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As the mother of a teen son at this year’s March for Life, a white woman raised on a Lakota reservation, and a Catholic, I followed the Covington-school conflict with heightened interest.

That first, abbreviated video of the boys on the Lincoln Memorial steps – where we’d waited as chaperones with our groups in previous Marches – deeply troubled me.

Watching the teens surround and taunt the Native drummer, childhood memories flashed, tapping my reservation-girl heartstring. Like many, I jumped to defend the peace-making elder.

But soon after my post outing the students’ seemingly intolerable behavior, I discovered a video on the Facebook timeline of the Black Hebrew Israelites – a third group involved. Their recording, which mysteriously disappeared after my viewing, detailed the hour leading up to and following the confrontation.

Alarmed, I watched the proselytizing men verbally poke and prod the boys beforehand, and Nathan Phillips, the drummer, walk into the crowd of teens during a tense moment, beating his drum while his friends, following him, told the boys, “Go back to Europe,” one even hurling f-bombs.

These new layers sharply contradicted my initial conclusion, rousing another heartstring – the one connected to my son in D.C. And as the full-on media-induced doxing of the Covington boys unraveled, including death threats, I wept.

In days following, several truths seemed plain. First, these boys are children. The adults present, presumably wiser and more mature, should have thwarted the ugly outcome, not exacerbated and provoked the situation.

Additionally, Phillips, we later learned, lied about some central details, casting a dark shadow on his halo. And the meddling Israelites group can hardly be called honorable.

Thankfully, our son came home safely, unaware of the controversy, along with the other 200-plus Fargo-Moorhead pilgrims, who returned edified, without major incident.

A few days later, though, my third connected heartstring began swirling when I read that Phillips had led a protest to the nearby basilica soon after the confrontation, apparently to disrupt Mass, a time of reprieve and worship.

And herein lies the moment where the spiritual battle comes to the fore.

Make no mistake. I will voraciously denounce flagrant unkindness toward others, no matter color or creed. We must work to lift oppression. But if our response to inequity comes from a heart of hate, it’s not of God.

Additionally, our Lord calls us to expose evil in whatever guise it takes, understanding the goal of the enemy: to destroy the church.

Sadly, the questionable antics of people like Phillips foster the very injustices they seek to eliminate. We’d be better off modeling Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi or Mother Teresa.

Not to mention the sublime example of our Lord, who looks beyond clipped recordings, soundbites, and misjudged exteriors – including red MAGA or pink cat hats – to gaze into the heart, where the truth of all our lives is held.

Maybe if we’d all started there, Covington wouldn’t have happened.

Maybe it’s not too late to try.

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Salonen, a wife and mother of five, works as a freelance writer and speaker in Fargo. Email her at, and find more of her work at Peace Garden Passage,

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