I hated the maga hats some of the kids were wearing, their listless tomahawk chops, the way some of their chanting mocked Phillips’s. But I also saw someone with Phillips yelling at a few of the kids that his people had been here first, that Europeans had stolen their land. While I wouldn’t disagree, the scene was at odds with the reports that Phillips and those with him were attempting to calm a tense situation.
As I watched the longer videos, I began to see the smirking kid in a different light. It seemed to me that a wave of emotions rolled over his face as Phillips approached him: confusion, fear, resolve. He finally, I thought, settled on an expression designed to mimic respect while signaling to his friends that he had this under control. Observing it, I wondered what different reaction I could have reasonably hoped a high-school junior to have in such an unfamiliar and bewildering situation. I came up empty.
Let’s assume the worst, and agree that the boy was being disrespectful. That still would not justify the death threats he’s been receiving. It would not justify the harassment of the other Covington Catholic student who wasn’t even in Washington, D.C., but who was falsely identified as the smirker by some social-media users.