(Reuters) – A Catholic school in Kentucky has condemned a group of its students, many of whom wore "Make America Great Again" caps, after they were taped harbading a Vietnamese veteran in a video that went viral Saturday.
Students at Covington's private Catholic high school in northern Kentucky were in Washington to attend an abortion rally on Friday, when they were filmed surrounding Nathan Phillips and mocking the singing and drums of Native Americans.
One teenager in particular is seen standing in front of Phillips, looking at his face with a smile. Fellow students, many of them dressed in the slogan "MAGA" of President Donald Trump, encouraged and chanted: "Build that wall, build that wall," Phillips said.
The images were shared online by the organizers of a march of indigenous peoples that also took place on Friday.
In a joint statement, the high school and the Diocese of Covington condemned the actions of the students "specifically against Nathan Phillips and Native Americans in general."
"The matter is being investigated and we will take appropriate measures, up to and including expulsion," the statement said.
In a separate video uploaded to social media, Phillips, 64, an elder from the Nebraska Omaha tribe, wiped away his tears when describing the incident.
"I heard them say, build that wall, build that wall." These are indigenous lands, we're not supposed to have walls, "he said. "I wish I could see that energy of that young mbad of young people, put that energy into making this country, really great, help those who are hungry."
Phillips is a well-known Native American activist who was among the leaders of the Standing Rock protests in 2016-2017 against the construction of an oil pipeline in North Dakota.
He holds an annual ceremony at the Arlington National Cemetery to honor Native American veterans, according to media reports.
Phillips could not be reached for comment on Saturday.
The Democratic congresswoman of EE. UU Deb Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe of New Mexico, said on Twitter that Phillips had risked his life for his country and that the students showed "a blatant hatred, lack of respect and intolerance."
Covington Mayor Joe Meyer, a Democrat, said the "appalling" images had rightly inspired "a wave of condemnation" and that his city was now linked to "ethnic intolerance and intimidation" because of the actions of children .
"The videos that are shared across the country do NOT represent the main beliefs and values of this city," he said in a statement.
Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democratic Secretary of State of Kentucky, said the children were not the only ones to blame.
"I am addressing adults and the administration charged with teaching them, and others who are silently allowing others to promote this behavior," he said on Facebook.
Andrew Hay report; Edited by Daniel Wallis