WASHINGTON — Attorneys for a Kentucky high school student who was at the center of a viral video controversy are suing the Washington Post, seeking $250 million in damages.
The law firm Hemmer DeFrank Wessels on Tuesday wrote a post on its website that said attorneys Lin Wood and Todd McMurtry have filed the lawsuit on behalf of Nicholas Sandmann against the newspaper for “compensatory and punitive damages.”
“This is only the beginning,” the law firm said.
Sandmann, a student at Covington Catholic High School, was in Washington on January 18 for the annual March for Life rally wearing a red Make American Great Again hat. In a video that gained national attention, he was in an encounter with Omaha tribe elder Nathan Phillips, who was playing a drum and chanting at the Indigenous Peoples March at the Lincoln Memorial on the same day.
Another video that surfaced days later provided additional context for the encounter, but the first video had gone viral, touching off widespread accusations of bigotry as photos of the teenager spread across social media. In the second video, a group of black men who identify as members of the Hebrew Israelites is seen taunting the students from Covington Catholic High School with disparaging language and shouting racist slurs at participants of the Indigenous Peoples Rally and other passersby.
Major news outlets, including the Washington Post, the Associated Press and CNN covered the incident and its aftermath.
The lawsuit claims that the Post “wrongfully targeted and bullied Nicholas because he was the white, Catholic student wearing a red ‘Make America Great Again’ souvenir cap on a school field trip to the January 18 March for Life in Washington, D.C.”
The complaint also accuses the Post of engaging in a “modern-day form of McCarthyism by competing with CNN and NBC, among others, to claim leadership of a mainstream and social media mob of bullies which attacked, vilified, and threatened Nicholas Sandmann, an innocent secondary school child.”
A Washington Post spokeswoman told CNN Business that the paper is “reviewing a copy of the lawsuit and we plan to mount a vigorous defense.”
Sandmann defended his actions at the time, saying he was trying to defuse the tension and denied allegations that anyone was acting out of racism.
“I was not intentionally making faces at the protestor,” Sandmann said. “I did smile at one point because I wanted him to know that I was not going to become angry, intimidated or be provoked into a larger confrontation.”