The Devil in the Red Hat: A Mother’s Perspective on the Lincoln Viral Video.
I try to stay out of politics. I really do. I don’t discuss it at parties or post about it on social media. This weekend, I watched the video of Nick Sandmann and Nathan Phillips and something broke in me.
At first, I was angered by what appeared to be another spoiled entitled kid. But afterward, it nagged at me. I watched it again and finally caught it. Nick Sandmann’s grin — that seemingly smug teenage smirk was too familiar. As the mother of three boys and a former high school teacher, I’ve seen that expression in more than one scenario. There was more to this story….and it only took a day to find out I was right.
In case you missed it, this Friday during the Right to Life March in Washington, a standoff between Phillips, an Omaha tribe elder, and Sandmann, a Catholic High School student was caught on camera. In the 2 minute and 44-second clip, Phillips steadily beats a tribal drum during an uncomfortable face-off with Sandman who is reportedly sneering and wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat. Clips of a chanting crowd, some also wearing the MAGA hats are featured as well.
The recording went viral, instantly vilifying Sandmann and the “vicious mob” of anti-abortion supporters around him. In an interview afterward, the frail-looking Phillips claimed the crowd surrounded him, chanting “build that wall” and likened the boys to “beasts.”
While there was no violence and by everyone’s account, both sides peacefully stood their ground, every major media outlet picked up the story. As you’d imagine, swift and fierce condemnation was next. From Native Americans, lawmakers and social media, there was widespread criticism followed by a quick apology from the Kentucky prep school and Diocese. Talk of the Sandmann’s expulsion was floated.
The only problem was the video wasn’t even half the story.
On Monday, a fuller video cast new light on the day’s event. Additional video shows Phillips actually approached Sandmann. It also shows hours of the high school boys peacefully enduring racial slurs slung at them from a third party at the rally — a group of Black Hebrew Israelites.
The reported “jeering” (which was spliced into the video) was actually the teens dancing and chanting their high school fight song. After receiving permission from their chaperone to do so, the students decided to sing it as a way to drown out the hateful rhetoric like “incest babies” and “cracker” being hurled at them.
It seems not even the major media outlets bothered to fact check the narrative of the initial video. What’s worse, even after it was debunked, many outlets continue to report Phillip’s claim of the crowd chanting “build that wall.” Only CNN noted that audio from both videos does not back up this claim.
In the new video, you can see Sandmann’s face from different angles. He stands with hands at his side. His expression is contorted into an awkward smirk. The most aggressive thing about him is his eyes. Even without the corroboration of the hours of preceding video, the worst sin you can see is the boy’s full and direct eye-contact. And that’s what everyone is missing.
The devil in the red hat is a boy.
Somehow, that point has been lost.
Ever want to win an argument with a teenager? All you have to do is state one simple fact: Their brain is not fully developed yet. It's true. Science has proven that a child’s brains does not fully develop until around the age of 22.
Now there are a thousand reasons I wouldn’t let my child wear a MAGA hat. (Did anyone else notice how fresh, clean and uniform those hats were? One has to wonder if they were given out at the march?)
But let me say, my oldest son makes weird expressions when he’s nervous. To someone who doesn’t know him, they could be construed as aggressive. When I watch that video of Nick Sandman, I see a boy reacting to the spotlight, a child who is suddenly at the center of a mob of his peers and doesn’t know what to do.
We all need to take a moment and remember being sixteen. Recall the pressure to look and behave a certain way. Now imagine a hundred cameras and a few hundred people watching you in a public confrontation.
Sandmann eventually released a statement saying, “I believed that by remaining motionless and calm, I was helping to diffuse the situation.” But I think on some level it is even simpler than that. When I look at that oddly aggressive facial expression, I see a frightened kid trying to appear cool.
Now let’s remember there was talk of expelling this boy, of altering his entire future because he stood with his arms at his side and made inappropriate faces.
Of course, Phillips version of events is very different. “It was an aggressive display of physicality. The boys were rambunctious and trying to instigate a conflict,” his spokesperson said. “We were wondering where their chaperones were. [I] was really trying to defuse the situation.”
This is exactly what most “regular” people find so infuriating. Two different versions of news coverage based on political leanings. For me, it is just further proof of what we all feel deep down inside — that both sides are playing us.
This story isn’t about politics anymore. Democrat or Republican, it's about regular people being used as puppets over and over.
Sometimes what feels true isn’t true — and we have to stop letting politicians use that to their advantage. Knee-jerk reactions serve political agendas, not people.
In this story, Phillips is a pawn. Sandmann is a pawn.
This incident is really about real people becoming collateral damage. Just ask one of those government employees still working without pay.
We are all guilty of looking for the situations that fit our own narratives. The truth is never that easy. I can only hope this story becomes a teachable moment — for the students, for the media, and for the country.
The answers are rarely ever simple, but they are always worth it.
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