COVINGTON, Ky. (CN) – Several Kentucky Catholic school students involved in last year’s videotaped confrontation with a Native American elder at the Lincoln Memorial filed a defamation lawsuit Tuesday against New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman and others, claiming their tweets about the incident sparked harassment and threats.
The complaint, filed in Kenton County Circuit Court, comes on the heels of a confidential settlement between Nick Sandmann – the Covington Catholic student at the center of the controversy – and CNN, which was announced last month.
Sandmann was one of several students wearing President Donald Trump-affiliated MAGA hats at the time of his viral standoff with Native American leader Nathan Phillips, but is not a party to Tuesday’s lawsuit.
The complaint was instead filed by 12 other students, five of which are minors being represented by their parents. They claim tweets sent in the aftermath of the confrontation with Phillips were defamatory.
The students attended the annual March for Life event in Washington D.C., in January 2019 and were waiting for buses near the Lincoln Memorial when they were approached by Native American elder Phillips and a group of protesters.
“Images of the plaintiffs and the Lincoln Memorial incident, often highly selective and misleading, were disseminated world-wide, including through media broadcasts and publications, social media interchanges, and other internet communications, igniting a profound and power controversy,” the 15-page lawsuit states.
The students and their parents seek compensatory and punitive damages for claims of defamation, civil harassment, civil threatening, civil menacing, and invasion of privacy.
They are represented by Kent Seifried of the Fort Mitchell, Kentucky firm Poston, Seifried and Schloemer. Seifried did not immediately respond Tuesday to a request for comment.
The suit mentions tweets published by all nine of the defendants, including Haberman, who tweeted, “There are dozens of students laughing and egging on the behavior surrounding Nathan Phillips. Will be interesting to see if anyone is actually expelled, as officials suggest is possible.”
Iranian-American writer Reza Aslan is also named as a defendant, in particular for a tweet allegedly aimed at Sandmann: “Honest question. Have you ever seen a more punchable face than this kid’s?”
According to the complaint, several of the defendants retweeted articles that included false claims the students chanted “build the wall” and “it’s not rape if you enjoy it,” and also harassed Phillips and other protesters.
The suit says the journalists, writers and activists “omitted the true facts” from their tweets and “engaged in a course of conduct which harassed, threatened, menaced, intimidated, alarmed, and seriously annoyed the plaintiffs.”
Political commentator Ana Navarro, another defendant, allegedly sent this tweet the day after the incident: “Must Watch: Native-American elder taunted by racist MAGA-hat wearing teens, speaks and cries for America, the country he defended and sacrificed and wore the uniform for. It is people like Nathan Phillips who make America great. Thank you for dignity, sir.”
Although he served in the Marine Corps Reserve, Phillips was never deployed to Vietnam, as he initially claimed and was first reported, and ultimately left the military after a series of disciplinary issues.
Historian and writer Kevin Kruse, who currently has more than 380,000 followers on Twitter, was also named as a defendant, in particular for the following tweet: “No, the accusation was that this kid and his friends mocked an elderly Native American war veteran and, hey, they did. They also taunted women and shouted ‘it’s not rape if you enjoy it’ but sure, they’re the real victims. According to his PR firm anyway.”
The other defendants named in the suit include civil rights activist Shaun King, political commentator Matthew Dowd, Mother Jones editor-in-chief Clara Jeffery, Kentucky businessman Adam Edelen and writer Jodi Jacobson.
None of the defendants could be reached for comment.