“I still can't believe that the *black Israelites* are playing a key role in a multi-day national controversy,” Washington Post political writer Dave Weigel tweeted Monday as the various videos of whatever happened Friday on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial were dissected again and again.
“If you live in a big east coast city you've been putting in headphones and ignoring those guys your whole life,” Weigel added.
But let’s go ahead and delve into another one, especially since the Black Hebrew Israelites angle is so fascinating and, believe it or not, important to grasping the full story.
Kudos to the Washington Post, which turned to Sam Kestenbaum, a contributing editor at The Forward, to write an explainer on the group:
In the initial media churn, they were nearly missed.
But a small band of Hebrew Israelites, members of a historic but little-known American religious movement, may actually be at the center of a roiling controversy that has gripped the nation in recent days.
It began with a now-viral video clip, filmed Friday at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, in which high school students from a Catholic school in Kentucky appeared to be in a faceoff with a Native American elder, who was beating on a drum. The boys, some wearing red hats with President Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan, appeared in the clip to be mocking a man, named Nathan Phillips. The clip was widely understood as being centrally about the dangers of Trumpism, and the teens were condemned.
But a longer video soon bubbled to the surface, widening the lens. It showed how a group of half a dozen Hebrew Israelites had, in fact, been goading and preaching at both the Native Americans and high schoolers, using profanity and highly provocative language, for nearly an hour. Phillips later told journalists that he was seeking to defuse tensions between the Israelite group and the high school students by stepping in between them.
But who are these Hebrew Israelites?
From there, Kestenbaum does a nice job of explaining the group’s history. I won’t attempt to summarize here but rather point you to his full article.