An 18-year-old restaurant employee has described how a supporter of Donald Trump’s apparently threatened him with a gun after being told to follow his state’s order to wear face masks indoors.
Arlo Kinsey was working his usual shift at RJ’s Bob-Be-Que Shack in Mission, Kansas when an unmasked man in a Make America Great Again hat walked up to the carryout counter.
Mr Kinsey told the Kansas City Star that he asked the man to put on a mask. The man responded by saying he had an exemption to the state’s mask order – and showing Mr Kinsey his gun, holstered on his hip.
At that point, Mr Kinsey called in his manager, Bob Palmgren, who asked the man to explain the situation.
“I’m like hey, what’s going on? And he shows me his Trump hat,” said Mr Palmgren. “And I like Trump. Everybody’s got problems. But it doesn’t make a difference. You don’t have a mask on. And I’m like, your gun’s not going to kill coronavirus, now get the hell out of here.”
“I get people in here that don’t want to do it and think that we’re a small place so we won’t enforce it or something,” he said. “But if everybody gets sick, then I’m out of business. So I’ve got to enforce these rules.”
“He goes, ‘Well, I won’t be in here anymore.’ And I said, good, I don’t want you in here. And got him to leave,” Palmgren said. “People are crazy.”
Palmgren, a former Marine, said he felt threatened.
Palmgren said he’s been strictly enforcing the mask mandate, which took effect on July 3, as COVID-19 cases skyrocket in Johnson County and across the metro region. He said his restaurant — which is known for its Kansas City barbecue and was featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives — has stayed afloat during the pandemic by relying mostly on carryout.
Kansas has confirmed more than 20,000 cases of coronavirus, with 288 deaths. The state’s Democratic governor, Laura Kelly, introduced a mandate to wear masks at the start of this month, but most counties have opted out of it – including many of those with the highest number of cases and lowest rates of testing.
The political divide over masks has been growing more and more intense recently, as states facing renewed outbreaks impose stronger orders on wearing them in public spaces. Some on the right view requirements to wear them as an infringement on personal liberty.
An anti-mask protest sprung up this weekend in Florida in solidarity with a grilled cheese restaurant whose owner had said she would not require patrons to cover their faces, and that she would allow eat-in dining before the state had fully lifted its lockdown.
Meanwhile, the experience of being threatened with a firearm for asking someone to wear a mask has shaken Mr Kinsey, who reflected to the Star on the gun-toting man’s priorities.
“My first thought was, I work in customer service and this is really what’s going to happen? All we’re asking is that you wear a mask for a couple of minutes. We could have taken your order outside if you didn’t want to. But you go into an air conditioned area without a mask on, and if I tell you to wear one, you’re going to shoot me? Wow.
“I make $8.50 an hour, plus tips – for this?”