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Joining a mob

Christians participate in rush to judgment after viral video; only some apologize after context revealed


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Approximately 15 seconds of video from the March for Life had many Christian leaders united in a harsh condemnation of an anonymous teenage boy this weekend.

The clip showed a tight shot of a Catholic high schooler in a red “Make America Great Again” hat grinning, or, to some minds, sneering, at a Native American veteran who stood inches away playing a drum. The clip was circulated with the claim that the boy and his classmates surrounded and taunted the veteran by chanting, “Build the wall.”

Prominent pastors, theologians, and Bible teachers quickly expressed outrage. “Let’s be clear, this isn’t simple hate, it’s demonic activity,” tweeted one pastor. Another publicly wondered if college admissions offices would post their pictures with the message “Do not admit.” A theologian commented, “This is white supremacist terrorism.” Others posted videos that showed a still image of the student’s smiling face next to pictures of smiling Nazi youth and young civil rights era segregationists.

Finally, a leading Bible teacher with nearly a million social media followers tweeted, “I cannot shake the terror of adolescents already indoctrinated in enough hate and disrespect to smile that chillingly and jeer without shame or fear of God. Uncurbed, this utter glee in dehumanizing is what humanitarian horrors are made of.” She added in a later tweet, “It reeks of the vomit of hell.”

And they all would have been right—if the 15 seconds in question had accurately represented the entire incident. It didn’t. As the weekend unfolded, further videos cast a decidedly different light on events.

Longer clips proved the veteran, Nathan Phillips, was at best mistaken in his account to the media. At worst, he was lying. Contrary to his initial interviews retweeted by countless sympathetic believers, he approached the students with other adult protesters, cameras at the ready, to intentionally engage them. The students, who were waiting for their bus, quickly parted to allow the men into the middle of their group. Phillips then continued to advance on the boy until he was drumming inches from his face. Seconds later, some of Phillips' companions began shouting at the high schoolers, “You white people go back to Europe. This is not your land.”

An even longer video revealed that a radical group known as the Black Hebrew Israelites had been shouting vile (and, incidentally, heretical) profanities at the minors leading up to the faceoff. Their pep-rally school cheers—none of the videos recorded anything about wall-building—weren’t a reaction to the drumming but an attempt to drown out these insults.

Taken in totality, the videos showed a charged, chaotic environment in which nearly everyone involved should have behaved better. It goes without saying the Black Israelites shouldn’t have spewed racist insults at teenagers. Likewise, Phillips and his fellow marchers shouldn’t have walked into a group of kids seemingly with the intent of causing trouble.

As for the teens, while some appeared to be good-naturedly clapping along with the drumming, others can be heard singing what could be the tomahawk chop, though it could also be their misguided attempt to join in with Phillips’ tribal chant. If it’s the former case, that certainly is disrespectful and demands an apology, but perhaps stops short of being demonic.

And what of the boy in question—the one whose only demonstrated offense was smiling too long when Mr. Phillips stepped up to him? Should he have immediately retreated? Perhaps. But then again, that leer everyone thought they saw dissolves in another video into something that looks more like discomfort, suggesting he may have merely plastered an awkward grin on his face for lack of knowing what else to do. In support of this view, one angle shows him shushing a friend who argues back with one of the drummers.

The church need not overly concern itself with what secular media outlets got wrong or the disgusting calls for violence that resulted. But we should ask why so many blue-check believers, not to mention their hundreds of thousands of followers, were so eager to join an outrage mob against a child based on so little information. Even further, why were so many willing to extend that condemnation to the child’s parents, teachers, and school?

Given that some obliquely and some outright blamed our current political environment for bolstering the boys’ rabid hatred, most likely it all came down to those hats. It’s hard to imagine that a silent, smiling teen would have gone viral if he and his friends hadn’t been wearing MAGA gear.

We can debate the wisdom of donning a lightning rod political statement for an event like the March for Life, but it’s safe to say the boys didn’t wear it to insult Phillips, as they had no idea they’d be encountering him. The tomahawk chop existed before this administration, so it’s entirely possible they would have done that even if there’d never been a President Trump.

Yet, so many Christians find themselves eager to express a desire to do better than we have in the past in our treatment of minority believers, we rush unthinking toward opportunities to show our disgust at any accusation of racism in our ranks. We think we must not only have an opinion, we must broadcast it as quickly and stridently as possible, with the Biblical weight of Scripture often attached. This is a far greater error than so-called fake news, as we use our faith as cover for our rush to judgment.

Think of the young man whose face has now been plastered across the media, opening him to enduring attacks and penalties, and consider the travesty that Christians helped make that happen.

God’s Word warns us not to show preference to the poor over the rich because that too can be a temptation in matters of truth and justice. We likewise shouldn’t show preference to a Native American man over white teens without waiting for further facts.

Some church leaders have since deleted their condemnation while others have admirably expressed remorse and asked for forgiveness. Sadly, some of the most prominent have let the slander stand, leaving it to be drowned by whatever newer topics fill their feeds. Whether it’s the fault of cowardice, laziness, or ignorance, it’s conduct unbecoming our Lord’s service. If we have the time to condemn, we have the time to correct.

No matter how great our desire to show remorse for past and present collective sins, we can’t let our emotion run away with our discernment. Hot takes should be anathema to people charged to be slow to anger and slow to speak. The reconciliation of tomorrow won’t stand if it’s built on the lies of today.


Megan Basham

Megan is a former film and television editor for WORLD and co-host for WORLD Radio. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and author of Beside Every Successful Man: A Woman’s Guide to Having It All. Megan resides with her husband, Brian Basham, and their two daughters in Charlotte, N.C.

@megbasham

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DFRA6167

Great article!  I guess I should know this, but what's a "blue-check believer"?  I Googled the term to no avail.

Searwar Family

Thought of this when you asked "Why is evil so united?"

"Anytime evil becomes organized, its ferocity breathes the air of hell. There is nothing that can quench that fury. It cannot be stopped until it has accomplished its purpose. That is why hell is unending. Its nature is to burn on the inside, and no outward consolation or influence can change wickedness that is inflamed by numbers.

When evil justifies itself by posturing as morality, God becomes the devil and the devil, God.  That exchange makes one impervious to reason."

Ravi Zacharias
Page 154
Chapter 6: When God Was Silent
From "Jesus Among Other Gods"

Salty1

I was one who said something on social media against the kids! Shame on me! But could I even find the post if I wanted to? I don’t know where the article is now! So exactly how are we fools supposed to change our social media comments if we made a mistake and cannot find the post?  Watching the longer video did bring me to a different conclusion. 

Judy Farrington

Yes. They must be really hurting. 

John Cogan

I found it ironic that the media spent the weekend accusing this 17 year old young man of public ridiculing the vet, bullying him, intimidating him and threatiening violence against him. They did this by publicly ridiculing the student, intimidating him, bullying him and threatening violence against him.

HJM

Thank you Wretch Like Me, well said.

Xion

Politics corrupts everything it touches, whether science or religion or education or medicine or any other subject.  Christians who become political are in danger of being corrupted themselves, as this rush to judgement reveals.  And those who view the state as provider and protector have fallen from faith.

OlderMom

One concern I have is that, even if the situation had been the way it was first reported, shouldn't everyone's response (but especially Christians) have been concern for a young man who was so misguided - sadness rather than outrage? It seems this situation really showed up the difference between compassion and just trying to make ourselves look good.

Greg Mangrum

Where to start? I echo the comments of those who say what's wrong with a MAGA hat? Is an Obama '08 or '12 hat wrong? Or how about an I'm with Her hat? Ridiculous.

Just image that it was a skinhead who walked up to an LBGT kid and beat a drum. Do you think the coverage would be different? Of course it would! No one but no one would be condemning the kid.

Most of the media's dishonesty along with many a Twitter user's jump to judgment before a thoughtful investigation into the facts is both astonishing and frightening. It's cringeworthy that Christians leaders were involved in this debacle.

Lastly, why is this worthy of national coverage? This should have been a local story, at best. Our society is obsessed with the trivial. 

LBU9926

I don't know why the young people were wearing the MAGA gear, but if I had been able to go to the March for Life this year, I certainly would have tried to do so.  It's one small way to say thank you to the President for keeping many promises with regard to life issues.

I appreciate your trouble to give the full picture of the incident.  Thank you very much!

Njo0201

Excellent article! Thanks for focusing on the facts. Those who condemned this group of students and the young man in particular owe them personal and public apologies. I follow a few less groups on social media because of their participation in the persecution of these students, even if unintended. I am again thankful for World and WNG continues to be my primary source of national and global news. Keep up the good work!

Jim Harvey

Could you please post a link to the other videos? I believe your reporting is accurate, but since you mention the other refuting videos I think they should be included. Thanks. 

ruralnebr

Almost sounded like "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!"  Praying strongly for God's hedge of protection around that young man and his family.

Bob R

Quick to LISTEN, slow to speak, even slower to become angry!  “Quick” doesn't mean "hasty"; rather “ready to listen”.  We are also to be perceptive, clearheaded, and discerning in the judgments we make.

Wise as serpents, innocent as doves, folks; NOT the other way around!

 

joansredpen

Thank you for providing truth and thoughtfulness regarding this incident. When we see short clips of disturbing behavior, we should always ask, "What is the context?" Often what preceded and followed a video clip is eliminated to gain knee-jerk responses. 

MWagoner

I love you Megan Basham! I’m so glad o have a sister in Christ who cares for the truth. 

My Two Cents

I have been woefully ignorant of what is going on in the news. (Good reason--death in the family. My focus on eternity has made the concerns of the world grow dim.)

This was a part of the March for Life? Why should these teens be wearing MAGA hats at a March for Life? Was Nathan Phillips attending the March for Life? If so, what was the point of the drum? How did the focus turn from protesting the immorality of killing pre-born babies, to chanting about ...... ??? (something besides killing babies.)

AlanE

"If we have the time to condemn, we have the time to correct [our erroneous judgments]."

Very true. Worth repeating, and worth thinking about until it settles in. Worth thinking about any time we're tempted to use social media.

Cj

This makes me very sad. Something like this could cause the young man trouble for many years to come. May God defend him and grow his character and faith as a result of this injustice.