“I heard them saying ‘Build that wall! Build that wall!’ You know this is indigenous land. You know we’re not supposed to have walls here. We never did. Before anybody else came here we never had walls. We never had a prison. We always took care of our elders, we took care of our children. We always provided for them. We taught them right from wrong. I wish I could see the mass of young men put that energy into making this country really great.” Nathan Phillips, Omaha Tribe Elder and Vietnam War Veteran on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial
Once again we have an indelible image that will define the Trump period we are living in. Recently we gasped to see the image of a migrant woman running with her 2 young children from tear gas at the border. Now we have a Native elder singing an intertribal song on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial being starred down by a smirking, historically clueless, white youth wearing one of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” caps, while scores of others, surrounded him jeering and hooting. Jessica Travis, a Florida attorney who was at the memorial said, the 100 or so students looked out of control, “the kids really went into mob mentality, honestly.”
Nathan Phillips was in Washington for the First Indigenous Peoples March to unite indigenous people around the world from the injustices they face. Phillips, a Vietnam Veteran, is known for conducting prayer services at Arlington National Cemetery to honor Native American veterans who are buried there and a leader at the Standing Rock protests.
It is the stare of this youth void of consciousness, as the dignified Phillips continued drumming that is most haunting. It is the look of white supremacy and racist entitlement captured on video. It is the same look of the young white men who surrounded and taunted the courageous participants of the lunch counter sit ins in the South in the 1960’s calling for desegregation. And it is the shameful face of the crowds who came out to cheer the lynching of 3,500 Black people in this country after the Civil War.
Who are these young kids in the MAGA hats? They were a group of students who attend the all male Covington Catholic High School; a college preparatory school in Kentucky. They were in Washington on a field trip to attend the anti abortion March for Life. The U.S. Catholic Diocese, not exactly a transparent organization, is calling for an investigation. Meanwhile administrators at the school are distancing themselves from the students who participated as being exceptions to the moral principles of the school. Really? Where were the accompanying adults to tell them to cut it out? Some observers report that the chaperones actually encouraged the students to chant, escalating the tension.
This type of prejudice can only exist in the environment it is bred in. Their incubation is in their homes, school and the institutionalized racism of the U.S.
The incident comes just a few days before the Martin Luther King holiday and a few days after Trump cracked jokes on Twitter about the massacre of Wounded Knee in 1890 where 300 Lakota men, women and children were gunned down by the 7th US Cavalry. Trump is not the originator of racism and disunity in this country but he is now the commander in chief of it; energetically fanning its flame.