Maga hat boy’s lawyer to sue CNN over ‘vicious attacks’

Maya Oppenheim

A lawyer representing a student who was involved in a confrontation with a Native American man has said the pupil and his family plans to sue news outlet CNN for at least $250m (£192m).

Lawyer L Lin Wood, representing Covington Catholic High School pupil Nick Sandmann, announced during an interview with Fox News that the lawsuit was being launched.

The latest litigation comes just weeks after the 16-year-old’s legal team filed a lawsuit in federal court against major US daily newspaper The Washington Post.

“CNN was probably more vicious in its direct attacks on Nicholas than The Washington Post, and CNN goes into millions of individuals’ homes,” Mr Wood told Fox News host Mark Levin.

The interview is set to air on the network on Sunday at 10pm eastern time – with Mr Wood saying he expects the lawsuit to be filed on Monday or Tuesday of next week.

“I’ve got some young, smart lawyers that are working hard as we can,” Mr Wood said. “Double-checking, and listen, when we file complaints, we’ve investigated it because we want to get it right. Maybe CNN can learn from that.”

Mr Wood said he expected the claim for compensatory damages would be higher than The Washington Post lawsuit.

The lawsuits against the two news outlets come after Mr Sandmann wore one of the president’s signature Make America Great Again (Maga) hats when he attended an anti-abortion rally in Washington in January along with classmates from his Kentucky school.

The Maga hat has become a prominent emblem of Donald Trump’s presidency – with critics of the president seeing the hats as synonymous with the administration’s perceived racism and xenophobia.

The group of teenagers had become involved in a filmed confrontation with Nathan Phillips, an elderly Native American activist.

A viral photo from the incident, showing Mr Sandmann standing face-to-face with Mr Phillips and smirking as the protester sings and plays his drum, provoked fury on social media.

Mr Phillips would later state in interviews he felt the students had been mocking him during the standoff.

However, a longer video of the incident emerged showing the teenagers had also been subject to racist abuse from another group of protesters identifying as Black Hebrew Israelites.

In the suit against The Washington Post, Mr Sandmann’s lawyers accuse the publication of reporting a false and defamatory “gist” that Mr Sandmann “assaulted and/or physically intimidated Phillips” and “instigated a confrontation with Phillips and subsequently engaged in racist conduct”.

One Washington Post story his lawyers identified as defamatory towards the high school student stated: “Surrounding him [Mr Phillips] are a throng of young, mostly white, teenage boys ... with one standing about a foot from the drummer’s face wearing a relentless smirk.”

Washington Post spokesperson Kristine Coratti Kelly said: “We are reviewing a copy of the lawsuit, and we plan to mount a vigorous defence.”

Mr Sandmann’s lawyers, Wood and Todd McMurtry, sent more than 50 letters to media organisations weeks after the altercation to inform them of a possible lawsuit.

Both The Post and CNN were among the names on the list, as were media figures such as Bill Maher, Savannah Guthrie and CNN’s Ana Cabrera.

An investigation conducted by Greater Cincinnati Investigation Inc, an agency hired by the Diocese of Covington, concluded the students had neither instigated a confrontation with Mr Phillips nor made “offensive or racist statements”.

The report acknowledged some students performed the tomahawk chop, an arm movement started by the crowds at a Florida State Seminoles American football game back in the 1980s.

Lance Soto, a local indigenous leader who lives in Covington, did not agree with the report’s conclusion. He told the Cincinnati Enquirer the tomahawk chop is linked to some professional sports teams that use racist imagery like mascots to portray indigenous people.

The Independent contacted a representative of CNN for comment.