Despite having done nothing wrong, backlash continues against Kentucky students

student+native+americanTruth matters. Or at least, it should.

There was a firestorm last weekend as attention was drawn to a group of young men from a Catholic school in Kentucky who attended the March for Life in Washington. In particular, a picture of one of the students went viral. The original narrative was that the students were chanting racist epithets and menacingly intimidating a Native American who began chanting a prayer of peace.

The viral photo is of one of the students smiling as he looks to the Native American. The student is wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat. People jumped on the story. There were commentaries and diatribes about their racism, their privilege. People looked at it as indicative of issues with toxic masculinity. Another photo went viral that contrasted this photo with segregationist photos from the Civil Rights era. People criticized religious teachings, as they were students at a Catholic high school. There were those who latched onto the fact that the young man in the photo was wearing a MAGA hat and took all of the perceived evils as being a symptom of the evils throughout republican ranks. And on, and on, and on.
It was insane.
And the story was largely based around lies.
As video evidence indicates, they were never chanting racist slogans. They were never chanting “build the wall.” In fact, the students had offensive slurs and homophobic comments shouted at them.
The man who approached the students went to the media and further added fuel to the fire. Much of what he said has been shown to be untrue.
People latched onto an untrue story.
Unfortunately, that can happen in our social media age. Sometimes we jump to conclusions. Sometimes we’re too hasty to generalize. It happens. I think we’re all guilty of it at times.
But when we do, the response must be humility. We should be apologetic for assuming falsities.
I’ve seen some people show contrition that they were too quick to generalize and had the story wrong. I appreciate that.
But I’ve also seen many people who jumped on this story continue to double down or make excuses as to why these young men should still be vilified. And that’s wrong. Because they did nothing wrong. They’ve had their names dragged through the mud for nothing. They’ve faced death threats. Their school has faced threats. Personal information of these men and their families has been put online.

Yesterday, Nick Sandmann, who is pictured in the viral photo appeared on Today. Savanah Guthrie asked Sandmann, “Do you feel, from this experience, that you owe anybody an apology? Do you see your own fault in any way?”

Fault for what?!

These are teenage young men, but the social media mob is fine with their lives turned upside down for a story that was grossly misreported.

Actress Alyssa Milano wrote a piece for the Wrap where she said:
These boys, who attend a religious school, were there on a school trip protesting against a woman’s right to reproductive freedom. Several of these boys were wearing red MAGA hats, a hat that has become synonymous with white nationalism and racism.
This is a sentiment I’ve seen on social media and from other editorial pieces. It doesn’t matter that the events were misreported. Because they were still protesting abortion (a view that half the country shares). It doesn’t matter because he had the audacity to wear a MAGA hat, which automatically makes them racists and nationalists.
Whatever the consequences and backlash that these young men face, they deserve it, is the argument.
I’ve seen pieces that essentially argue that the fact that there are those who are defending them and attempting to look at the context o the story is proof of their privilege of the injustices in the system.

They can’t win. Their crime is their opinions and wearing a red MAGA hat. Far too many people in our society are willing to see others destroyed because of what they think.

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Josh Benner is the associate pastor at Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota and has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in Minnesota.

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