Jonathon van Maren

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Anti-Trump media touts fake news to whip up mob against pro-life kids. They should be ashamed

Jonathon van Maren Jonathon van Maren Follow Jonathon

January 21, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – There’s a reason I wait a day or two when the media decides to bash pro-lifers: They are not good faith actors, and they desperately want to believe the sorts of stories that suit their narrative about the pro-life movement. I’ve seen abortion activists fake hate crimes on themselves to a breathless media frenzy, with the ensuing quiet correction weeks later scarcely making a ripple. I’ve seen stories about peaceful pro-lifers getting physically assaulted by abortion supporters cast by the media as a “scuffle at an anti-abortion protest.” And over and over again, I’ve seen media reports on events that I personally attended bear little resemblance to what actually took place.

And so when CNN, followed by the rest of the media lynch mob, reported that a bunch of MAGA-hat wearing kids from Covington Catholic School had swarmed an elderly Native American man at the Lincoln Memorial following the March for Life chanting slogans like “build the wall,” I was suspicious. Social media promptly exploded, with commentators of every stripe condemning the kids for being jackasses (which, if the short video clip released by the media was the entire story, would be the case). A number of pro-lifers followed suit, ostensibly in order to shield the movement from criticism and ensure that the entire March for Life was not tarred by the incident.

Things got ugly quickly. Journalists and pundits began to release photos of the high school boys next to images of white racists mobbing black civil rights activists at lunch counters in the 1960s. Some even compared the boys to the fresh-faced thugs of the Hitler Youth. One writer at Slate.com noted somberly that the facial expression of Nick Sandmann, the now unfortunately famous young man facing off with indigenous activist Nathan Phillips, was familiar because we’d seen his type before: Young, cocksure, powerful – and evil. Nobody, apparently, considered the fact that the image was simply one freeze-frame shot of an uneasy and awkward teenage boy thrust into a situation he didn’t know how to deal with. The media and the rest of the progressive pack badly wanted this story to be true: A pack of racist young white Catholic school boys sporting Trump hats following an anti-abortion march mobbing a Native American man? It was just perfect.

Too perfect, as it predictably turned out. Reason was the first publication to release a detailed rebuttal of the narrative, noting that when the nearly two hours of video footage of the incident was viewed – something the media presumably should have done before setting out to destroy the lives of some high school boys – a notably different story emerged. Soon thereafter, Nick Sandmann released a statement begging people to hear he and his classmates out. Here it is in part:

I am providing this factual account of what happened on Friday afternoon at the Lincoln Memorial to correct misinformation and outright lies being spread about my family and me.

I am the student in the video who was confronted by the Native American protestor. I arrived at the Lincoln Memorial at 4:30 p.m. I was told to be there by 5:30 p.m., when our busses were due to leave Washington for the trip back to Kentucky. We had been attending the March for Life rally, and then had split up into small groups to do sightseeing.

When we arrived, we noticed four African American protestors who were also on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I am not sure what they were protesting, and I did not interact with them. I did hear them direct derogatory insults at our school group.

The protestors said hateful things. They called us "racists," "bigots," "white crackers," "faggots," and "incest kids." They also taunted an African American student from my school by telling him that we would "harvest his organs." I have no idea what that insult means, but it was startling to hear.

Because we were being loudly attacked and taunted in public, a student in our group asked one of our teacher chaperones for permission to begin our school spirit chants to counter the hateful things that were being shouted at our group. The chants are commonly used at sporting events. They are all positive in nature and sound like what you would hear at any high school. Our chaperone gave us permission to use our school chants. We would not have done that without obtaining permission from the adults in charge of our group.

At no time did I hear any student chant anything other than the school spirit chants. I did not witness or hear any students chant "build that wall" or anything hateful or racist at any time. Assertions to the contrary are simply false. Our chants were loud because we wanted to drown out the hateful comments that were being shouted at us by the protestors.

After a few minutes of chanting, the Native American protestors, who I hadn't previously noticed, approached our group. The Native American protestors had drums and were accompanied by at least one person with a camera.

The protestor everyone has seen in the video began playing his drum as he waded into the crowd, which parted for him. I did not see anyone try to block his path. He locked eyes with me and approached me, coming within inches of my face. He played his drum the entire time he was in my face.

I never interacted with this protestor. I did not speak to him. I did not make any hand gestures or other aggressive moves. To be honest, I was startled and confused as to why he had approached me. We had already been yelled at by another group of protestors, and when the second group approached I was worried that a situation was getting out of control where adults were attempting to provoke teenagers.

I believed that by remaining motionless and calm, I was helping to diffuse the situation. I realized everyone had cameras and that perhaps a group of adults was trying to provoke a group of teenagers into a larger conflict. I said a silent prayer that the situation would not get out of hand.

During the period of the drumming, a member of the protestor's entourage began yelling at a fellow student that we "stole our land" and that we should "go back to Europe." I heard one of my fellow students begin to respond. I motioned to my classmate and tried to get him to stop engaging with the protestor, as I was still in the mindset that we needed to calm down tensions.

I never felt like I was blocking the Native American protestor. He did not make any attempt to go around me. It was clear to me that he had singled me out for a confrontation, although I am not sure why.

The engagement ended when one of our teachers told me the busses had arrived and it was time to go. I obeyed my teacher and simply walked to the busses. At that moment, I thought I had diffused the situation by remaining calm, and I was thankful nothing physical had occurred.

I never understood why either of the two groups of protestors were engaging with us, or exactly what they were protesting at the Lincoln Memorial. We were simply there to meet a bus, not become central players in a media spectacle. This is the first time in my life I've ever encountered any sort of public protest, let alone this kind of confrontation or demonstration.

I was not intentionally making faces at the protestor. I did smile at one point because I wanted him to know that I was not going to become angry, intimidated or be provoked into a larger confrontation. I am a faithful Christian and practicing Catholic, and I always try to live up to the ideals my faith teaches me – to remain respectful of others, and to take no action that would lead to conflict or violence.

I harbor no ill will for this person. I respect this person's right to protest and engage in free speech activities, and I support his chanting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial any day of the week. I believe he should re-think his tactics of invading the personal space of others, but that is his choice to make.

I am being called every name in the book, including a racist, and I will not stand for this mob-like character assassination of my family's name. My parents were not on the trip, and I strive to represent my family in a respectful way in all public settings.

I have received physical and death threats via social media, as well as hateful insults. One person threatened to harm me at school, and one person claims to live in my neighborhood. My parents are receiving death and professional threats because of the social media mob that has formed over this issue.

Many of the commentators who joined the initial pile-on have begun to retract their statements in view of the evidence. Jake Tapper of CNN tweeted out the rebuttal column by Reason, Scott Adams of Dilbert issued an unqualified apology to the boys and those who were misled by his initial condemnations, and conservatives and pro-lifers who had initially rushed to join those expressing outrage indicated their regret for doing so. A few media outlets such as NBC even released follow-up articles noting their initial mistake. Progressive indignation, however, continues to rage across social media. A few media figures, like Reza Aslan (who last made news for eating a piece of human brain in India), have been doubling down, insisting that it is crazy to believe that nuance might be necessary in a story where MAGA hats are present.

The boys and their families are already facing threats, vile name-calling, and doxing, which is apparently how some vile people show their disapproval of actions they consider unloving. Andrew Hodge, the brother of one of the boys, noted on Twitter that his family and relatives are facing nonstop threats of physical violence, and that nobody contacted his brother for the other side of the story before running with it—and some people are even attempting to contact the college Michael plans to attend in order to destroy his career plans of being a chef. There are many, many people out there right now who are trying to completely ruin the lives of a few high school students, and it is disgusting to watch.

It would be disgusting even if the original story had been true. Utterly wrecking the lives of high school kids because of a moment of indiscretion (and the MAGA hats on a school field trip were a questionable decision) is malicious, counter-productive, and shameful. Those joining social media mobs to supposedly combat evils such as racism are in fact acting in the service of hatred, which is revealed clearly by the fact that they seek only to destroy. The media, of course, gets their clicks and the viral videos and their virtue-signalling and then moves on. Even if the story turns out not to be true, it will have been very profitable for them nonetheless.

I hope we can all learn a lesson from this incident. The media, as usual, is willing to jump at the chance to smear those they have contempt for: Pro-lifers, conservatives, and Trump supporters. We should consider their biases and their track record before we instinctively believe their stories about people they despise, and before we join the social media pile-on. And the media, I hope, can take a long, hard look in the mirror and realize that real people paid real consequences for their irresponsible reporting this weekend. Kids got death threats. Families had their addresses posted online. High school students saw strangers try to destroy their future plans. And it isn’t over yet. That is what happens when the media gets a story wrong. There should be consequences. I doubt there will be.

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Jonathon van Maren

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Jonathon Van Maren is a public speaker, writer, and pro-life activist. His commentary has been translated into more than eight languages and published widely online as well as print newspapers such as the Jewish Independent, the National Post, the Hamilton Spectator and others. He has received an award for combating anti-Semitism in print from the Jewish organization B’nai Brith. His commentary has been featured on CTV Primetime, Global News, EWTN, and the CBC as well as dozens of radio stations and news outlets in Canada and the United States.

He speaks on a wide variety of cultural topics across North America at universities, high schools, churches, and other functions. Some of these topics include abortion, pornography, the Sexual Revolution, and euthanasia. Jonathon holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in history from Simon Fraser University, and is the communications director for the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform.

Jonathon’s first book, The Culture War, was released in 2016.