Covington Catholic student at center of viral video gives first interview

(NBC)
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The high school student at the center of a controversy that went viral is telling his side of the story.

Nick Sandemann's classmates at Covington Catholic in Northern Kentucky returned to school Wednesday after classes were canceled Tuesday over threats.

Multiple videos emerged from a stand-off Friday, some showing a radical group known as the Black Hebrew Israelites taunting the group of Covington Catholic High School students who had just participated in a March for Life rally.

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"They started shouting a bunch of homophobic, racist, derogatory comments at us," Nick Sandman, a 16-year-old Covington Catholic Junior told NBC's Savannah Guthrie. "I heard them call us incest kids, bigots, racists, they called us f*****."

In an interview on the "Today" show, Sandmann said he and his classmates began chanting their school chants in response. Both groups claim they were the first to be taunted.

Video shows Native American Elder Nathan Phillips approach.

Phillips said his intention was to defuse what he saw as an escalating situation.

"This young feller put himself in front of me and wouldn't move. So if I took another step, I would be putting my person into his presence, into his space, and I would have touched him, and that would have been the thing that the group of people would have needed to spring on me," Phillips said.

Sandmann said he was confused about Phillips' intentions.

"I'm not sure where he wanted to go, and if he wanted to walk past me, I would have let him go," he said. "I wanted the situation to die down and I just wish he would have walked away. I knew as long as I kept my composure and didn't do anything that he might perceive as aggressive or an elevation of the conflict, that it would hopefully die."

"Why didn't you walk away?" asked Guthrie.

"Well now I wish I would have walked away," Sandmann answered.

Sandmann said his school doesn't tolerate racism, and said neither he nor any of his classmates are racists or meant any disrespect.

Phillips and others involved with the Indigenous Peoples March say they are trying to set up a meeting with the students.

Sandmann said he would like to talk with Phillips.