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Why the media lynched the Covington kids (and why they’ll do it again)

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No one following the news could have missed the media’s misguided hysteria over students from Covington Catholic High School allegedly surrounding and taunting an American Indian activist. However, not only was the erroneous feeding frenzy – which included incitement to violence against minors – predictable, but its repetition is inevitable.

On Saturday, a story went viral that the previous day the Covington kids, wearing MAGA hats, had left the March for Life only to barge into the Indigenous People’s March and humiliate American Indian activist Nathan Phillips by chanting, “Build that wall!” A short video segment seemed to show a young man “smirking” in Phillips’ face.

The minors were immediately denounced by leftist media outlets but also by pro-life advocates, National Review – even their own school administration and diocese.

Then more video footage came to light, and a fuller picture emerged. A YouTube video recording more than an hour before the encounter shows that Phillips approached the minors, not vice-versa. The children had chanted spirit songs from their Catholic high school in Kentucky; no footage contains any chant for a border wall.

And the kids chanted to drown out hate, not to engage in it. They had been the victims of railing racial and religious slurs hurled at them by a hate group known as the Black Hebrew Israelites. The anti-Semitic sect – which believes blacks are God’s Chosen People, a mirror image of the twisted Christian Identity movement – called the Pope a pedophile and used racial stereotypes against the Kentucky schoolchildren.

The media appear to have gotten the story precisely backwards.

Here are the reasons why the media and cultural influencers jumped to the worst possible conclusions about Catholic schoolchildren – and why it will happen again.

1. The Catholic students are losers at internationality/identity politics. Endless denunciations of the teenagers, festooned with discussion of “privilege,” reveal a vital truth: In the intersectional lexicon, Christian males from non-diverse rural areas are the bottom of the ladder. Having imbibed a steady diet of anti-Western identity politics from their undergraduate days, journalists needed no reflection to discern the heroes and villains. The story virtually wrote itself. A CNN contributor even saddled the children with the entire collective guilt of segregation:

After the story became murkier, The Washington Post published an article on “The Catholic Church’s shameful history of Native American abuses.” (If Roman Catholics are hostile to indigenous peoples, it would come as news to St. Kateri Tekakwitha.) The message was clear: Even if the Church Militant didn’t do anything to deserve punishment this time, undoubtedly the Church Triumphant had. Condemning innocent Catholics would right the scales of historical injustice.

Now most critics have belatedly acknowledged that, whatever excesses or misjudgments these teens and their chaperones may have made in their response, they did nothing that equaled the torrent of abuse and intimidation rained upon them.

But this confession will do nothing to prevent future internet lynch mobs rushing to judgment, because there is no sign the cultural elites have jettisoned the identity politics that provoked their prejudiced responses in the first place.

Culturally predisposed to look down on young, conservative Kentuckians, they merely assume they missed the mark this time. They would do well to reflect on C.S. Lewis, who warned against judging based on anything other than deserts. To condition our reaction to others on anything other than their behavior is the opposite of justice. It is doubly ironic that the story broke on a weekend when the nation honors the man who insisted people be judged “not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

2. It reflected badly on Catholic schools and Christian education in general. The Covington showdown came as the Left engaged in one of its more public spats with Catholic or private Christian education (if not a prolonged war with Catholicism and Christianity itself).

Just days earlier, the media condemned Second Lady Karen Pence for teaching at a Christian school whose sin lies in its virtue: It demands that all students and teachers believe in Jesus and model biblical morality. The New York Times described this as an institution that “bars LGBT students and teachers,” and the hashtag #ExposeChristianSchools trended.

Prior to that, the media sought to portray Brett Kavanaugh as the misogynistic product of Catholic schools suffused with patriarchy. After the Covington event, Anne Helen Petersen, a writer at BuzzFeed, explicitly linked the two on Twitter:

Catholic schools are inconvenient for statists for numerous reasons: They demonstrate the shortcomings of public schools; they teach traditional values; and if they are faithful to their Church’s teachings, they oppose socialism. With Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez elevated to the status of cultural icon, – they must be discredited – even if Catholic publications such as America publish AOC’s writings without qualification. The Covington video gave the cultural Left a chance to demean Catholic schools and the Left did not let it go to waste.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Leftists will continue to war with Christians as long as they proclaim that there is a higher law than that enforced by government, even if this is less than honest.

3. It undermined the inalienable right to life. Recognizing the innate human dignity of all life is the cornerstone of Western civilization. Cultural leftists may begin by undermining the right to property but inevitably support encroaching the right to life. From their perspective, it came as a serendipity that this occurred at the March for Life, the largest demonstration on behalf of the inalienable right to life.

Actress Alyssa Milano applied the kids’ purported prejudice to the pro-life movement as a whole:

Bigotry ruled the day – against Christians whose school taught the pillars of Western civilization and human flourishing. History shows that those who oppose Christian values and inalienable rights will use any cudgel to beat Christians, literally and figuratively. Those inculcated in intersectionality will readily repeat these poorly sourced charges. And as long as our present cultural darkness reigns, bias will blight the lives of young, innocent, non-favored people again and again.

Caveat lector.

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Rev. Ben Johnson Rev. Ben Johnson is Managing Editor of the Acton Institute's flagship journal Religion & Liberty and edits its transatlantic website.

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