The Catalyst of the Covington Catholic Controversy

Opinion by: Stephanie H.

Edited by: Alexis L.

Visual by: Ari T. and Sandro L.

In order to understand the Covington Catholic Controversy, it’s important to understand that the situation requires more context than what is received in watching multiple videos on the same event. It’s also important to understand the place where it occurred and the importance of those hats in US politics because the situation would not have received as much coverage nor would it be as complex if those hats didn’t serve as a catalyst for public outrage.

In a short viral video, a group of white teens wearing “Make America Great Again” hats surrounded a small group of Native American demonstrators. The demonstrators included an elder from the Omaha tribe, Nathan Phillips. One of the kids was identified as Covington Catholic High School student, Nick Sandmann. After watching the short 30 second clip, I originally thought the situation was simple and straightforward — privileged racist white kids harassing a peaceful Native protester. However, after watching extended footage, the specifics don’t help to decipher who has an accurate perspective of the situation, which, on top of providing a skeleton explaining the US’ current ideological divides, is probably why there’s so much controversy. The MAGA hats only help in complicating the situation even further.

The addition of the MAGA hats add on to the air of intimidation already present amongst the students. The hats were a catalyst for an already distressing situation. For many, the hats not only support the president, but his anti-minority views for making America great and suddenly an argument about the morality of such actions displayed by the students became an argument about political movements and beautifully present the importance of identity-politics in the US’s political climate.

Initially, the condemnation of the kids was uniform. Covington Catholic even stated that it would investigate the incident. However, eventually left-wing activists denounced the students for their actions whilst right-wing media argued that the students were being treated unfairly. Donald Trump also decided to voice his take in a tweet, stating that “the students of Covington have become symbols of fake news and how evil it can be”.

In one article published in the libertarian publication Reason, it was essentially argued that the kids did nothing wrong, as “far from engaging in racially motivated harassment, the group of mostly white, MAGA-hat-wearing male teenagers remained relatively calm and restrained”. It must be noted that the article did not condemn Phillips for intervening, but instead the Black Hebrew Israelites and claimed that “the teens couldn’t quite decide whether Phillips was on their side or not, but tentatively joined in his chanting”. The article, whilst ignoring evidence of wrongdoings on the students’ part such as the one student who decided to do a tomahawk chop, did raise a point about rushing to judgement.

From my perspective, it is undeniable that the actions of the kids were lacking judgement and the best thing to have done was to walk away. From my perspective, more people should be talking about the actions of the Black Hebrew Israelites. And from my perspective, it is also undeniable that the hats were a poor choice that day. Anyone who wears those hats knows the significance of them and who stands against them. They should not have had any place on a school trip. Ironically, it is the teachers that apparently did not have a place on a school trip, whilst those hats did.