Native American Activist Nathan Phillips Lied About Being Vietnam Veteran

Zachary Stieber
By Zachary Stieber
January 24, 2019US News
Native American Activist Nathan Phillips Lied About Being Vietnam Veteran
Nathan Phillips (C), with other protesters near the main opposition camp against the Dakota Access oil pipeline near Cannon Ball, N.D., on Feb. 22, 2017. (Teray Sylvester/Reuters)

The Native American activist who got in the face of a Kentucky high school student in Washington on Jan. 18 and lied about what happened during the incident also lied about serving in the Vietnam War.

“I’m a Vietnam Vet,” Nathan Phillips said in a video published on Jan. 8, 2018.

“I served in Marine Corps 72 to 76. I got discharged May 5, 1976. I got [an] honorable discharge and one of the boxes shows peacetime or, what my box says is that I was in theater. I don’t talk much about my Vietnam times,” he added.

In another clip, he said that a family member gave him a “Vietnam colors flag” because “She wanted me to carry it around because, you know, her dad, a Vietnam vet, too, like that.”

The clips were posted on the Facebook page of the Native Youth Alliance.

It’s the first instance that Phillips is on the record describing his time in the Marines as serving in the Vietnam War. In a slew of other places, he refers to being a “Vietnam times vet” or a “Vietnam era veteran.”

Not until this week did the numerous stories describing Phillips falsely as a Vietnam vet begin to be corrected, despite some being years old. Even on Jan. 23, the Washington Post published a new article alleging that Phillips had not personally said he’d served in Vietnam.

A Marine Corps Reserve spokeswoman confirmed to the outlet that Phillips served in the Marines from June 1972 to May 1976. He did not deploy and he left the service after disciplinary issues; he served for about six months as an antitank missileman before becoming a refrigerator technician for the rest of his service.

News outlets have had to backtrack on a number of aspects of the story involving Phillips and a group of high schoolers in Washington and many have had to do with Phillips. Initially relying on his word for what happened at the scene alongside an edited video of the incident, corrections and apologies were issued en masse after full video footage of the scene was acknowledged.

sandmann and phillips
Nick Sandmann from Covington Catholic High School stands in front of Native American activist Nathan Phillips while the latter bangs a drum in his face in Washington on Jan. 18, 2019. (Kaya Taitano via Reuters)

The full video exposed a number of lies that Phillips told, including that the teenagers had surrounded him and not let him leave when it was he who approached them despite ample room to reach his supposed destination, the Lincoln Memorial, and never being surrounded by them.

The full video also did not include proof supporting his claim that the Covington Catholic High School students chanted, “Build the wall.” Instead, a member of Phillips’s group can be heard shouting at the teens to “go back to Europe” and that they “stole our lands.”

Daniel Paul Nelson, a leader in the Lakota People’s Law Project, acknowledged that the group made an error by relying on fake news stories. The group “trusted what we had seen” in previous news stories, he told the Post.

Donald Shipley, a Navy SEAL veteran who investigates people he believes are lying about their service, said in a video on Tuesday night that he had obtained Phillips’s service record.

Nathan Phillips won't meet with students
File—Nathan Phillips (C wearing glasses) and other Dakota Access Pipeline protesters march in North Dakota, on Feb. 22, 2017. (Mike McCleary/The Bismarck Tribune via AP, File)

“This is all going into that Native American guy that everybody keeps labeling as a Vietnam vet, and he is not,” Shipley said in the video. “A lot of these news outlets are using that claim of ‘Vietnam vet’ to kind of beef that story up and make it look even worse.”

The DD24, or military record, that Shipley showed described Phillips as being a refrigerator technician and going AWOL three times. Shipley noted that during an interview with Vogue in April 2018, Phillips told the outlet that he was a “recon ranger.” The position doesn’t exist in the military, according to Shipley.

While Phillips has often described his service in vague terms, he has been specific at other times. “Phillips also described coming back to the U.S. as a veteran of the Vietnam era. ‘People called me a baby killer and a hippie girl spit on me,'” reported Indian Country Today in a 2008 article.

At another point, a filmmaker raising money for a documentary about Phillips clearly said that he “was a Marine in Vietnam.” Over $6,000 was raised through the Kickstarter campaign.

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