Saturday I was scrolling through Twitter when I kept seeing a picture of an elderly Native American gentleman being stared down by a seemingly smug teenage boy. I wasn’t too interested at first, knowing that a lot of stuff that gets attention there is not worth minding. But what got my attention about the picture and its story was a comment from a scholar I respect greatly.
“Okay, something must be up!” I figured. He was responding to an unorthodox and annoying Catholic priest (who seems to live on Twitter), who was thumping him with the picture’s story, something along these lines: “So what about your wonderful March for Life people now?”
My friend responded, admitting the students’ behavior was horrid and inexcusable. I then watched the video to see what the deal was. I saw what at first appeared to be an elderly Native American man beating on his native drum while a teenager sporting a MAGA hat seemed to be staring him down with a smart-alecky smirk.
It made me terribly angry that a young man would seem to taunt an old man in such a way. I posted the following on my Facebook page: “These punks, especially mr stare-down smarty-pants, should be SEVERELY punished by parents, their school and then their friends. expelled would work. vile!!”
Two things were going through my mind when I posted these words. 1) I should actually restrain myself. 2) I thought about adding the caveat, “If this video represents the events fairly, then…” but I did not.
Joining the Stampede to Judgment
Of course, I was not alone. I was following the crowd of millions. Saturday and Sunday the world came crashing in on these kids and their school in a matter of hours. The school shut down its phone and website to protect itself from the deluge. The boys received death threats and parents’ addresses were posted online.
Imagine, for right or wrong, it was any of us hit by this tsunami of rabid criticism. My initial thought was the students deserved it and the school should have to clean up the mess. Then, as people dug into the story some more, it turned out that the reality of what went down on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial turned out to be the precise opposite of what had spread like wildfire. Many sources started offering good explanations of the bigger, accurate story.
The real story emerged from the alternative press, one of the finest coming from the folks over at Reason, here. This one from a liberal mom at The Atlantic is encouragingly good also. (Her son’s initial suspicion is a hopeful sign about youngsters being raised by liberal parents today.) These two (here and here) are excellent scoldings.
The boys, not the instigators, were the assaulted, and the Native-American gentleman wasn’t the victim he and others made himself out to be. He seems to not have been a truth-teller either. There had been a great deal of nasty behavior going on for some time from a great many adults on the scene, and there doesn’t seem to be any evidence in the larger footage of the skirmish that the boys did much of anything ugly to anyone.
These Boys Deserve an Apology
In fact, even though teens, it looks like they conducted themselves more kindly and restrained than the others involved. This brings me to my purpose here. I want to apologize for following the pitch-forked crowd. I made a conclusion about these boys that put them in the worst possible light.
I thought (knew!) they were punks and said so publicly. I was as wrong as I could be about that, and I am deeply sorry. Sorry to anyone who saw that on my Facebook page. Sorry to anyone it swayed to think badly about the boys. Sorry to the boys themselves, their school, and their parents.
Now, let me be clear. My Facebook audience is minuscule, so the number of folks who saw my comment was insignificant. I don’t apologize or excuse myself for how few I passed the false story to. I apologize for joining the horde, period.
I will be writing a personal letter of apology to the boys, not to further flagellate myself, but to offer something to counter the mega-tons of vitriol that came crashing down upon them. They should go on with the rest of their young lives knowing that many regret contributing to their public impugning.
They need to know that the world is indeed fairer than this, and to have faith in people doing the right thing when the whole story is gathered. They should have such letters to read as encouragement months and years from now as they continue to struggle with what went down. This will follow them a great long while.
The Factors That Influenced My Bad Judgment
It’s important to reflect upon and process why I felt what I did so strongly at the moment and my motivations in posting what I did so quickly.
First, like most of you, I’ve been very aware of the dramatic contrasts between the so-called “Women’s March” and the March for Life folks. It is undeniable whose behavior has been more civil and more adult.
So being publicly critical of my ideological opponents, I do want to be as fair as possible, which means calling out inexcusable behavior in my own tribe. To be honest, I was so eager to show balance to my more liberal and middle-of-the-road friends and readers that I did so here on insufficient evidence. Good intentions count for little when you’re wrong.
Second, the MAGA hats played a role. Even though I support many of President Trump’s policies and want to see him succeed at what he told voters he would do, I did react negatively to the kids wearing those hats.
I assumed that youth wearing such hats to the March for Life two years after the election were interested in getting in peoples’ faces. I made that assumption for no good reason in particular. What in me would assume nefarious ends for this reason, just like those suffering from congenital Trump Derangement Syndrome do? I’m not sure.
Third, “What if this situation is not what it appears?” did cross my mind. I am quite aware of the many deceptive cell-phone video snippets over the last few years that publicly tried and convicted good police officers who were actually doing their jobs responsibly and appropriately. But I didn’t include that caveat, because I didn’t think there was any way to put a shine on the pig of this incident. Obviously, I was wrong in that assumption, and thankfully so.
Let’s Not Become the Opposition
I am deeply aware of how vicious many on the left and in the mainstream media can be in sliming those they do not like. The examples are incalculable and extreme. Look at what happens to people like Jack Phillips, who stands on his Christian principles about what kinds of cakes he will make. His life and business have nearly been ruined, and it doesn’t seem to be letting up.
Then there was Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings. It didn’t seem like the Democrats and mainstream media could have ever topped what they did to Robert Bork and Justice Clarence Thomas. But my goodness, did they! It was absolutely vile blood sport.
Now, the Pences are being presented as the equivalents of Klansmen simply because the second lady took a job teaching at a Christian school that is faithfully Christian.
Although I am not a journalist, nor do I put myself out there as non-partisan, I followed and relayed a story that was not true, called into question the character of some boys I knew nothing about, and for that I am sorry. Of course, our nation would do well to slow down in our current 24-minute (yes, minute!) social media cycle and let stories flesh themselves out and become cautious observers, never taking anything at face value.
Let’s all remember this, too: The world is not going to explode if we don’t comment on everything.