The Covington Catholic student seen in a viral video is suing the Washington Post for $250 million, accusing the news organization of falsely describing him as racist and an instigator of a confrontation with a Native American man at a Washington, DC, protest.
Nicholas Sandmann, 16, and his parents filed the defamation lawsuit in federal court on Tuesday, alleging in a complaint that the Post failed to verify the context of the video and, as a result, the teen has faced threats, bullying, and damage to his reputation.
"[The Post] intended to harm Nicholas because he was a white, Catholic boy wearing a MAGA hat, and consciously ignored the threats of harm that it knew would inevitably ensue, in favor of its political agenda," the complaint states.
A spokesperson for the Post told BuzzFeed News the organization was reviewing the lawsuit and planned to "mount a vigorous defense."
On Jan. 18, Sandmann and a group of teen boys wearing the pro-Trump hats had traveled to Washington, DC, for the national March for Life. Videos showed them at the Lincoln Memorial with a Native American veteran, Nathan Phillips, who was singing and playing a drum after the Indigenous Peoples March.
Videos from the scene show some of the teens chanting and making tomahawk chop gestures as Phillips moves through their crowd. One viral video tightly focuses on Phillips and Sandmann, who stands close to him and stares with a smile or smirk.
Early coverage of the protest described the teens as taunting and surrounding Phillips. He also told the Washington Post that Sandmann had blocked his path and he felt threatened by the teens, some of whom called out, "Build the wall."
Longer videos would go on to provide more context: Confrontations at the memorial were prompted by the Black Hebrew Israelites, whose members were shouting, and arguments with Native American demonstrators and tourists before the teens arrived. In a statement, Sandmann said he hoped only to diffuse the situation.
BuzzFeed News was unable to reach Phillips immediately after the video went viral. However, another attendee of the Indigenous Peoples March, Hunter Hooligan, said in an interview that Sandmann was standing in front of Phillips and for about 10 minutes, the group of teens chanted, jumped, and danced around a small group of demonstrators.
"What made me feel scared was the mob mentality of the situation," Hooligan told BuzzFeed News. "That type of tactic of instilling fear and intimidation and overpowering and outnumbering has been a consistent weapon of white supremacy against indigenous people."
This week, the Diocese of Covington, located in Kentucky, said a third-party investigator found no evidence that its students made racist or offensive statements. And the teens did not instigate the incident at the Lincoln Memorial, Bishop Roger Joseph Foys said in a statement.
In the lawsuit filed on Tuesday, Sandmann's lawyers argued that the teen was bullied and singled out by the Post's coverage, which they allege was motivated by political bias. The paper also ignored the facts and failed to investigate the origins of the viral video because of its desire to further its agenda against President Trump and beat its competition, the complaint states.
"The Post wanted to lead the charge against this child because he was a pawn in its political war against its political adversary — a war so disconnected and beyond the comprehension of Nicholas that it might as well have been science fiction," the complaint adds. "The Post must be dealt with the same way every bully is dealt with, and that is hold the bully fully accountable for its wrongdoing in a manner which effectively deters the bully from again bullying other children."
Sandmann's lawyers, who will have to prove the Post was negligent in publishing alleged false statements, suggested $250 million in damages, the amount Jeff Bezos paid for the news organization in 2013.