The “build the wall” chant? Never happened. The MAGA hats? Those had just been purchased as gag souvenirs. And the racism and disrespect by Covington Catholic high school students at the March for Life rally? Nick Sandmann, the teen whose frozen smile was castigated as fascistic by national media that rushed to opine ahead of any facts on the viral video, tells Savannah Guthrie on NBC’s Today that all he wanted was to de-escalate a bad situation.
“As far as standing there,” he tells Guthrie, “I had every right to do so.” In hindsight, however, Sandmann says that “I wish I would’ve walked away” in the first place from a group of angry bigots yelling insults at them:
“In hindsight, I wish we could’ve walked away and avoided the whole thing.”
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) January 23, 2019
What about that expression on Sandmann’s face? Guthrie wondered. He says he was trying to keep a bad situation from getting worse by demonstrating that he’d been provoked. Besides, what about one facial expression, Sandmann wonders in return:
Sandmann was asked about the expression he wore on his face as he faced off against Phillips. Some have characterized the look as a smirk, but Sandmann describes it differently.
“I see it as a smile, saying that this is the best you’re going to get out of me. You won’t get any further reaction of aggression. And I’m willing to stand here as long as you want to hit this drum in my face,” he said.
Sandmann said it was unfair to have his character weighed up by one look.
“People have judged me based off one expression, which I wasn’t smirking, but people have assumed that’s what I have,” he said. “And they’ve gone from there to titling me and labeling me as a racist person, someone that’s disrespectful to adults, which they’ve had to assume so many things to get there without consulting anyone that can give them the opposite story.”
And yet, at the very end of this segment, the Today panel clearly wasn’t getting the point. One talked about how Sandmann’s expression became a “symbol of a lot of different things,” but that’s only true because news outlets like NBC and Today blew it up into a symbol of anything. It was a facial expression of one nervous 16-year-old who’d just been marched up on by an aggressive adult, a teenager who wanted to make sure nothing worse happened. Good for Sandmann for explaining that this morning, but how obtuse do adults have to be not to hear and understand it?
And for that matter, why hasn’t anyone asked Nathan Phillips why he marched up on the teenagers being taunted by the Black Hebrew Israelites rather than on those doing the taunting? Sandmann probably will be too respectful to ask that question himself, although he does tell Guthrie that he’d like to meet with Phillips:
“I have the utmost respect for Mr. Phillips as another person that freely used his First Amendment right. And I want to thank him for his military service as well. And I’d certainly like to speak with him,” he said.
That’s a noble thought but almost certainly a bad idea. Phillips is about to get his fourth interview on NBC, according to Guthrie, supposedly to cross-examine some of his claims after Sandmann’s interview. Don’t expect Phillips to be apologetic for his part in this, nor to explain why he went after a bunch of kids instead of the actual racists and haters who already had them under attack. Maybe Guthrie can press Phillips on why he attempted to disrupt a Catholic Mass on Saturday and explain again why he went after a group of Catholic kids the day before.
I won’t be holding my breath for those questions, but I wouldn’t mind being pleasantly surprised.