(CN) – The Kentucky Catholic school student who was filmed staring down a Native American activist at a March for Life rally last month filed a $250 million defamation lawsuit against the Washington Post, claiming it rushed to assassinate his character.
Nicholas Sandmann and his parents Ted and Julie sued the newspaper in Covington, Kentucky, federal court on Tuesday. They are represented by attorney Todd McMurtry of Hemmer DeFrank Wessels
The 16-year-old attended the rally on Jan. 18 as part of a school trip from Covington Catholic High School.
Nicholas was filmed wearing a red “Make America Great Again” cap and a smile while standing face to face with Native American elder Nathan Phillips near the Lincoln Memorial.
According to the lawsuit, Nicholas and his classmates were taunted by “a small group of adult gentlemen who call themselves Hebrew Israelites.”
The adults allegedly called the students “future school shooters,” “incest babies” and “dirty ass crackers.”
The students responded by breaking into one of their school sports cheers, which they say attracted the attention of Phillips and other participants in that day’s Indigenous Peoples March.
“Apparently, Phillips, a phony war hero, was too intimidated by the unruly Hebrew Israelites to approach them, the true troublemakers, and instead chose to focus on a group of innocent children – a much safer endeavor for activist tactics of intimidation,” the lawsuit states.
Phillips “continued to beat his drum and sing loudly within inches of Nicholas’ face” and the boy did not move toward him, according to the complaint.
The family claims the confrontation ended when Nicholas and his classmates boarded the bus to return to Kentucky.
Over the next three days, as video of the incident went viral, the Sandmanns say the Washington Post falsely accused Nicholas of swarming Phillips, blocking his path to the Lincoln Memorial, and chanting “build that wall” and “go back to Africa.”
The Post allegedly reported that the confrontation ended “when Phillips and other activists walked away.”
Nicholas says he issued a statement “in an attempt to stem the threats of physical violence against him” and also appeared on NBC’s Today show “in the face of accusatory questioning” by Savannah Guthrie.
The Diocese of Covington hired an investigation firm to look into the incident and its report exonerated the students and showed they did not instigate the situation, according to the Sandmanns.
“The Post rushed to lead the mainstream media to assassinate Nicholas’ character and bully him,” the complaint states. “Even the Twitter platform itself jumped into the bully pulpit and was influenced by early media coverage of the Post, as demonstrated when its ‘moment’ feature falsely accused Nicholas and his classmates of ‘mocking’ Phillips.”
The defamation lawsuit is based on seven Post articles. The first article allegedly reported that Nicholas was “standing about a foot from the drummer’s face wearing a relentless smirk.”
The second article discussed the response of the diocese to the incident and said its statement “expressed regret that jeering, disrespectful students from a Catholic school had become the enduring image of the march,” according to the complaint.
A third article bore the headline “Marcher’s accost by boys in MAGA caps draws ire,” while the fourth stated that Nicholas, “shown smirking at him in the video, was blocking him from moving,” the lawsuit states.
The Sandmanns accused the Post of engaging in “McCarthyism,” a term the paper coined in the 1950s to describe political smear campaigns.
“The negligence and actual malice of the Post is demonstrated by its utter and knowing disregard for the truth available in the complete video of the January 18 incident which was available contemporaneously with the edited clip the Post chose because it appeared to support its biased narrative,” the complaint states.
The $250 million sought in damages was chose to teach the Post “a lesson it will never forget” and matches “the amount Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest person, paid in cash for the Post when his company, Nash Holdings, purchased the newspaper in 2013,” according to the lawsuit.
In addition to Kentucky attorney McMurtry, the Sandmanns are also represented by L. Lin Wood of Atlanta.
The Post did not immediately respond Wednesday to an email request for comment.