Sorry. There aren’t two sides to the Covington Catholic boys scandal.
The recent documentary “Rush to Judgment” proved that beyond a reasonable doubt. So does “The Boys in Red Hats,” which treads upon very similar ground. As we all know by now, a group of Covington Catholic teens gathered at the Lincoln Memorial as part of their March for Life visit to the nation’s capital in January 2019.
A viral video, taken wildly out of context, suggested they were harassing a Native American elder while some wore Make America Great Again hats.
Social media exploded. Our corrupt media followed suit. The lads faced death threats almost instantly.
Soon the broader context emerged. The boys had done nothing wrong save smirking at an extremely awkward confrontation they didn’t start and repeating their school’s various chants. Oh, and a group of nearby racists verbally assaulted them at length.
“The Boys in Red Hats” acknowledges all of this, but it does so about a third of the way in. What to do next?
Recruit a very small group of radical progressives to insist the boys were actually racist monsters in the grand Trump tradition, apparently.
The film’s marketing arm teased it would anger folks on both sides. They did so by pretending the story actually has two credible sides.
Director Jonathan Schroder (NatGeoTV’s “The Incredible Dr. Pol”) graduated “Cov Cath” back in the proverbial day. So he naturally followed the media maelstrom and the boys’ vindication with interest, and a camera crew.
The early sequences cover this ground, and he acknowledges how his own rage against the boys flipped 180 degrees once more videos emerged. “Red Hats” finds Schroder pulling a Michael Moore approach, inserting himself directly into the narrative.
The approach is only partially successful. Moore, for all his flaws, brings a certain charisma to his projects.
A key narrative thread finds the director attempting to interview Nick Sandmann, the literal face of the scandal, for his documentary.
We’re also treated to how the boys were treated by key figures, including Kathy Griffin, Reza Aslan, Alyssa Milano and more. They all should be ashamed of how they piled on innocent teenagers without all the facts.
The movie feels conflicted, even during these early moments. We all know what happened, and “Red Hats” rushes through the scandal without any examination as to why the media acted as it did. That’s fine, but what else is there to say about the topic?
In fact, the film stalls at the 30 minute mark, having repeated the following:
- The boys were framed
- The media behaved badly
- Social media proved even worse
- The truth eventually won the day (phew!)
But the documentary isn’t done, and the false narrative created in the early days of the scandal can’t be tossed aside. Enter the Elites – in the form of both journalists and academics willing to warp reality to their bidding.
First, we meet reporters riding to the media’s defense. Tell that to Sandmann, who is still counting the cool cash he won from CNN and The Washington Post after he settled with the news outlets for their incorrect coverage.
To the reporters featured in “Red Hats” they have little to apologize for, though. Hearing them defend the media and recite their “the truth matters” mantra in 2021 is funnier than Late Night TV.
Then we hear from a disgruntled, and woke, Cov Cath grad, a Root reporter and a few other academics who say, don’t trust your eyes. We know what happened that day. There were racist boys weaned on American white nationalism who flexed their White Privilege for all the world to see.
Yes, that’s why at least one Cov Cath student agreed to speak to “Red Hats” but only in darkness to protect him from potential violence.
The behind-the-scenes footage reveals that while Schroder viewed the events with a mostly even hand, producer/co-writer Justin Jones sounded as radical as the film’s far-left talking heads.
“Red Hats” does a fine job noting Nathan Phillips, the Native American elder at the heart of the story, is a serial liar. Schroder recalls Phillips accused the boys of chanting, “build that wall” during their confrontation but adds after watching the videos “a thousand times” he never heard any such thing.
” … but I’ll give Nathan the benefit of the doubt.”
Jones suggests Phillips is as trustworthy as Sandmann, a young man who hasn’t shared any provable lies to date.
Some segments of “Red Hats” are legitimately enraging. The director notes the Cov Cath kids caught up in the melee are still angry about the incident, visualizing their attitude with hyperbolic images of students ducking under their tables during a school bombing drill.
Forgiveness matters, but can you understand the boys for still feeling the fallout from the scandalous attacks on them?
“Red Hats” keeps the “both sides” approach for much of the film, even when it makes little sense. That’s noble on the surface, but it’s wildly inappropriate in this case. The movie feels like an attempt to keep a fictitious narrative alive at all costs.
Where have we seen that before?
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— Luke Harding (@lukeharding1968) July 15, 2021
At times, the documentary does something it clearly didn’t intend – showcasing the moral rot in both academia and modern journalism. Even worse, some of the attacks on the lads are flat-out gross, like comparisons to early 20th century white racists. Then we get to the MAGA hats worn by some Cov Cath students that fateful day.
“Like it or not, this hat has become a symbol of hate,” one legal eagle notes.
The film then brings up a few examples of white nationalist rage, like the case of racist serial killer Dylann Roof, as a cudgel against the boys and the culture at large. Jones takes over here, confronting a Cov Cath defender about these random events that have no connection to Cov Cath.
The defender squirms, knowing anything he says could get him trouble in our woke age. The film’s editing becomes nastier here, more imbalanced. It’s now clear “Red Hats” is taking sides after striving so hard to allow both sides to be heard.
Schroder also attempts to track down Phillips, and we’re treated to the machinations to help make that possible. Who cares? He’s wholly unreliable. What could we learn from him? It’s a far cry from Moore trying to interview the head of GM.
Another unnecessary thread? The director was physically attacked by a Cov Cath teacher years earlier, a subject that comes up multiple times to show the school’s power structure and privilege.
Is the film an attack on the wealthy? Covington Catholic High School? Capitalism? “Red Hats” often doesn’t know what it wants to say.
Schroder’s own views on his Cov Cath days are clearly conflicted. He’s both proud of his time at the school and ashamed of it. That theme reverberates throughout his film, a meandering mess that fights for the truth while often trying to obscure it.
HiT or Miss: “The Boys in Red Hats” is unnecessary, infuriating and a way to change a subject that shouldn’t be changed.