They were Catholic high school students who came to Washington on a field trip to rally at the March for Life.
He was a Native American veteran of the Vietnam War who was there to raise awareness at the Indigenous Peoples March.
They intersected on Friday in an unsettling encounter outside the Lincoln Memorial — a throng of cheering and jeering high school boys, predominantly white and wearing “Make America Great Again” gear, surrounding a Native American elder.
The episode was being investigated and the students could face punishment, up to and including expulsion, their school said in a statement on Saturday afternoon.
In video footage that was shared widely on social media, one boy, wearing the red hat that has become a signature of President Trump, stood directly in front of the elder, who stared impassively ahead while playing a ceremonial drum.
Some boys in the group wore clothing associated with Covington Catholic High School, an all-male college preparatory school in Park Hills, Ky., near Cincinnati.
“It was getting ugly, and I was thinking: ‘I’ve got to find myself an exit out of this situation and finish my song at the Lincoln Memorial,’” Mr. Phillips told The Post. “I started going that way, and that guy in the hat stood in my way and we were at an impasse. He just blocked my way and wouldn’t allow me to retreat.”
In a video by Kaya Taitano, posted to Instagram, Mr. Phillips stood outside the Lincoln Memorial and wiped his eyes. “I heard them saying ‘Build that wall! Build that wall!’” he said. “This is indigenous land. We’re not supposed to have walls here.”
Darren Thompson, an organizer for the Indigenous Peoples March, said that the all-day event on Friday, which started with a prayer outside the Bureau of Indian Affairs and ended with a rally outside the Lincoln Memorial, was meant to raise awareness about Native Americans and other indigenous groups around the world. A few thousand people attended the march to show that “we are still here and we still have issues we are raising and are concerned about,” he said.
The exchange between the students and Mr. Phillips “clearly demonstrates the validity of our concerns,” Mr. Thompson said, who added that “traditional knowledge is being ignored by those who should listen most closely.”
But in its statement, the Indigenous Peoples Movement also said that there was more to the rally at steps of the Lincoln Memorial — and the encounter with the high school students — than was shown in the videos.
“What is not being shown on the video is that the same youth and a few others became emotional because of the power, resilience and love we inherently carry in our DNA,” another organizer, Nathalie Farfan, said. “Our day on those steps ended with a round dance, while we chanted, ‘We are still here.’”
Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky’s Democratic secretary of state who graduated from a Catholic high school, said in statements on social media that she was alarmed to see the students from her state taunting and harassing Mr. Phillips.
“In spite of these horrific scenes, I refuse to shame and solely blame these children for this type of behavior,” she said. “Instead, I turn to the adults.”
She called on Covington Catholic to denounce the behavior. “Kentucky,” she said, “we are better than this.”