President-elect Joe Biden announced he will nominate a New Mexico Democrat who smeared students from Covington Catholic High School last year to lead the Department of the Interior.
Rep. Deb Haaland (D., N.M.), a freshman congresswoman and one of two Native-American women in Congress, accused the high school students of "hate" and "intolerance" in January 2019 after a selectively edited video clip of an encounter between pro-life student activists and counterprotesters in Washington, D.C., went viral.
"This Veteran put his life on the line for our country," Haaland said of Nathan Phillips, a Native-American activist who confronted the Covington Catholic students. "The students' display of blatant hate, disrespect, and intolerance is a signal of how common decency has decayed under this administration."
This Veteran put his life on the line for our country. The students’ display of blatant hate, disrespect, and intolerance is a signal of how common decency has decayed under this administration. Heartbreaking. https://t.co/NuPnYu9FP4
— Rep. Deb Haaland (@RepDebHaaland) January 19, 2019
Haaland followed up her accusations with a second tweet, saying, "A Native American Vietnam War veteran was seen being harassed and mocked by a group of MAGA hat-wearing teens."
Media reports at the time portrayed the group of high school students as harassing Phillips. Additional reports revealed, however, that Phillips approached the group of Covington Catholic students, placing himself in between the students and a group of radical Black Hebrew Israelites, who were yelling racial slurs and other insults at the students. Phillips later told media outlets that he stepped in to defend the Black Hebrew Israelites.
Also, after several media outlets referred to Phillips as a Vietnam War veteran, MilitaryTimes reported that Phillips did not serve in Vietnam.
The Biden transition team did not respond to a request for comment.
Attorneys for the families of Covington students later sued Haaland, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), CNN, and the Washington Post for defamation for their role in spreading false information about the controversy. "None of [the victims] harassed or mocked anyone, and particularly no Native American ‘war veterans,'" the students' attorneys said.
Though a judge dismissed the defamation suits against Warren and Haaland, Covington Catholic student Nick Sandmann settled out of court with both CNN and the Washington Post.
Haaland did not respond to a request for comment.