NEW YORK (FOX19) - Nicholas Sandmann, the Covington Catholic High School student at the center of a national controversy over an incident at a march in Washington D.C., says he wishes he and his classmates had walked away.
In an interview that aired Wednesday with Savannah Guthrie on “Today", the 17-year-old said he doesn’t feel he was disrespectful to Nathan Phillips and “had every right” to stand up to him.
Guthrie asked Sandmann if he felt he owed anyone an apology.
“My position is that I was not disrespectful to Mr. Phillips. I respect him, I would like to talk to him," Sandmann said in response. "In hindsight, I wish we could’ve walked away and avoided the whole thing.”
The interview aired just before Covington Catholic High School reopened for the first time since several videos went viral of the incident at the Lincoln Memorial last Friday afternoon between the students, a group of Black Hebrew Israelites and a group from the Indigenous Peoples March.
The initial video showed Sandmann, a junior at the school, standing in front of Phillips, a Native American man participating in the Indigenous Peoples March.
However, more videos continue to surface. Sandmann told “Today" he felt threatened and provoked and some of the black protesters were saying hateful things to them: “racist,” “bigots” and “incest kids.”
He said in a statement earlier this week that because they felt they were being loudly attacked and taunted in public, a student in their group asked one of their teacher chaperones for permission.
Sandmann elaborated during the interview, saying at the time, they started yelling school-related chants because it seemed more positive than letting the Black Hebrew Israelites “slander us.”
The teen also said he felt that by remaining motionless and calm as he stood before Phillips, he was helping to defuse the situation: “I didn’t want to be disrespectful of Mr. Phillips if he wanted to talk to me.”
Sandmann says he said a silent prayer that things at the march would not get out of hand.
“They were a group of adults and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen to us," he told “Today”.
He also noted he was surrounded by people who had their phones out and were recording.
Sandmann said he bought the red “Make America Great Again” hat he wore that day from a street vendor and doesn’t want to be remembered for what is being perceived as a smirk on his face.
“People judged me based off one expression, which I wasn’t smirking. And they’ve gone from there to tilting me and labeling me a racist person.”
He said he didn’t mean to react in what some have perceived as a “stare down".
“I see it as a smile saying that ‘this is the best you are going to get out of me. You won’t get any further.’"