The Washington Post has settled a defamation lawsuit filed by Nick Sandmann, who as a student at Covington Catholic High School was at the center of a national controversy after the 2019 March for Life.
The terms of the settlement were not disclosed. In February 2019, Sandmann and his lawyers filed a defamation lawsuit requesting $250 million, the price Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos paid to purchase the newspaper in 2013.
In a statement posted to Twitter on July 24, Sandmann thanked his lawyers, his family, as well as “millions of you who have stood your ground by supporting me.” He added that he “still has more to do.”
In January 2020, Sandmann settled a defamation lawsuit against CNN. The terms of that settlement were not disclosed. There are six outstanding defamation lawsuits against other media companies, including the New York Times, ABC, NBC, and CBS.
The suit alleged that the Washington Post “engaged in a modern-day form of McCarthyism by competing with CNN and NBC, among others, to claim leadership of a mainstream and social media mob of bullies which attacked, vilified, and threatened Nicholas Sandmann.” Sandmann was seeking “compensatory and punitive damages.”
The lawsuits stemmed from a short video that was published to Twitter in January 2019. That video appeared to show Sandmann, who was wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, standing in close proximity to Native American activist Nathan Phillips and smirking while Phillips chanted and played a ceremonial drum.
Phillips was in Washington, D.C. for the Indigenous Peoples’ March, and the incident occurred near the Lincoln Memorial after the March for Life, which Sandmann had attended. Phillips told the media that the students had swarmed him, and had repeatedly chanted “build the wall” or “build that wall.”
The video quickly went viral, and many people called for the suspension or expulsion of Sandmann and his classmates as a punishment for their seemingly disrespectful behavior. Sandmann later explained that he had smiled in an attempt to come off as non-threatening.
As the weekend progressed, however, additional video was discovered that showed a far more nuanced context to the encounter between Phillips and Sandmann.
The new footage showed that Sandmann and his classmates had been harassed by members of the Black Hebrew Israelites, and began a counter-chant of their student section chants in an effort to drown out the Black Hebrew Israelites. The students denied chanting “build the wall,” and that chant could not be heard on various videos of the incident.
Additionally, the extended video showed that Phillips had wandered into the crowd of Covington Catholic High School students - not the other way around - and had begun beating a drum in Sandmann’s face.
A third-party investigation into the Covington Catholic students came to the conclusion that they had not instigated the encounter and that there was no evidence of them making any offensive or racist statements.
Both Covington Catholic High School and Bishop Roger Foys of Covington apologized for their premature statements condemning Sandmann’s behavior.