The first videos to hit social media framed the issue. Some kid wearing a MAGA hat in the face of a Native American elder, with a fixed mocking grin on his face as other young white men chanted and laughed in the background. At its most benign, it was extremely disrespectful. At its worst, it was a racist confrontation.
On the one hand, this smirking, MAGA hat-wearing kid exemplified the persona of current-day evil. On the other, the Native American elder, Nathan Phillips, was a Vietnam vet and activist for the rights of Indiginous people.
In an interview Saturday, Phillips, 64, said he felt threatened by the teens and that they suddenly swarmed around him as he and other activists were wrapping up the march and preparing to leave.
“It was getting ugly, and I was thinking: ‘I’ve got to find myself an exit out of this situation and finish my song at the Lincoln Memorial,’ ” Phillips recalled. “I started going that way, and that guy in the hat stood in my way and we were at an impasse. He just blocked my way and wouldn’t allow me to retreat.”
To be clear, the young man who stood there, unblinking, smirking, appeared to block Phillips. But additional video complicates the scenario.
It appears that it was Phillips who walked toward the young man, not the other way around. It’s not that this kid with the MAGA hat sought out ignominy, to block this Native American elder’s way, but rather found himself caught in the center of a situation and, rather than turn away, show either respect or courtesy, he held his ground, held his stare.
It was then that I recognized the smirk on the young man’s face. It’s the one that a kid puts on when he’s caught in the spotlight and has no clue what to do. It’s the face of brash confusion, fearing that if he backs away, his friends will call him a wimp, so he stands there impassive and stares, pretending to be tough when his mind is whirling with “oh crap, oh crap, oh crap, I don’t want to be in the middle of this and I don’t know what to do to get out.”
In retrospect, millions of people would be more than happy to tell this young man what to do, though most advice would be physically impossible.
This young man didn’t take a trip to Washington, D.C. from Covington, Kentucky to ruin his life. His decision to stare down this elder wasn’t a good one, but kids often make poor decisions, or at least choices that reflect poorly on them later. This decision was disrespectful, both to an elder as well at a Native American, but it was not the “vicious racism” it first appeared to be.
Indeed, it may well have been less racism than a deer caught in the headlights. It’s not as if Phillips’ purpose there, beating the drum, chanting, wasn’t to draw attention to himself. He got it, even if it didn’t “feel” the way he hoped it would, and the way most of us believe it should.
How one views the videos is, as so many things these days are, a litmus test of tribalism. And then came the righteous.
Dox the boy. Out him. Name him. Destroy the evil seed.
Plus side: A face like that never changes. This image will define his life. No one need ever forgive him. pic.twitter.com/0jrnQ3hQu1
— Michael Green (@andmichaelgreen) January 19, 2019
This young man in his MAGA hat didn’t touch Phillips. He didn’t push his way through the crowd to confront Phillips, to deliberately be the person blocking Phillips’ way. He didn’t scream at him, epithets or otherwise. Not even, as some in the crowd are alleged to have done, “build the wall,” a phrase that offends many while being as much an expression of political view as any other.
But “no one need ever forgive him”? Those who cling to the untenable ideology of social justice claim that no child, no matter his crime, should be sentenced to life without parole. They argue that no person is irredeemable. They condemn draconian punishment, with a special emphasis on juveniles because they are kids, their minds not yet fully formed, their ability to judge impaired by their immaturity. Don’t condemn them forever, even if they committed as heinous a crime as murder.
And yet this young man, whose crime is smirking while wearing a MAGA hat, should be doxxed, destroyed, never forgiven? This one moment, this one image, should define his life?
There are many teachable moments here, from this young man’s poor choice to stand there, unblinking, smirking, in the face of Phillips. Regardless of the fact that he didn’t put himself in the way and block Phillips intentionally, he also didn’t lower his gaze, back off and show this man the respect he deserved. The kid may not have started it, but he didn’t end it either. This was disrespectful.
But another teachable thing is the reaction, both the leaping to tribal conclusions and the extremes to which the woke sought to go in condemnation. Destroy this kid’s life? The woke claim the mantle of moral righteousness, that they are the carriers of the torch of respectfulness, tolerance and kindness. Here, they carry the torch, along with the pitchfork, but only to burn and destroy their perceived enemies.
You can certainly condemn this young man’s conduct, even his politics if you assume he’s mature enough to comprehend the significance of wearing the MAGA hat rather than merely another kid parroting the politics of his parents. But to dox him? To actively desire to destroy this kid? To be so filled the hatred that you match, if not outstrip, those with the audacity to disagree with your smug message of love and kindness, when you aren’t trying to cut some miscreant’s throat?
When Nathan Phillips decided to march, his purpose was to draw attention to his cause. He banged his drum and got far more attention than he could have imagined. Had this young man not stood there with a smirk on his face, few would have known that Phillips was banging the drum. Few would have given it a thought.
Update: What makes a
liberal progressive want to punch a child?
Honest question. Have you ever seen a more punchable face than this kid’s? pic.twitter.com/jolQ7BZQPD
— Reza Aslan (@rezaaslan) January 20, 2019
Who would have possibly imagined the “punch a Nazi” would slide down the slippery slope?