Comedy country artist Wheeler Walker Jr. has deleted both his Twitter and Instagram accounts after facing backlash for encouraging violence against a Kentucky teen seen in a recent viral video smirking in the face of a Native American elder.
On Saturday (1-19), a video went viral of students from the Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Kentucky appearing to taunt Native American elder and military veteran Nathan Phillips who was playing a native drum at the Lincoln Memorial. Some of the students had “Make America Great Again” hats on, including 16-year-old Nick Sandmann, who was the individual closest to Nathan Phillips in the viral video, appearing to smirk. Subsequently, Nick Sandmann became the subject of public ire, including from Wheeler Walker Jr.
“I know I have fans in Paris Hills, Ky.” Wheeler Walker Jr. said. “If you know this little shit, punch him in the nuts and send me the video of it and I’ll send you all my albums on vinyl, autographed.”
The tweet from Wheeler Walker Jr. and a repost on Instagram immediately went viral themselves, but also stimulated a strong backlash from people concerned that Wheeler Walker Jr. was encouraging violence against a minor. The post on Instagram was removed by the social media company after complaints, Walker Jr. claimed in a subsequent post later on Saturday, asserting that he was not backing down. However later the second Instagram post was removed, as was the original tweet. Then on Tuesday (1-22), both Wheeler Walker Jr.’s Twitter and Instagram accounts appeared to be deleted.
The viral video first incited outrage for appearing to portray the students from the Covington Catholic High School taunting the tribal elder. However more lengthy and detailed footage surfaced later that offered context to the incident, including that members of the Black Hebrew Israelites were taunting the students by calling them “white crackers,” “incest kids,” “future school shooters,” and other remarks. Though reports initially stated that members of the Covington school group also yelled racist statements and chanted “Build the wall,” there is no evidence this occurred. Instead the kids were chanting school spirit songs after they received permission from a teacher to do so.
The Covington High School students were in Washington D.C. attending a pro-life rally, and were waiting for buses to take them back to Kentucky when the incident occurred. Native American elder Nathan Phillips was part of an Indigenous People’s March happening at the Lincoln Memorial independently, and the members of the Black Hebrew Israelites were holding a separate rally at the memorial at the same time.
Since the incident, Twitter has suspended the original Twitter account that posted the edited clip from the nearly 2-hour long original video that caused the uproar. The account appeared to be part of a larger network of suspicious accounts used to stir political vitriol on both sides of the political divide. However Wheeler Walker Jr.’s accounts remained active, causing many conservative and free speech advocates to complain of a double standard. Soliciting violence against individuals is strictly against Twitter’s user policies, and other accounts have been suspended recently for similar activity.
Wheeler Walker Jr. is the alter ego of comedian Ben Hoffman, who is originally from Lexington, Kentucky. He’s regularly stirred controversy not just for his sexually explicit songs, but for lashing out at other celebrities in Twitter spats. His especially severe criticism and trolling of the Wal-Mart Yodeling Boy Mason Ramsey drew significant ire in 2018.
Right before the incident, on January 18th, Wheeler Walker posted a string of tweets saying “Fuck ____” with the Twitter handles of major country music stars following, including Jason Aldean, Keith Urban, Kelsea Ballerini, Carrie Underwood, Dan + Shay, and others. Then Walker Jr. appeared to quit country music, saying, “Country music is dead and fucking gone. Anyone who tries to make real country music in 2019 needs to have their head examined … Putin, please drop a bomb on the CMA’s and get it fucking over with already. I will not be making another country record. Waste of fucking time.”
However when country blog Whiskey Riff posted a story about Wheeler Walker Jr. quitting country music, he tweeted, “Fake news.” Since Wheeler Walker Jr. is a fictitious character, it’s hard to know where the performance art ends, and the reality begins. Fictional character or not, as a verified Twitter account, inciting violence against individuals would be against Twitter’s policies.
Saving Country Music reached out to the publicist of Wheeler Walker Jr. for a statement or clarification on the matter, but the requests were not returned.