(WAVE) - The most talked-about teenager in America this week shared his account of the Lincoln Memorial dustup in an exclusive interview on the TODAY Show on Wednesday.
Nick Sandmann, a 16-year-old junior at Covington Catholic High School, told Savannah Guthrie he wasn’t trying to be disrespectful, that he had every right to be where he was standing, but that in hindsight he wishes he would have walked away and avoided the confrontation.
On Friday, Sandmann and his schoolmates were in Washington, D.C., coming from the March For Life and were waiting for their buses at the Lincoln Memorial. A short video that got passed around Twitter on Saturday showed Sandmann standing face-to-face with a Native American man coming from the Indigenous Peoples March, appearing to smirk as the man beat a drum. Videos that would surface later showed another group, the Black Hebrew Israelites, verbally harassing the teen boys.
At one point, a parent chaperone allowed the boys to begin some school chants and cheers to try to drown out the insults from the Black Hebrew Israelites.
"They started shouting a bunchy of homophobic, racist, derogatory things at us," Sandmann said. "I heard them call us incest kids, bigots, racists, uh, they called us fa****s."
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The Native American man, identified as Nathan Phillips, said later that he was trying to get in between the two groups to try to defuse any further conflict. Sandmann told Guthrie what happened next.
"At first we weren't sure if he was trying to join in and drum to our chants or what he was doing," Sandmann said. "I'm not sure where he wanted to go, and if he wanted to walk past me, I would have let him go.
"In hindsight, I wish we had just found another spot to wait for our buses, but at the time, being positive seemed better than letting (the Black Hebrew Israelites) slander us with all these things," Sandmann said. "I wish we could have walked away."
Among the many accusations flying around as the story became the holiday weekend's most controversial was that some of the Covington Catholic kids were chanting "Build That Wall," a rallying cry during President Donald's Trump 2016 presidential campaign.
“I never heard anyone say, ‘Build the wall,’ and I don’t think I’ve seen that in any videos,” said Sandmann, who along with some of his schoolmates were sporting the red Make America Great Again ballcaps popular among Trump fans.
Sandmann told Guthrie he's received both hateful and supportive messages since the incident.
"People have judged me based off one expression, (but) I wasn't smirking," he said. "People have assumed that's what I (was doing), and they've gone from there to titling me and labeling me as a racist person."
Covington Catholic canceled classes Tuesday due to security threats, but school resumed on schedule Wednesday.