COVINGTON, Ky. — Attorneys for Nicholas Sandmann, the Covington teenager who became the center of a social media controversy in January, on Tuesday announced they planned to sue the Washington Post for defamation and a "reckless disregard of the facts and truth."
Lawyer L. Lin Wood used his Twitter account to disseminate the text of the suit, which demands the publication pay $250 million — the amount Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos paid to purchase it in 2013 — in damages to Sandmann’s family for its coverage of the Jan. 18 incident. (Read the full lawsuit at the bottom of this story.)
Said incident involved an interaction among a group of Covington Catholic High School student-activists who had participated in the March for Life, a group of Native American demonstrators participating in their own Indigenous Peoples March and members of a fringe religious group known as the Black Hebrew Israelites.
The three groups encountered one another outside the Lincoln Memorial. The Black Hebrew Israelites, having spent hours shouting racist, homophobic invective at all passersby, began to insult the students while they waited for their buses. According to Sandmann, the students received chaperones’ permission to perform their school spirit chants as a positive counterpoint.
The Native American group entered at this point. Leader Nathan Phillips, who said he believed he was witnessing a confrontation that could soon escalate, waded into the crowd of Covington students while singing and playing a traditional drum.
Thence the image that became inescapable on social media: Phillips singing and playing his drum while Sandmann, wearing a red “Make America Great Again” cap, stood in front of him and smiled.
A short clip of that interaction spread explosively on Twitter alongside a narrative claiming the students — many of whom were also wearing red caps denoting support for President Donald Trump — had bullied and harassed the Native American group with chants including “Build the wall!”
The next several days became a whirlwind of confusion, correction and competing stories about who had committed what grievous error that day.
The Washington Post wasn’t the only outlet to cover the story, but it arrived early and presented coverage that aligned with the initial narrative. A Jan. 19 video clip of the interaction was titled “Teens mock and jeer Native American elder on the Mall,” and other coverage incorrectly referred to Phillips as a Vietnam War veteran based on statements by the Indigenous Peoples Movement and Lakota Law Project.
The paper would later correct its misstatements about Phillips's military service and dedicate substantial time to news coverage of the aftermath and editorial dissections of the way the widely disseminated clips used viewers' biases against them.
According to Wood’s suit, the Post's initial reporting was a deliberate effort to “advance its well-known and easily documented, biased agenda against President Donald J. Trump (‘the president’) by impugning individuals perceived to be supporters of the president.”
Furthermore, according to Wood, "The Post’s campaign to target Nicholas in furtherance of its political agenda was carried out by using its vast financial resources to enter the bully pulpit by publishing a series of false and defamatory print and online articles which effectively provided a worldwide megaphone to Phillips and other anti-Trump individuals and entities to smear a young boy who was in its view an acceptable casualty in their war against the President.”
The 38-page document contains additional allegations of a reckless disregard for the truth and a concerted campaign of bullying directed at Sandmann.
The Sandmann family hired Wood Jan. 24. A longtime specialist in libel and slander cases, the attorney is known for taking high-profile clients for whom he seeks “eye-popping damages” — according to a 2011 article by the Washington Post.
The Washington Post is reviewing a copy of the lawsuit and plans to "mount a vigorous defense," according to vice president of communications Kristine Coratti Kelly.
Read the full suit:
Sandmann's lawsuit by on Scribd