Friends, this evening on Twitter, Jake Tapper posted an article from reason.com that suggested the media had it all wrong regarding the interaction between the Native elder, Nathan Phillips, and the Coventry Catholic boys, and specifically, the grinning boy in the MAGA hat. If you click on that link and watch, the first hour is largely of five Black Hebrew Israelites (BHI) antagonizing pretty much everyone. Their behavior was disgusting, heinous. But the new story is that Phillips antagonized the students. In fact, the author wrote, the high school boys are owed an apology.
On one side of the BHI men were the Coventry kids, and on the other, some of the people from the Indigenous People’s march. An hour and twelve minutes in, Nathan Phillips walks in front of the BHI and towards the kids, beating a drum all the while. He is slow and steady. The BHI are, at this point, screaming things to the kids like “You’re future school shooters” and appalling crap like that.
I asked the Twitterverse this: “I am very confused. I watched the video three times and see no evidence of Mr. Phillips antagonizing the kids. The BHI were acting in appalling fashion. Why isn’t their behavior part of this story?”
In addition to your typical ugliness, two people shared links to different videos, one of which does seem to show MAGA kid telling his peers to cut it out. One of his classmates was carrying on with stupid, offensive commentary like “Just go back to Africa” and another boy said “land gets stolen; that’s how it works.” Imbecilic. I’m not suggesting these kids don’t need to learn some history, decorum, and respect or that they shouldn’t face consequences for their behavior. Also, I hate their hats and all they stand for. And I hate that Coventry Catholic wouldn’t let the valedictorian give a speech because he’s gay. That school seems to have an enormous and ugly cultural and toxic male problem that preferences white, heteronormative, aggressive behavior at all turns.
But I can’ t ignore what seems to be a much fuller story than we got yesterday, and I’m sharing this with you both to try and hold myself as accountable as possible and to urge all of us to read well beyond headlines, to keep our early understandings malleable enough to take in new information, and to demand better than click-baity shit from the media. It’s a reminder that there are often multiple sides and strands and varying degrees of fault and bad behavior. And some of it shouldn’t be quickly forgiven, but the assessment should be as fair as possible.
This story very much alarms me because it demonstrates the power of who controls the narratives that most Americans have access to. Yes there are enormous problems with social media and how users are targeted and what they’re shown. But it is also enormously worrisome because without any real, trustworthy places to get news, what happens to democracy? Not everything is real, but people are increasingly confused about what is and where they can find truth. It’s hard to know how people who are currently so polarized will ever trust each other again when full stories are rarely told, most people don’t read past headlines, and too many only read what reinforces the beliefs they want to hold.