MAGA hats simultaneously represent free speech, charged statements


The New York Post

Confrontation between Nick Sandmann and Nathan Phillips.

Isabel Gisser, Production Manager

The country is still buzzing from the Jan. 18 confrontation between Covington Catholic students and Native American elder, Nathan Phillips, at the March for Life and Indigenous Peoples March in Washington D.C. Videos show escalating tension between the Black Hebrew Israelites, who were also present at the march, and Covington Catholic students— insults are thrown, chanting begins, tension escalates. Phillips, a leader of the Indigenous Peoples March and elder of the Omaha tribe, steps in to break up the conflict. Covington Catholic student Nick Sandmann stands over Phillips, smirking. Political controversy ensues.

Were the Covington Catholic students harassing a peaceful objector, as seen by left-wing activists? Or were they defending themselves from the insults of the Hebrew Israelites, as right-wing media proposes? It’s difficult to tell from the limited coverage of the event. But while the tension, fear, and general tumult in the situation cloud the true intentions of all parties involved, one image stands out strikingly clear— the Make America Great Again hats worn by Sandmann and several of his fellow students.

While the events of Jan. 18 surely would have received press coverage regardless of what the participants were wearing, the MAGA hats are no doubt what has made the story so enormous and politically charged–they’re are an issue of their own. Once a marketing tool in Trump’s presidential campaign, the hats have become a symbol of racism, nationalism, xenophobia, and hate. They represent offensive blanket statements made about immigrants, women, indigenous people, disabled individuals, and countless other minorities. MAGA hats stand for a system that validates intolerance.

The line between free speech and hate speech has become blurred. There is nothing inherently wrong with wearing a baseball cap or expressing an opinion. Americans have the First Amendment right to free speech. But when speech and expression target an individual or community based on an aspect of identity, whether it be race, gender, religion, etc., the border is crossed into hate speech, defying the core values of this country “that all men are created equal.”

MAGA hats have crossed that border. While the Covington Catholic students expressed that they had no intent of offending other parties present in D.C. with their MAGA hats, it must be understood that any political paraphernalia, regardless of who it supports, is automatically a charged statement. Those who choose to wear their political affiliation on their sleeves must take responsibility for their actions and understand that others may be upset by their choice. While we are each entitled to our own political beliefs, we, as a community, must be considerate of one another and be conscious of the weight that an object as mundane as a hat can hold. As so aptly put by Nathan Phillips, “Let’s create space for the teaching of tolerance to happen.”