life rally is between the Washington Monument and the Capitol building. The March route is up Capitol Hill toward the Supreme Court—in the opposite direction. It could be the boys were told to wait there for their bus, but if that’s the case, where were the adults? The chaperones? These boys were taunted for almost ninety minutes before (I’m guessing; it was off camera) their bus arrived. In all that time, I saw one grownup. He stood there for a few minutes and then left.
What each side says
By Mr. Phillips’ account—and what I see on the video—he was trying to diffuse a situation that was quickly getting out of hand:
Later, Phillips told the Detroit Free Press that a speech given by a group of Black Hebrew Israelites at the march sparked the incident. The elder explained that the Covington Catholic students watched the talks and visibly disagreed with what was being said, while the Black Hebrew Israelites group also started “saying some harsh things” at the group, with one member even spitting in the boys’ direction. “So I put myself in between that, between a rock and hard place,” Phillips said. “They were in the process of attacking these four black individuals.”
To diffuse the situation, the 64-year-old former Marine walked past the Black Hebrew Israelites and to the students—who were sitting on the stairs—prompting the teenagers to redirect their hostility towards him instead. The Covington Catholic students can then be seen in the clip gathering around Phillips, before dispersing after five minutes.
And, Covington boys, listen up. Class is in session. If there is one hero in all of this, it is Mr. Phillips. He just happened to be there as things were getting ugly between the Covington boys and the Black Hebrew Israelites. He took the hostility upon himself. He diffused the situation. Soon after, the boys’ bus arrived and they left.
The Diocese of Covington and the high school have issued a joint statement condemning the actions of the boys and apologizing to Mr. Phillips. The March for Life also issued a statement, which they have since taken down. instead of the statement, the link takes you to a page that says, “This is somewhat embarrassing, isn’t it?” Good thing I pasted it here yesterday:
“The pro-life movement at its core is a movement of love and the reprehensible behavior shown in the video in no way represents the 46 years and millions of people who have peacefully and respectfully gathered in Washington, DC to stand up for the unborn. Nor does it represent the vast majority of the marchers present at this year’s March for Life. Such behavior is not welcome at the March for Life and never will be.” – Jeanne Mancini, President of March for Life
I don’t believe them. I think if they really believed “such behavior is not welcome at the March for Life and never will be,” they wouldn’t have round-filed the statement as soon as extra video footage surfaced. Because it doesn’t exonerate the boys or their high school (again, where were the chaperones?). And removing it further discredits the March for Life.
The March for Life
I have been to the March for Life. Our parochial school sends its 8th grade class there every year. In 2014 I was a chaperone for my oldest son’s class trip. My youngest son went this year. The trip is billed as a pilgrimage, complete with daily rosaries on the bus, daily Mass, and so on. But what the March for Life is and has always been is a glorified Republican rally.
For years the organizers had a measure of plausible deniability. No more. They mask came off as soon as Mr. Trump won the election. Vice President Mike Pence and Kellyanne Conway attended the 2017 March. Last year, Mr. Trump addressed the March via livestream. This year, Mr. Pence again attended in person while Mr. Trump again appeared on video. The keynote speaker was conservative pundit Ben Shapiro and his bizarre “baby Hitler” speech.
Mr. Trump and his base own the March for Life. My youngest, who just got home, said many there wore MAGA hats and other MAGA apparel. My But even in 2014, the March was a republican orgy, right down to the crypto-fascist Tradition Family Property brass band playing on the march route. They were there again this year. The only reason my younger son wanted to go was to see Washington, and to have an excursion with his friends. I am happy for him to have that opportunity. I told him, “It’s cover for Republican propaganda. Keep that in mind and have a good time on the trip.”
I was right, he told me when he got off the bus.
I wonder if the March for Life organizers have any idea what a terrible look that is. Or maybe they do and just don’t care. Outside their bubble, MAGA stands for racism and xenophobia and hate and bullying—exactly what the Covington students were doing. Taking down the statement condemning the Covington students only makes it worse. The March for Life is totally owned by Donald Trump. He is the president they’ve been waiting for. They’re not really pro-life. At best, they’re pro-birth. And that really is anti-life.
I have little hope the March for Life will ever change. It has no incentive to. What needs to change are the thousands of young people who get bused in every year, pawns in a culture war they never asked to be part of. They must learn to embrace a whole life ethic, not just a pro-birth ethic. That will take those of us who know better teaching them. And that will require courage.
In the multiple videos of the Covington Catholic boys harassing and threatening Mr. Phillips, there are kids who look upset, who look put off by the whole thing. But none of them spoke up. None of them did anything to protect or defend Mr. Phillips. “Why are there so many cowards?” a friend asked.
Because courage is a muscle that needs to be worked, I told her. And none of these kids have ever worked that muscle.
Behold the quiet dignity of Mr. Phillips, and work that muscle.