President Donald Trump on Tuesday seized on a viral confrontation between Catholic high school students and Native American protesters on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial over the weekend to attack the news media.
"Nick Sandmann and the students of Covington have become symbols of Fake News and how evil it can be," Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. "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!"
Conservative news outlets have latched onto the story as evidence of media bias, after videos over the weekend showed students from the all-male Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Kentucky -- with several wearing red 'Make America Great Again' caps -- chanting and appearing to taunt a small group of Native American protesters at an Indigenous Peoples March.
The president specifically defended junior Nick Sandmann, who in one video was shown staring down protester Nathan Phillips as he chanted and banged on a ceremonial drum. Videos later surfaced that showed Phillips and the protesters walking toward the students before they were encircled, and Sandmann in a statement disputed that he ever sought confrontation with the group.
"I believed that by remaining motionless and calm, I was helping to diffuse the situation," Sandmann said, adding that he and his family have received death threats since the initial video went viral.
Trump on Monday evening tweeted about the incident, tagging Fox News host Tucker Carlson, saying the students including Sandmann were "treated unfairly with early judgements proving out to be false - smeared by media."
Trump in the past has drawn condemnation from the Native American community for his rhetoric. He regularly refers to Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren as "Pocahontas" and earlier this month tweeted that a video Warren made would have been "a smash" if she did it from Bighorn or Wounded Knee with her husband dressed in "full Indian garb."
Republican Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota invited the president to visit tribal communities, tweeting, "the Wounded Knee Massacre was one of the darkest moments in our history. It should never be used as a punchline."