Nicholas Sandmann, the Kentucky high school student seen in a “Make America Great Again” hat during a viral confrontation with an elderly Native American protester on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial last month, is suing the Washington Post for its coverage of the incident.
The family of Sandmann filed suit against the Post on Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Covington, Ky., alleging the paper published seven “false and defamatory” articles published online or in print. They are seeking $250 million in damages, the amount that billionaire Jeff Bezos bought the paper for in 2013.
“In a span of three days in January of this year commencing on January 19, the Post engaged in a modern-day form of McCarthyism by competing with CNN and NBC, among others, to claim leadership of a mainstream and social media mob of bullies which attacked, vilified, and threatened Nicholas Sandmann, an innocent secondary school child,” their complaint reads.
They added: “The Post ignored basic journalist standards because it wanted to advance its well-known and easily documented, biased agenda against President Donald J. Trump by impugning individuals perceived to be supporters of the President.”
Lincoln Memorial history
Lincoln Memorial history
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBURARY 15: The Lincoln Memorial is seen February 15, 2016 in Washington, DC. Rubenstein announced he is giving 18 million dollars to make improvements to the Lincoln Memorial. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 1914: Lincoln Memorial Undergoes Construction as cranes lift blocks of marble atop Greek Columned Monument to the 16th President (Photo by Buyenlarge/Getty Images)
379536 10: Crowds gather outside the Lincoln Memorial for a Memorial Day dedication in 1922 in Washington DC. (Photo by National Archives/Newsmakers)
Aerial view of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC, USA, from a Zeppelin, 1928 (1933). A photograph from Zeppelin-Weltfahrten, Vom ersten Luftschiff 1899 bis zu den Fahrten des LZ127 Graf Zeppelin 1932, Dresden, 1933. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
Lincoln Memorial In Washington, DC, 1955. (Photo by Frederic Lewis/Getty Images)
380887 23: Demonstrators gather in front of the Lincoln Memorial for a civil rights rally August 28, 1963 in Washington. (Photo by National Archive/Newsmakers)
NOV 7 1963, NOV 24 1964; A plain and Practical Government Building Contrasts with the Grand Lincoln Memorial; (Photo By Lowell Georgia/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
An unidentified woman photographs the Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC, May 1971. (Photo by Joseph Klipple/Getty Images)
Four American flags on the National Mall with the Lincoln Memorial and reflecting pool visible, with a traffic circle in the foreground, at dawn, Washington DC, 1973. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - 1988/01/01: USA, Washington D.c., Lincoln Memorial. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)
146027 11: (NO NEWSWEEK - NO USNEWS) Aretha Franklin sings in front of the Lincoln Memorial January 17, 1993 in Washington, DC. Numerous musicians and performers gathered in front of the Memorial to celebrate the inauguration of President Bill Clinton. (Photo by Cynthia Johnson/Liaison)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 25: An unidentified National Park Service worker cleans the statue of Abraham Lincoln 25 October as part of the annual cleaning of the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington DC. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read JOYCE NALTCHAYAN/AFP/Getty Images)
A couple feed ducks at the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC April 10, 1999. Sunny skies and temperatures in the low sixties marked a beautiful spring day in the nation's capital. (Photo by Michael Smith)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 01: Dusk view of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C. (Photo by Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, UNITED STATES: Tourists cross the National Mall near the Lincoln Memorial 14 July 2001 in Washington, DC. The Washington DC Convention and Tourism Corp. predicts there will be about 5 million visitors during June, July and August this year, slightly fewer than last summer due to the slowing economy. About 17.7 million visitors come to the District each year; the busiest seasons are spring and fall. AFP PHOTO/TIM SLOAN (Photo credit should read TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 18: Inauguration of the 43th president of the United States Georges W. Bush in Washington, United States on January 18, 2001 - Lincoln memorial. (Photo by Pool BASSIGNAC/BUU/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
The Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting pond at sunrise in Washington DC (Photo by Visions of America/UIG via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 25: Lincoln Memorial statue by Daniel Chester French, Washington, D.C. (Photo by Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images)
Washington, UNITED STATES: A statue of former US President Abraham Lincoln looks out over the National Mall from the inside of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, 21 July 2007. Opened to the public in 1922 and designed by Henry Bacon, the memorial to America's 16th president includes carved inscriptions of Lincoln's second Inaugural Address and his Gettysburg Address, two of his most famous speeches. AFP PHOTO/SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
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Kristine Coratti Kelly, a Post spokeswoman, said the paper is reviewing the lawsuit and plans to “mount a vigorous defense.”
Sandmann, a 16-year-old junior at Covington Catholic High School, was seen facing off silently with Nathan Phillips, a 64-year-old Native American protester, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Jan. 18. Phillips was beating a drum and praying as several students made a “tomahawk chop” gesture that Native Americans consider racist. Phillips said he heard students chant “Build the wall,” although the recordings don’t support that.
The Covington students, who were in Washington for the anti-abortion March for Life, were waiting for a bus outside the Lincoln Memorial when they were heckled by a different group of protesters identifying themselves as Hebrew Israelites, an African-American religious sect.
The students responded by chanting school fight songs when Phillips and a group of Native American protesters, who were at the end of the Indigenous Peoples March, approached.
“It was getting ugly, and I was thinking: I’ve got to find myself an exit out of this situation and finish my song at the Lincoln Memorial,” Phillips told the Post. “I started going that way, and that guy in the hat stood in my way, and we were at an impasse. He just blocked my way.”
The video of their brief encounter sparked a firestorm online. The frame that went viral showed Sandmann with an expression that was widely described as a smirk. Sandmann insisted he wasn’t smirking and that he was trying to defuse the situation with a smile.
Sandmann also said he meant no disrespect to Phillips. But his lawsuit calls Phillips “a phony war hero [who] was too intimidated by the unruly Hebrew Israelites to approach them, the true troublemakers, and instead chose to focus on a group of innocent children.”
“Nick Sandmann and the students of Covington have become symbols of Fake News and how evil it can be,” Trump tweeted four days after the incident. “They have captivated the attention of the world, and I know they will use it for the good — maybe even to bring people together. It started off unpleasant, but can end in a dream!”