Red MAGA caps, OK signs, and smirks: Trolling is not an excuse for indulging wink-and-nudge bigotry
The image of a smirking MAGA-hatted Kentucky teenager has now become embedded in our national conversation, with the bright red baseball cap worn by Nick Sandmann last weekend in Washington, D.C., itself a focus of much of the conversation.
Alyssa Milano’s retweet of a meme identifying the MAGA hat as “the new white hood,” which elicited shrieks of protest from the likes of Sarah Palin and Laura Ingraham, set the tone for much of the discussion about the deeper meaning of the confrontation between the group of white boys from Covington Catholic High School and a Native American elder on the National Mall on Saturday.
Fox News’ Tucker Carlson epitomized the right-wing chorus by complaining that the students—who in fact were enrolled at an elite private institution for kids from wealthy families—had been victimized by elitist bigotry over their MAGA hats: “The problem, they’ll tell us, with Kentucky, isn’t that bad policies have hurt the people who live there. It’s that the people who live there are immoral because they’re bigots. They deserve their poverty and opioid addiction. They deserve to die young.”
Ingraham was even more wildly over-the-top, complaining that liberals “want to take away your right to wear whatever you want.”
However, as Rebecca Jennings noted at Vox, the MAGA hats have become popular with teens from suburban and urban backgrounds, especially boys going for the appeal of transgressive behavior and “humor.” That coincides (or more precisely, coalesces) with much of the alt-right’s larger appeal to an increasingly younger and mostly male crowd, often through online gaming culture.
There’s a reason the hats have come to be viewed as transgressive, in-your-face defiance of liberal “political correctness”: Over the past two years, they have become part of the uniform worn by far-right street brawlers such as the Proud Boys.