Since I’ve already written about the Covington Catholic students and the by-now infamous and thoroughly exhausted viral video, I was hesitant to jump back into the fray. But the latest reactions to this incident at the Lincoln Memorial—in particular, the debates over victimhood and charges of “anti-Catholicism”—are worth exploring, since they underscore the flaws in how we frame discussions of religion, race, and identity.
After a longer video segment showed the predominately white school group facing prolonged taunting from a few black men affiliated with a fringe group called the Hebrew Israelites, everyone from Catholic bishops to prominent political commentators are now arguing that the original narrative of entitled white teens harassing a Native American elder was fundamentally inaccurate. The students, according to the new takeaway, are actually the victims here; the real bullies are the PC mobs! Bishop Roger Foys of Covington, Kentucky, after an original statement in which he apologized to Nathan Phillips and condemned the students’ behavior as incompatible with Catholic values, reversed course. “We should not have allowed ourselves to be bullied and pressured into making a statement prematurely, and we take full responsibility for it,” the bishop wrote in a letter to his diocese. You can almost hear beleaguered white Catholics sighing in relief, now that the burden of examining this incident within a broader context of history and uncomfortable contemporary realities has been lifted.
In a New York magazine piece revealingly entitled “The Abyss of Hate Versus Hate,” Andrew Sullivan blends eloquent indignation with staggering false equivalency.
What I saw was extraordinary bigotry, threats of violence, hideous misogyny, disgusting racism, foul homophobia, and anti-Catholicism—not by the demonized schoolboys, but by grown men with a bullhorn, a small group of self-styled Black Hebrew Israelites... They scream abuse at gays, women, white people, Jews, interracial couples, in the crudest of language. In their public display of bigotry, they’re at the same level as the Westboro Baptist sect: shockingly obscene. They were the instigators of the entire affair. And yet the elite media seemed eager to downplay their role, referring to them only in passing, noting briefly that they were known to be anti-Semitic and anti-gay.
Sullivan is accurate in his description of the rhetoric hurled at the Catholic students, and at others who engaged with a group specializing in provocation that most tourists have enough sense to ignore. News coverage and most progressive commentators quickly glided over or even left out the black Hebrew Israelites’ role in this incident. As I argued in my piece last week, liberals (including me) were too quick to pile on. Social media only exacerbates a disturbing trend toward self-affirming echo chambers that reward hot takes over sober reflection.
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