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Covington Catholic, school at center of D.C. March video, closed for security reasons

The principal said the school closed "to ensure the safety of our students, faculty and staff.” Native Americans say they have not threatened anyone.
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COVINGTON, Ky. — The Roman Catholic high school that found itself besieged by critics after its students got into a videotaped face off with a Native American activist on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial said it was closed Tuesday "due to threats of violence."

Covington Catholic High School "will reopen when they say it is safe to do so," the Diocese of Covington and the school said in a statement.

Earlier, Covington Catholic High School principal Robert Rowe said they made the decision to close "in order to ensure the safety of our students, faculty and staff" after meeting with local law enforcement.

“All activities on campus will be cancelled for the entire day and evening,” Rowe said in a letter obtained by The Cincinnati Enquirer. “Students, parents, faculty and staff are not to be on campus for any reason. Please continue to keep the Covington Catholic Community in your prayers.”

Image: Covington Catholic High School
Snow covers the grounds of Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Kentucky on Jan. 20, 2019.Lisa Cornwell / AP

Meanwhile, the American Indian Movement Chapters of Indiana and Kentucky, which had been planning to demonstrate outside the Park Hills, Kentucky school, moved its protest a couple miles east to the headquarters of the Diocese of Covington.

Protester Guy Jones, who is originally from the South Dakota side of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, said the incident "has really brought to the surface some really bad feelings." He said the students are a product of a "very deep rooted sickness that exists within our country today."

"We can't keep putting a band aid on this," Jones said. "You know, it has to be exposed."

On its Facebook page, the Native American group insisted that "not once have we, as an organization, threatened anyone.”

The group also said that a 46-minute video that surfaced in the aftermath of Friday’s confrontation in Washington, which supporters of the Catholic students have been touting as proof they were victims not aggressors, “does not absolve those boys of their behavior” and they continue to stand by 63-year-old activist Nathan Phillips.

Phillips, the group said, was trying to defuse an earlier war of words that erupted between the Catholic students and some Black Hebrew Israelites, and he wound being disrespected by the kids he tried to defend.

“In the video you can see the boys approaching and surrounding him after he stops moving and that one boy steps up to face him, not the other way around,” the group said. “Their behavior at this point is still a problem, even if they did not create the initial situation. They are seen mocking, laughing at, and disrespecting Nathan Phillips.”

In video footage, some of the students — many of whom were wearing “Make America Great Again” caps — can be seen making what appears to be the tomahawk-chop gesture that Native Americans find offensive and noises that appear to mock Phillips’ chanting.

“Unfortunately, much of the students’ behavior was understood by me and those with me as a mockery of our cultures,” Phillips said in an earlier statement.

Phillips and his supporters blame the chaperones who took the students to Washington for a Right to Life March for failing to rein them in once the shouting started.

Junior Nick Sandmann became the target of a lot of the outrage after he appeared to be grinning in Phillips’ face.

In his statement, Sandmann confirmed that adult chaperones were with them and claimed Phillips targeted him in particular. “He played his drum the entire time he was in my face,” he said.

Sandmann's statement was prepared with the help of a public relations firm called RunSwitch PR that is based in Louisville, Kentucky. One of the partners in the company is Scott Jennings, a conservative political columnist for the Louisville Courier Journal.

“I have read the statement from Nick Sandmann, the student who stared at me for a long time," Phillips said in his statement. "He did not apologize, and I believe there are intentional falsehoods in his testimony.”

Still, Phillips said he would be willing to travel to Covington Catholic High School and speak with the students and administrators about "the importance of listening to and respecting diverse cultures."

The developments came a day after Kenton County Commonwealth’s Attorney Rob Sanders confirmed that his office was investigating threats against students but declined to go into detail.

Sandmann claims he and his family have been threatened. He denies earlier claims by Phillips’ that the students chanted President Donald Trump’s mantra “Build that wall!” or “anything hateful or racist at any time.”

Earlier Tuesday, Trump tweeted his support for the students, calling Sandmann and the others “symbols of Fake News.” Trump's eldest son spoke out in defense of the students Monday night on Fox News.

But the high school has already apologized to Phillips on behalf of the students, and Rowe has engaged “an independent third-party investigator” to probe the ugly episode.

"This is a very serious matter that has already permanently altered the lives of many people," the Diocese of Covington said in its statement. "It is important for us to gather the facts that will allow us to determine what corrective actions, if any, are appropriate."

Gutierrez reported from Covington, Kentucky. Siemaszko reported from New York City.