The family of 16-year-old Covington Catholic High School student Nicholas Sandmann, having already contracted Kentucky’s largest public relations firm to help repair his image after a viral incident outside the Lincoln Memorial, on Thursday hired a Georgia attorney known for aggressive libel and slander suits against media organizations.
L. Lin Wood, nicknamed “attorney for the damned” by former CBS anchor Dan Rather, visited the Sandmann family earlier in the day, according to a news release from Sandmann family attorney Todd McMurtry.
“He is committed to bringing justice to 16-year-old Nick Sandmann and his family,” McMurtry wrote.
Wood “often (seeks) eye-popping damages for those he believes have been libeled or slandered in the press,” according to a 2011 Washington Post article about his defense of Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain. (Cain had been facing accusations of sexual harassment that derailed his campaign.)
Other notable clients include the family of JonBenet Ramsey, who were suspects in the child pageant queen’s murder, and Richard Jewell, a Centennial Olympic Park guard misidentified as having bombed his workplace in 1996.
Sandmann traveled with classmates to Washington, D.C., to participate in Saturday's March for Life. The group was filmed later that day outside the Lincoln Memorial, where bellicose members of a fringe religious movement called the Black Hebrew Israelites began insulting them as well as nearby Native American activists participating in the Indigenous Peoples March for the rights of native communities.
The students and the Black Hebrew Israelites exchanged chants. The Native American activists, among them Omaha tribe elder Nathan Phillips, entered the crowd in what Phillips described as an effort to defuse the mounting confrontation. He played a traditional drum and sang as he walked through the Covington group.
It was at this point Sandmann, wearing a "Make America Great Again" cap, was recorded smiling and standing less than a foot from Phillips' face while he continued to sing.
Sandmann wrote in a later statement that he "believed that by remaining motionless and calm, I was helping to diffuse (sic) the situation."
Phillips said he felt blocked and intimidated.
Both described the other party as seeming confrontational and the situation as frightening.
Then it was over. The two groups left. The Black Hebrew Israelites, who would later post a two-hour video of the lead-up to the encounter, remained in the space outside the memorial.
The short video clip of Sandmann and Phillips, however, had been posted to Twitter and begun a long, strange journey of viral transformation.
An apparent confrontation between a 64-year-old Native American and a smiling white boy in a red cap was an image rich with political symbolism for the Twitterati, thousands of whom quote-retweeted it with outraged messages. National news outlets picked up the story and a tearful interview with Phillips.
By Friday, a more complex understanding of the incident had emerged, aided by the Black Hebrew Israelites' long video and subsequent interviews with both Sandmann and Phillips.
Calls for some punishment of the celebrities and news organizations involved in spreading an incomplete story, which resulted in threats to Covington Catholic, to Phillips and to Sandmann personally, persisted in some corners. The White House was one of them.
If the Thursday news release was any indication, the Sandmann family may have been another.