Both Sandmann and Phillips said they were trying to defuse tensions that were rising among three groups on a day Washington hosted both the March for Life and the Indigenous Peoples March. But video of Sandmann standing very close to Phillips, staring and at times smiling at him as Phillips sang and played a drum, gave many who watched it a different impression. Other students appeared to be laughing at the drummer, and at least one could be seen on video doing a tomahawk chop.
Both Phillips’ group and Sandmann’s, which had taken part in the anti-abortion rally, had been confronted by a third group that appeared to be affiliated with the Black Hebrew Israelite movement.
Other videos show members of the religious group yelling disparaging and profane insults at the students, who taunt them in return. Video also shows the Native Americans being insulted by the small religious group.
Though many commenting on the internet were taken back by Sandmann staring at Philipps, the teen said he was “not intentionally making faces at the protestor. I did smile at one point because I wanted him to know that I was not going to become angry, intimidated or be provoked into a larger confrontation.” He said he had never encountered any kind of public protest before.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.