The teenager filmed standing face-to-face with Native American elder in what looked like a tense stand-off says he was “not disrespectful” to the man and is not sorry.
Nick Sandmann was accused of insulting Nathan Phillips after he was captured in viral footage wearing a Make America Great Again cap and staring at the drummer with a broad smile on his face.
Mr Phillips told NBC he “felt threatened” after a group of students from Kentucky — some wearing the pro-Trump merchandise — surrounded him and other Native American protesters.
But Nick on Wednesday morning told the Today show: “As far as standing there, I had every right to do so.
“My position is that I was not disrespectful to Mr Phillips. I respect him. I’d like to talk to him. I mean, in hindsight I wished we could have walked away and avoided the whole thing, but I can’t say that I’m sorry for listening to him and standing there.”
The Covington Catholic High School student was attacked as racist online after the initial video emerged.
On Sunday, longer footage emerged that shows more of the Friday confrontation at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.
It shows a group of four black men who identify as Hebrew Israelites taunting the teenagers, calling them “a bunch of incest babies” and future “school shooters”.
Hebrew Israelites believe some black Americans are the descendants of an ancient Israelite tribe. In the longer video, they are seen shouting racist slurs at participants in the Indigenous Peoples Rally and other passers-by.
The men repeatedly use the n-word to refer to black teens in the group, eliciting cries from the teenagers, and call them “young Klansmen”.
Mr Phillips, an Omaha tribe elder, said he stepped in to try to defuse the tension.
As angry comments flew back and forth online, Nick’s family tried to handle the uproar by hire a PR firm and on Sunday, he released a three-page statement. “When we arrived, we noticed four African-American protesters who were also on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial,” he said in the statement published by local news outlet WKRC. “I did hear them direct derogatory insults at our school group … They called us ‘racists,’ ‘bigots,’ ‘white crackers,’ ‘faggots,’ and ‘incest ‘kids.’”
On Tuesday, he told Today host Savannah Guthrie: “I definitely felt threatened.”
When she pointed out that there were far more of the teenagers than of the Native Americans and men who mocked them, Nick added: “I certainly hope they didn’t feel threatened by us.
“I would just say that the fact remains that they initiated their comments with us, and, I mean, they provoked us into a peaceful response of school spirit.”
He argued that what many saw as his “smirk” was in fact “a smile saying that this is the best you’re going to get out of me, you won’t get any further reaction of aggression.”
Mr Phillips said some of the students were chanting “build the wall” and “Trump 2020” off camera.
“In hindsight, I wish we had just found another spot to wait for our buses”, Nick said. “But at the time, being positive seemed better than letting them slander us with all of these things.”
He said the students had chanted school songs in an attempt to drown out the Hebrew Israelites, but had not shouted insults or racial slurs.
“We’re a Catholic school, and it’s not tolerated,” he said. “They don’t tolerate racism, and none of my classmates are racist people.”
The Today show has faced a backlash on social media for having Nick on the show, with some saying the teen should not have been given a platform, and pointing to racial double standards.
But Today said pointed out they had interviewed Mr Phillips three times since the incident and planned to do so again on Thursday.
Private boys’ school Covington Catholic has also become caught up in the controversy following questions over the culture at the school.
Footage from 2012 of students dressed in black with their faces painted black was found on its YouTube page and described as blackface — although it is not clear that was the intent.
A Twitter user said he had been harassed by Covington students for being gay, and filmmaker Arlen Parsa said members of the community had referred to “an ingrained sexism problem” at the school and quoted black students who said they got bullied there.
Other Twitter users flagged a recent report of rape charges against former Covington Catholic basketball player Jacob Walter, 18, after a student was caught on video shouting, “It’s not rape if you enjoy it.”
Two Covington students told Fox & Friends on Wednesday that they are no longer allowed to wear black paint, but it was “just showing school spirit.”
Fact-checking website Snopes said the intent of the black body paint did not appear to be racist, but was a school tradition related to “black out” games, during which fans wore black to support the team.
However, at least one person on the BluegrassPreps message board made a connection with racist 19th century minstrel shows that used blackface. “That guy on the right looks like he might have been researching minstrelsy before the game,” one post read.
The school closed on Tuesday after meetings with police “to ensure the safety of our students, faculty and staff” after threats were made against the school and students over the weekend. It reopened on Wednesday with extra security.
The school and the Diocese of Covington said in a statement on Tuesday that an independent investigation was being launched. “This is a very serious matter that has already permanently altered the lives of many people. It is important for us to gather the facts that will allow us to determine what corrective actions, if any, are appropriate.”