Elderly man bullied in Palo Alto for wearing 'MAGA' hat

New questions have arisen about how far freedom of expression extends, and when is reaction, overreaction? This, after an elderly man was bullied for wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat in Palo Alto.

So-called MAGA hats have a history of generating reactions around the country. Now, a one-time citadel of acceptance is facing a darker side after an altercation outside the Starbucks coffee shop on California Avenue.

74-year-old Victor – last name withheld – had his MAGA hat on his head Monday, when he was berated for supporting President Donald Trump.

“This woman came over and not only started screaming at me, she turned to the Starbucks audience and said, ‘Hey everybody come here! This guy's a racist! This guy hates brown people!’” said Victor, wearing a yarmulke on his head Wednesday instead of his MAGA hat.

Palo Alto resident Rebecca Mankey took to social media, posting in part, “I yelled at him about how it was not okay to hate brown people. I called him more names and told him to call the police. He wouldn’t call the police so I called him a wimp, yelling at him to get the [expletive] out of my town. I’m going to publicly shame him in town and try to get him fired.”

“It’s called Trump derangement syndrome: people acting crazy. If you can’t tell the difference between a hat that says ‘Make America Great Again’ and a Nazi helmet or a Ku Klux Klan hat, I’d say you’re deranged,” said Victor, in response to the social media posts.

Palo Alto police say Victor has not contacted them about what happened and therefore, they don’t have proof of a crime. Rebecca Mankey did contact the police department because she says she’s been receiving threats because of her social media posts. Those threats extend to the place where she used to work.

“It’s not every day that you come to work and have something like that land in your lap,” said Richard Johnston, owner of Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto.

He says Mankey was the office manager the past four years, at the guitar sales and repair shop.

Tuesday his phones were ringing with inquiries, caustic comments, and threats in reaction to the social media posts. He decided to fire Mankey, a friend since grade school. But the sacking isn’t due to the firestorm, but because her actions – publicly bullying someone because of their political beliefs – are contrary to his beliefs.

“We’ve always felt that Gryphon was the equivalent of kind of a musical town square for the community. And we welcome people of all views,” said Johnston.

Mankey’s defenders say it wasn’t her actions, but the MAGA hat that proved the ignition source for the conflict. 

“Wear that hat and be proud. You just stand up for what you believe in and I’ll stand up for what I believe in and we can still have a cup of coffee together. Right on,” said one unidentified woman who greeted Victor with a hug as they talked on California Avenue.

Others say in a land of freedom of speech and expression, even a symbol despised by some must be accepted in a place of laws and liberty.