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January 23, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – New developments continue to roll in as America’s and much of the world’s attention has been captured by the confrontation between Catholic teenagers at the March for Life and a group of left-wing activists last weekend, which was quickly revealed to have been very different than initial characterizations of the event.

January 29, 10:00 AM EST: More than a week after their initial condemnation, the March for Life Education & Defense Fund has apologized for condemning the Covington students based on false initial reports. “The facts that have since come to light reveal that the boys from Covington Catholic experienced some real and inexcusable intimidation, insults, and harassment,” the Monday evening statement reads. “We have tremendous respect for the schools, families and young people who travel long distances and make sacrifices to attend the March each year. In the future, when it comes to the accuracy of breaking news reports or social media coverage of the March, we will not trust, we will verify.”

January 25, 6:00 PM EST: Amid mounting pressure, Bishop Roger Foys issued a new statement late Friday afternoon admitting that the Diocese “should not have allowed ourselves to be bullied and pressured into making a statement prematurely, and we take full responsibility for it”; and “especially apologiz[ing] to Nicholas Sandmann and his family as well as to all CovCath families who have felt abandoned during this ordeal.”

The letter did not announce an end to the third-party investigation commissioned by the Diocese, but expressed hope that it “will exonerate our students so that they can move forward with their lives.”

January 25, 1:15 PM EST: Attorney Robert Barnes elaborated on his threat to file defamation suits against members of the media Friday in an interview with One America News Network, telling Jack Posobiec that Bishop Roger Foys is not only interested in the “intent” of the students in the viral video, but is primarily interested in protecting himself from legal liability for his false statements rather than running an impartial inquiry.

Nick Sandmann's family, meanwhile, has hired their own attorney: L. Lin Wood, who specializes aggressive libel suits against media organizations and seeking “eye-popping damages for those he believes have been libeled or slandered in the press,” according to a 2011 Washington Post article. Wood, who was dubbed “attorney for the damned” by disgraced former CBS anchor Dan Rather, previously defended Republican presidential candidate Hermain Cain from sexual harassment claims.

January 25, 10:45 AM EST: Conservative Response Team has released a new one-minute ad decrying the “lynching of the Covington boys,” particularly singling out Bishop Roger Foys for his criticism. “Truth: the Covington Boys are honorable young men who followed Doctor King’s non-violence principles to resist a bully,” it says. “But Bishop Foys not only won’t apologize for stringing up these young men and still wants to put them on trial.” The ad calls on audiences to call the Covington Diocese and ask Foys to apologize.

January 24, 7:00 PM EST: Nathan Phillips told the “Today Show's Savanna Guthrie Thursday that “even though I'm angry, I still have that forgiveness in my heart for those students,” and that he forgives Nick Sandmann and the other students for actions the video now shows they never committed in the first place. He continues to claim he heard a “build the wall” chant that does not occur in the available videos, and has not apologized for misrepresenting the incident in previous statements.

January 24, 5:20 PM EST: Further investigation into Nathan Phillips' background has revealed that the 63-year-old activist had a violent criminal record in his late teens and early twenties, including assault, underage alcohol possession, negligent driving, and even escaping from a Nebraska prison.

January 24, 3:30 PM EST: Robert Barnes, the California attorney representing the Covington students for free, received an email Wednesday stating, “I am coming to bomb your office. Get ready. 48 hours. Be ready.” Barnes says that rather than scare him off, the threat “had the opposite effect,” adding that it “shows how dangerous the establishment press can be when it excites madness with libelous lies.”

On Thursday, a parent of one of the kids in the video provided Gateway Pundit with a “permission slip from a third-party investigative service,” asking parents to agree to let the investigators speak to their children. “What is left to investigate?” one of the mothers wondered.

January 24, 3:00 PM EST: The Douglas County School District in Colorado has suspended Mountain Ridge Middle School teacher Michelle Grissom over since-deleted Twitter posts attributed to her, which misidentify a student who was not in Washington, D.C. last Friday as the student later revealed as Nick Sandmann. The posts call the unrelated student a member of the “Hitler Youth.” Principal Shannon Clarke said she would be “unable to share specific details, as this is a personnel matter.”

January 24, 2:00 PM EST: Pro-life Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has sharply criticized left-wing comedy actor Jim Carrey for calling the Covington students “baby snakes” on Twitter, and for sharing a painting that changes Nick Sandmann's MAGA hat to say “Hate Again.”

January 24, 11:00 AM EST: The now-deleted @2020fight Twitter account that first shared the original, incomplete video appears to have been run by a San Francisco Bay Area teacher with a history of criticizing Donald Trump online, identified only as “Talia.” The original video ran with the misleading caption, “This MAGA loser gleefully bothering a Native American protestor at the Indigenous Peoples March.”

January 23, 5:20 PM EST: The main office of the Diocese of Covington was evacuated late Wednesday afternoon following the discovery of at least one “suspicious package” on the grounds, according to police. Journalists including a LifeSiteNews reporter were on the scene to cover the broader story. UPDATE – the package was determined to be non-explosive.

January 23, 5:15 PM EST: The House Intelligence Committee, along with Senate Intelligence Committee ranking Democrat Mark Warner of Indiana, have asked Twitter to provide information on the @2020fight Twitter account that helped disseminate the original video, Fox News reports. The social media company already suspended the account for breaking its rules against “deliberate attempts to manipulate the public conversation on Twitter by using misleading account information.” Neither the committee nor Warner's office have yet elaborated on why they want the information, or what they plan to do with it.

January 23, 4:45 PM EST: A Covington parent speaking on condition of anonymity told LifeSiteNews Wednesday that Bishop Roger Joseph Foys of the Diocese of Covington has met with the students, and claimed he was unable to change his previous statements on the matter until the conclusion of the third-party investigation currently underway. The parent also told LifeSiteNews that Foys “has been very staunchly pro-life,” and while he did not apologize privately to the boys, his tone was “fairly good” and “very much in support of them.”

Others from the school have reportedly relayed a more negative message to Gateway Pundit. “The students claim that after some of the kids spoke to Fox News and other outlets, the Bishop informed the school that he doesn’t want them doing any more interviews. The school faculty agreed, claiming they are worried about their safety,” Cassandra Fairbanks writes. “While no punishment was made clear if they fail to comply, the students want to cooperate and plan to do so.”

“Like I said, the Bishop here is literally victimizing the victims twice. They’ve already been victimized by the media, now they are being victimized again,” a mother of one of the students in the video told Gateway Pundit. “There is blood in the water and they are making it worse. They’re feeding the piranha frenzy from the liberal media. I just want people to understand that they need to wake up and stop believing the fake news and defend the kids.”

January 23, 4:30 PM EST: Robert Barnes, an attorney representing the students pro-bono, announced Wednesday morning on “Fox & Friends” that he was putting anyone who had publicly libeled the students on 48-hour notice that if they didn’t retract those statements by Friday, they may find themselves “a defendant in a lawsuit because those lawsuits will start to occur next week.”

“If you've said anything false about these kids, they are willing to extend you a 48-hour time period — a period of grace consistent with their Christian faith — for you to, through confession, get redemption and retract and correct and apologize,” said Barnes, who is representing the students for free.

Barnes explained that the ultimatum covers “any major member of the media, that includes any major celebrity, that includes anybody with a substantial social media platform.” He added that to prove libel, “all you have to prove is they were negligent in doing so and by this standpoint, by this point in time, it is clear that anyone who continues to lie and libel about these kids has done so illegally and can be sued for it.”

One potential example of such statements would be a story published Tuesday by NBC News about a “Gay valedictorian banned from speaking at Covington graduation” who was “not surprised” by the story. Breitbart's John Nolte noted Wednesday that the valedictorian, Christian Bales, never attended Covington Catholic, and the Catholic school in the area he did attend rejected his speech for reasons unrelated to his homosexuality.

January 23, 4:10 PM EST: Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins has issued the following statement:

What is amazing to me is how aggressively the media ignores hundreds and thousands people – nuns and pastors, families made by adoption and birth, young and old, rich and poor, volunteers in pregnancy care centers and students from across the country – all marching for Life. They see nothing, wading through a crowd, to find something they can criticize. Attacking students based on a few minutes of video is offensive for many reasons, but ignoring all that could be easily seen is just as problematic. The story of the March for Life deserves to be told by those who ignore it because of their bias and prejudice against people of faith and in favor of abortion. 

We are glad to see the truth coming out about what really happened Friday afternoon and are keeping the Covington students in our prayers as they deal with the fallout of this media set-up, particularly the vicious threats they continue to receive on social media. Our team at Students for Life has reached out to them as we stand ready to help them continue their pro-life activism at their school and in their community. Quite frankly, this story gets to the root of why so many conservatives and pro-lifers don't trust the mainstream media any longer.

January 23, 2:20 PM EST: The Archdiocese of Baltimore has issued a statement to LifeSiteNews apologizing for “speak[ing] out too hastily” based on reports that “were at best incomplete,” and expressing “hope that the young people involved were in fact acting in accord with the truth and values that are foundational to Catholic education.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor Wednesday to speak on behalf of the students from his home state. “Because of what some highly partisan observers thought they saw in a few seconds of a confusing video, these kids, their families and their school were met with a deluge, a literal deluge, of partisan vitriol,” he said. “In a matter of hours, these students were tried, convicted and sentenced by the media where accuracy is irrelevant and the presumption of innocence does not exist. To their credit, some apologized for their commentary upon learning more. But by that point, too much damage had already been done.”

Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat among the new lawmakers elected last November, is facing criticism for a tweet Tuesday accusing the students of “protesting a woman's right to choose,” yelling “it's not rape if you enjoy it,” and “taunting 5 Black men before they surrounded Phillips and led racist chants.” Every claim is false except that the students opposed abortion, and while one video does contain the offensive rape comment, the person yelling it wore a Cincinnati Bengals hat and a University of Indiana backpack, and has not been linked to Covington. Omar has since deleted the tweet.

The digital company INE Entertainmen and pop culture website Vulture have fired journalist Erik Abriss for tweets in which he said of the students, “I just want these people to die. Simple as that. Every single one of them. And their parents”; and that “all those young white slugs” shoud “f***ing die.” The Washington Post, meanwhile, published an article Tuesday by Abby Ohlheiser and Paul Farhi, arguing that casting news media as “the villian of the story” is a “viral outrage” engineered by a right-wing “parallel universe online.”

ORIGINAL REPORT: As LifeSiteNews has covered already, the case concerns a group of students from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky, who were accused of harassing an elderly Native American veteran while waiting for their bus to take them home from the just-concluded March for Life.

The initial video showed the man, Nathan Phillips, beating a drum and singing while students in Trump’s iconic red “Make America Great Again” hats laughed and hollered around him, with student Nick Sandmann apparently grinning inches from the man’s face. Denunciations of the students’ behavior were swift and fierce, with Covington Catholic, the Diocese of Covington, and even March for Life President Jeanne Mancini and an editor of the conservative National Review joining them.

But additional video and firsthand accounts soon revealed Phillips was the one who waded into the group waiting for its bus and decided to beat a drump inches from Sandmann’s face, and other adults who accompanied Phillips shouted taunts like “white people, go back to Europe” at the kids. Critics also noted that Phillips had changed his story across multiple interviews. Extended video shows other protestors calling the students offensive slurs – and the students remaining calm and not returning the mistreatment in kind.

Many subsequently retracted their initial reactions, though several including March for Life leaders, the Diocese of Covington, and the high school have yet to apologize. Despite the retractions, the original characterization of the story continues to feed a liberal fervor that has included death threats.

Nick Sandmann speaks out

The student who unwittingly found himself with one of America’s most recognizable faces for simply standing still and smiling offered his side of the story Wednesday morning in an interview with Savannah Guthrie of “The Today Show.” He made clear that he “respects” and would “like to talk to” Nathan Phillips, but held firm that he has nothing to apologize for. “As far as standing there, I had every right to do so […] I can’t say that I’m sorry for listening to him and standing there,” he said.

Guthrie and “Today” received a torrent of abuse on social media for interviewing Sandmann at all.

The situation at Covington Catholic

Covington Catholic High School closed down Tuesday due to concerns over student safety. “All activities on campus will be cancelled for the entire day and evening,” principal Robert Rowe informed parents in a letter. “Students, parents, faculty and staff are not to be on campus for any reason.” The school reopened Wednesday, albeit with police cars parked outside the building and additional security inside.

Despite the original claims against the students collapsing, Rowe told parents an “independent third-party investigator” is still looking into their actions to determine what punishment, up to potentially expulsion, the boys will face. Bishop Roger Joseph Foy of the Diocese of Covington claimed Tuesday it was “important for us to gather the facts that will allow us to determine what corrective actions, if any, are appropriate,” and that there would be no further statements “until the investigation is complete.”

Nathan Phillips

Phillips, a left-wing activist who was on the National Mall last Friday for the Indigenous People’s March, said Tuesday it was “not the right time” to meet with the students, but soon reversed himself and said he would be willing to discuss race relations at the high school. “Racial hostility occurred on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial,” Phillips continues to claim, accusing Sandmann of including “intentional falsehoods in his testimony” of the incident.

Critics have noted that Phillips’ claims about the encounter continue to change in interviews, such as that he originally claimed to have been surrounded by the students, but after video proved he approached them, he claimed to have been intervening to stop them from harassing African-Americans (who were themselves actually members of the radical Black Hebrew Israelites sect and the aggressors). Phillips has also implied that he was in the Vietnam war, but it’s since been revealed that he never left the United States during his military service.

It has also been revealed that the day after Phillips confronted the students, he led a group of protesters in attempting to disrupt Mass at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where many March for Life-related events take place.

Reactions from political leaders

President Donald Trump has expressed his support for the Covington boys, issuing a pair of tweets declaring they “were treated unfairly with early judgments proving out to be false,” have “become symbols of Fake News and how evil it can be.” He predicted the kids “will use it for the good – maybe even to bring people together.” He has also reportedly invited the group to the White House, though when that will take place is unclear.

Various politicians have spoken out in defense of them, as well, including Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie, and even Polish Parliament member Dominik Tarczyński.

Conservative media reactions

Various prominent figures in conservative media have come to the Covington students’ defense with blistering denunciations of the mainstream media, as well as of other center-right outlets who initially joined them.

“What we know for certain at this point is that our cultural leaders are, in fact, bigots” who understand reality on the basis of stereotypes, Fox News host Tucker Carlson said Monday. “It’s not surprising, then, that when a group of pro-life Catholic kids who look like lacrosse players and live in Kentucky are accused of wrongdoing, the media don’t pause for a moment before casting judgment.”

Carlson’s Fox colleague Laura Ingraham also tore into the press and their allies, noting that the “Left isn’t used to people standing their ground.” Ingraham accused left-wing activists of acting “more like domestic terrorists.”

“Even Catholics like media darling Fr. James Martin jumped on the condemnation train,” Ingraham highlighted, while also criticizing the school, diocese, and the March for Life itself. “Perhaps most disappointing of all was when the head of the March for Life, Jeanne Mancini, rushed to virtue signal.”

Talk radio giant Rush Limbaugh spoke out as well, eviscerating the “graceful losers on our side” whose first impulse was to echo liberal condemnations.

“Maybe the people on our side that I’m talking about still do not know what liberalism is and who liberals are and what their game plan is and what their tactics are!” Limbaugh said in disbelief. “After all of these years, after all of this instruction by me, after all of this guidance, they still don’t get it? The first reaction is to assume that the people traditionally on their side are guilty, because of what? A kid smiling wearing a Trump hat?”

“The only innocent people on Saturday morning in Washington were the kids from Covington,” Limbaugh declared, saying they did nothing but “show up at a rally for life wearing their ‘Make America Great Again’ hats. They’re from a Catholic school; so they had everything going against them. They’re white, they’re teenagers, they’re wearing Trump hats, and they are Catholics. They believe in Jesus Christ.”

For that, he said, the media concluded “they are the enemy” and “they have to be destroyed.”

LifeSiteNews will continue to update this story throughout the day. Click here to read all LifeSiteNews coverage of the Covington Catholic case.