20 January 2019
The Edge of Elfland
Over the weekend videos surfaced that showed Covington Catholic students surrounding Nathan Philips and a small group of Native Americans singing and chanting. The students appeared to mock the Native Americans, shouting chants of “Our Cov Cath is the best!” and possibly shouting things such as “Trump 2020!” and “Build that wall!” The truth of this situation, however, is much more complicated.
First, I need to remind any of you reading this that I am not a journalist. I am a theologian (both in the Evagrian sense, or at least I try to be, and in the sense that I have a doctorate in theology) and a teacher. Proper journalists will likely have more to say on this issue in the days to come. Still, I feel a duty to comment on this situation now that more information has been received. A new video has been released by someone called Chris Ruano on youtube. Over the course of the hour and 46 minute video more becomes clear than the short clips on Twitter and in the news have shown.
The video begins with a group of men shouting a variety of racial slurs mixed with Bible passages announcing that God has judged America and that now is a time for hate. Roman Catholics are called out for being pedophiles and faggots. Native Americans are called out for worshipping eagles, phoenixes, buffalo, and the wind. Blacks, hispanics, and Native Americans are all told that they are not black, hispanic, or Natives, rather they are the “Children of Israel.” This term does not apply to the people currently living in Israel, those who call themselves Jews, or white people.
Eventually, Covington Catholic students begin to congregate, seemingly, according to one source, because they had been told to do so before leaving. After they arrive this group of men turn their attention toward the students, seemingly mistaking them for college students since they shout that their college degrees were built on the blood (or backs) of slaves. This is where the students make their first mistake. They begin to engage with these men spouting hatred. One of the students removes his sweater and MAGA hat and undershirt and leads his fellow students in some kind of chant. He is mocked by the men (who seem to be a kind of mix of Jews for Jesus with their prayer shawls and use of Hebrew with some kind of African Christian tradition). Soon these men begin calling the students “dusty crackers” and products of incest. Cue Nathan Philips and his group.
Philips can be seen from this new angle clearly walking between the two groups. What he knew or what he thought about the situation I don’t know. That his mission was peaceful seems obvious both by virtue of his chant which some are saying was a chant of healing or blessing and by virtue of the fact that he is clearly trying to separate the two groups. Sadly, this does not work. The students soon surround Philips and co., but not, it seems with the purpose of surrounding them, but with the purpose of re-engaging with the men who have been shouting at them. It is at this point the students begin chanting, “Our Cov Cath is the best!” not in reaction to Philips, but in reaction to the men they had been watching. Sadly, when Philips walks up the students do begin to shout and chant. Whatever their motives, this is clearly a kind of mockery (intended or unintended) and is idiotic at best and racist at worst. From this new video I cannot hear any of the Covington Catholic students shouting “Trump 2020” or “Build that wall!” I do not doubt those who say they did. I simply could not hear it in this new video. I do believe I heard at least one person say something along those lines in one of the many videos released on Twitter.
Not long after Philips’ arrival the students are called to leave. Other exchanges are made, a black student from Covington Catholic is compared to Kanye with Trump. The men continue to spout their vile hatred of all denominational Christians (including pescatarians at one point) and call out a group nearby who have started a prayer circle shouting that there can be no peace until they have blood.
With this new video it becomes clear that more than one group is culpable. That the students behaved idiotically and possibly in racist fashion there can be little doubt. That they were responding, when they shouldn’t have, to racist and homophobic language is interesting. It does not excuse their behavior toward Nathan Philips. Even their behavior towards these men was, to my mind, wildly inappropriate. Christ would not call us to chant at people but to do what Nathan Philips did. They should have prayed, they should have announced Christ’s love, they should have sung songs of praise and blessing. Behaving like frat guys solved nothing and made matters infinitely worse for them. All the facts need to be more thoroughly investigated, and I pray for all involved. But I also worry about these students, about how and why they thought their responses of mockery to anyone is the appropriate and Catholic way to respond in the face hatred and even persecution. They certainly have done no good for the pro-life movement, even with this greater context revealed.
David Russell Mosley