Jonathan Schroder’s documentary, The Boys In Red Hats, takes a deep, honest look at the infamous January 2019 confrontation at the Lincoln Memorial between Native American activist Nathan Phillips and Nicholas Sandmann from Covington Catholic High School. The director took a particular interest in the incident as he graduated from Covington Catholic High not so long ago before moving to New York to become a filmmaker. He has a unique perspective on Sandmann’s behavior that afternoon.
As the film started, I wondered if I was watching Steve Oldfield’s documentary, Rush To Judgment, which covered the same story. I wasn’t, as the two films wind up being very different. Rush to Judgment explored how the media essentially ruined the lives of Sandmann and a few of his fellow students. Schroeder instead asks the question, how did we get here?
“…a deep, honest look at the infamous January 2019 confrontation at the Lincoln Memorial…asks…how did we get here?“
As a quick reminder, one morning in January, we woke up to a viral video of a group of students wearing “Make America Great Again” hats obstructing the movement a Native American gentleman trying to pass by. Engrained in our brains is the image of Nathan Phillips beating a drum in the face of MAGA hat-wearing Sandmann as he looked on with a condescending smirk and yelling, “build that wall!”
The 24–hour cycle and social media went wild with Trump rage until we learned that the story we were told had happened, nowhere resembled the actual truth. Watching the entire encounter at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Schroeder did his due diligence to present the real facts of that afternoon in Washington D.C. The problem is that once the facts were presented, the controversy should have been over and done with. The Boys in Red Hats attempts to explain why we’re still talking about that incident.
The filmmaker starts by sharing his experience going to Covington Catholic High. He explains the students’ behavior as they performed a school rally as a counter-protest, not to Phillips but the small contingent of the Black Hebrew Israelites heckling the teens. He interviews a student who was there, along with a few chaperones trying to manage the situation at the time. Schroeder even investigates Phillips’ false claims that he was a Vietnam veteran and uncovered Phillips’ questionable non-profit organization that he claims to run.
"…the first step to finding common ground and enacting change."