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Graham writes: "A video clip of a white teenager harassing a Native American elder instantly became one of the most viscerally enraging images of an era that has offered no shortage of them."

'But I think the real reason the clip has spread is simpler: It's the kid's face. The face of self-satisfaction and certitude, of edginess expressed as cruelty.' (photo: YouTube)
'But I think the real reason the clip has spread is simpler: It's the kid's face. The face of self-satisfaction and certitude, of edginess expressed as cruelty.' (photo: YouTube)

The MAGA Teenager Who Harassed a Native American Veteran Is Still Unnamed, but We've Seen His Face Before

By Ruth Graham, Slate

20 January 19


video clip of a white teenager harassing a Native American elder instantly became one of the most viscerally enraging images of an era that has offered no shortage of them.

In the clip, captured during the Indigenous Peoples March in Washington on Friday, an elderly Native American man beats a drum and quietly sings, and a small group of activists and allies can be seen in the crowd behind him. Perhaps 18 inches in front of him, a white teenager in a “Make America Great Again” hat makes eye contact and smirks. A much larger crowd of teenagers—mostly male, mostly white, many wearing MAGA hats—hoots with delight at the wordless confrontation. The encounter was captured from multiple angles and circulated widely on YouTube and social media, generating widespread disgust.

Indian Country Today reported Saturday that the elder is Nathan Phillips, a Vietnam War veteran who holds an annual ceremony honoring Native veterans at Arlington National Cemetery. The boy has yet to be identified, but he was visiting Washington with a group from Covington Catholic High School, an all-boys college preparatory school in northern Kentucky. The group was in Washington to attend the March for Life, an annual anti-abortion rally that attracts tens of thousands of demonstrators, including many groups of young people from churches and private schools. The event’s stated ideal is “a world where the beauty and dignity of every human life are valued and protected.” (The Diocese of Covington and Covington Catholic High School issued a statement on Saturday apologizing to Phillips and Native Americans in general, and said it is investigating punishments that may include expulsion.)

The encounter between the teenager and the older man didn’t end in violence. They apparently didn’t even exchange words. Why, then, did this unexploded grenade of a moment read as so fundamentally disturbing—and spread so quickly? There’s the ahistorical idiocy of wearing a Make America Great Again hat while harassing a veteran, of course. There’s the physical contrast between the young white punk and the Native elder, and between the teen’s cruelty and Phillips’ calm. And there’s the crowd of hooting MAGA teens ringing the central conflict, bouncing along to the drumbeat with a mix of giddiness and scorn. (In a video posted to Instagram, a teary Phillips said he heard them chanting “build that wall.”) Cameras are everywhere in the crowd. The boys know they’re being recorded—some of them are even seen capturing the moment themselves—but either their homosocial glee is too orgiastic to be dampened by the instinct for self-protection, or they don’t think anyone who matters to them will care. (And yes: Where are the adults?)

The context is key to the clash’s virality, too. It took place just days after President Trump made light of the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee to mock Sen. Elizabeth Warren, whom he often refers to by the racist nickname “Pocahontas.” More broadly, it takes place in an era in which chanting the president’s name has become a tool of racial intimidation.

But I think the real reason the clip has spread is simpler: It’s the kid’s face. The face of self-satisfaction and certitude, of edginess expressed as cruelty. The face remains almost completely still as his peers hoot in awed delight at his bravado. The face is both punchable and untouchable. Many observers recognized it right away.

The face is in this photo of a clutch of white young men crowding around a single black man at a lunch counter sit-in in Virginia in the 1960s, and in many other images of jeering white men from that era. The face is the rows of Wisconsin high school boys flashing Nazi salutes in a prom picture last year. The face is Brett Kavanaugh—then a student at an all-boys Catholic prep school—“drunkenly laughing” as he allegedly held down Christine Blasey Ford. Anyone who knew the popular white boys in high school recognized it: the confident gaze, the eyes twinkling with menace, the smirk. The face of a boy who is not as smart as he thinks he is, but is exactly as powerful. The face that sneers, “What? I’m just standing here,” if you flinch or cry or lash out. The face knows that no matter how you react, it wins.

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+56 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-01-20 18:02
The maga hat kid and the faces of the 1960s kids staring at a black man at a lunch counter are the faces of the well known "ugly American. " These people are filled up with their own privilege and just cannot stand the sight of anyone who is different from themselves.

America has a very long history of these ugly people. In fact, they are the core of the American identity. We have made a lot of progress but not enough. At the Women's March the next day there were ugly women giving a similar stare to the Palestinian organizer of the event and calling her anti-Semitic.

I doubt that any of these ugly Americans even understand what they are.
+8 # Porfiry 2019-01-21 09:10
+19 # elizabethblock 2019-01-20 22:38
I wonder if the kid told the elder to go back where he came from.

I quote - not for the first time - a Native man who was among the involuntary audience for a rant against immigrants. He just chuckled and said, "Except for me, you're all immigrants."
+13 # Texas Aggie 2019-01-21 08:31
There are so many faces associated with the right wing movement that fall under the category of Backpfeifengesi cht, but this particular face is right up there with Mnuchin and Shkreli. With any luck the only people who will associate with him from now on are like-minded denizens of a sewage treatment settling pond. At least he'll go through life like that other self-satisfied product of catholic education knowing that behind his back, people are laughing at him and making fun of him.
+8 # Skeeziks 2019-01-21 13:32
As Americans, they have no grip on what America has always supposed to have been about.
-12 # Anne Frank 2019-01-21 13:46
Nobody was hurt, and the old man held his own and was not in the slightest intimidated. There was no violence. It's a sorry day when youngsters sport MAGA hats, but it is not illegal. The first amendment protects the right of the old man to beat his drum in the kid's face on the public street, and the right of the youngster to be nonviolently obnoxious. Nothing newsworthy happened. The corporate media simply use the video as a pretext to whip the idiots into hysteria, to keep their minds off our real problems.
-1 # librarian1984 2019-01-22 08:19
Agreed on all counts.
+3 # ljslotnick 2019-01-23 08:14
Generally agree Anne Frank except that you are making an assumption about what Nathan Phillips was feeling during what I would call a silent confrontation. A confrontation that could have ended differently. Sure, I doubt Phillips was intimidated. He probably felt that this a**hole teen would move on more quickly than he did. No, this was not nationwide newsworthy because, sadly, native Americans deal with this sort of insult all the time.
+10 # Sir Morien 2019-01-21 14:59
Well-named & well written!

Behind the boldface, however, is the institutionaliz ed privilege & power to be evoked in its aftermath. The insecurity that blushes while brazenly portraying its betrayal in testosterone testimonial on behalf of the crowd behind him is unmistakable! Its only security in the institutional ethos--the sins of omission in the authority figures who are brazenly absent from the disciplining that is being summoned. Later, this boy & his mob will find solace from Fox elders who are, themselves, arrested emotionally at that very same state of adolescence! They can relate all too readily and will provide the vital counterpunches to those who declare moral outrage.

Just wait and watch it unfold in the coming days...

Even-handed proclamations of "unfairness" on behalf of the arrogant boy instead of condemnations of his disrespect, indignity and injustice will pour forth. The toxic residue of institutionaliz ed privilege and bias in favor of the white over the person of color, the young above the elder, & the perversely untouchable Caucasian adolescent--at whatever age--who can "grab 'em by" it, get drunk & sexually assault with a permanent alibi of adolescence (or even "she invited it"!)

This is the very heart of contemporary "Robber Baron Republicanism" & the unprincipled moving center of its unethical rationalization s of corruption that protects white male privilege & power.

Here, in like manner, were once McConnell, Trump, Pence, Cheney et al.
0 # Ahimsa 2019-01-21 20:48
Anne Frank -You are right on. Even in this article, the writer is comparing this kid's face to that of other protesters at other times representing different viewpoints not relevant to this circumstance. This kid is young and impressionable and is doing this as much for attention than to make a point. He should not be expelled for exercising his right to protest--He should be disciplined (the root of which means to teach) about what means to be an immigrant, which we all are if you track it to the first civilization. Teach him the thinking behind the historic necessity and positive motives of all immigrants. Lastly, he is there on behave of a Christian school--and should be taught WWJD and how would he treat others of different race or origin.
+2 # AldoJay69 2019-01-23 10:30
"He should be disciplined about what (sic) means to be an immigrant"

You think a Native American is an immigrant?!
+1 # Ahimsa 2019-01-21 20:55
This was a non-violent protest that was blown out of proportion by the media and we all took the bait. Liberals who believe in diversity and tolerance,of which I am one, have reacted with as much self righteous anger and hatred as the racists do to promote their thinking. Shame on us for taking this teachable moment for this kid as well as for everyone, and using it as a weapon against those opposing our views.

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