Nick Sandmann (Covington Catholic High School Student) — A Victim of the Tall Poppy Syndrome

The Tall Poppy Syndrome (TPS) is a metaphor envisaging a field of poppies and noting that one is taller than the rest; the tall poppy (TP) is cut down so that all are uniform. The syndrome or similar metaphors are common parlance in egalitarian societies as a mediocrity maintaining mechanism. The most common and recognizable cases involve either a defective cutter or TP. In one instance, the cutter’s envy of the TP’s stature or happiness motivates the cutting; in the other, the TP’s egregious activities prompts the cutting (deservingness). Life was once so simple as was the metaphor. The internet have made the motives for the cutting more clandestine and surreptitious.

On January 18, 2019, two different rallies occurred at the National Maul in Washington, D.C. — the Indigenous Peoples March and the March of Life. The Indigenous Peoples March was their first, spotlighted global injustices against indigenous peoples and was assembled, in part, by members of the the Indigenous Peoples Movement. Organizers hoped to build on momentum from the Dakota Access Pipeline protests of 2016–2017 which had drawn attention to concerns of indigenous peoples globally. Participants numbered around 10, 000 and marched from the Interior Department to the Lincoln Memorial.

The March of Life is part of the pro-life movement and has been held annually since 1974. Some crowds have exceeded hundreds of thousands. The 2019 speakers included Vice President Pence who also showed a video from President Trump. Thousands attended the event which included members of Covington Catholic High School, an all boy school in Northern Kentucky with an enrollment of more than 600. The high school sends students annually to the event accompanied by chaperones. It is common for some to purchase merchandise to support the cause, attestation or memories.

Movements in and of themselves are potential boiling pots for TPS. Any time there is conflict, emotions emerge and TPS may follow. These events, on the same day, had plenty of potential for conflicts. Inherent conflicts included: racism, environmentalism, feminism, religion, right to life, politics, and, of course, all things Trump. It is an excellent training ground for young people to experience the action as part of maturation, especially if supervised. If they survive with a scratch, laceration, or even broken bone, it was all in life’s lessons. It is also a place for outside groups to seek notoriety.

The Indigenous Peoples March concluded at the Lincoln Memorial. The Kentucky students made the same stop before they were to board their buses for departure. Five Black Hebrew Israelites were near the Memorial and had been directing slurs towards passersby on an equal opportunity basis. They turned their attention the Kentucky students when they arrived. Nathan Phillips, a member of the Omaha tribe and March participant, thought the two groups were reaching a crescendo and decided, along with another Native American, to intervene. With his ceremonial drum and a chat, he targeted Nicholas Sandmann, a meek looking 16 year old teenager with a MAGA-hat, and nearly got in his face. Sandmann’s friends surrounded Phillips with their own taunts neutralizing the two adults in the room.

The confrontation defused itself and the high schoolers went home. The chaperones most likely felt lucky or even victorious since fisticuffs were averted and the youngsters might have learned many lessons. There was no intervention on their part so they must have felt the situation was under control. The incident could have easily faded into oblivion as most do only to resurface as fodder at alumni reunions.

Instead, later that evening, a lady posted a one minute video of the ten minute encounter on her instagram account with a caption regarding disrespect. This video was later reposted to a Twitter account via “2020fight” with the title “This MAGA loser gleefully bothering a Native American protester at the Indigenous Peoples March” which went viral. The image and the caption became the source for numerous news stories. A follow up YouTube post supported the Twitter post. A public outcry followed with death threats to the students and school bombing threats. When full videos became available, the narrative and some public opinion changed. Sandmann was not a loser nor did he initiate the confrontation, and the March was over.

Many news outlets were sued for media malpractice. CNN has settled a lawsuit with Nick Sandmann. Other suits are still pending. Twitter took down @2020fight and declared it a fake account and that it was using a network of anonymous accounts to amplify its message. Sandmann still feels threatened.

Some might say that Phillips was the cutter but he was more of a bully — picking on 15-16 year old teenagers. His actions were rather ordinary that can be witnessed daily. He was discharged from the Marine Corps Reserve as a private for disciplinary reasons after four years of duty. In 2015, he had another run in with university students who harassed him. Two days after the March, he and other Native Americans attempted to interrupt the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception during during Mass. Most importantly, he was a leader in the Standing Rock protests in 2016 -2017 against the construction of an oil pipeline in North Dakota. He was among the last of the protesters evicted from the camps which effectively ended the protests. On January 24, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order advancing Keystone, Dakota Pipelines. Phillips may have reacted more to the hat than the bearers.

The originator of the tweet was the initiator and an indirect cutter but her tweet could have also died a quiet death since she did not have a lot of followers. The author was from Guam, indigenous, and had an allegiance for women’s and veterans’ rights. She talked with Phillips after the confrontation but not Sandmann. She may have had some anger and resentment of the hat and Sandmann. Did she edit the scene out of context or did she arrive late?

The fake account, 2020fight, became the cutter and source for more cutting down by news outlets. All occurred because of a fake site with a framed (fake) context.

Judgement of TPS victims requires all the facts about each party as well as context.

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