Clinical psychologist weighs in on Whataburger MAGA outburst video

SAN ANTONIO – A clinical psychologist says a form of scapegoating is behind both the eyebrow-raising outburst of a man caught on camera confronting teens at Whataburger and the swift Internet backlash against him.

Kino Jimenez, 30, was charged with felony theft after he was purportedly caught on camera stealing a teenager's "Make America Great Again" hat at a local Whataburger. Leaving the magistrate's office this morning, Jimenez told KSAT that, to him, the MAGA hat is like a KKK hood.

Dr. Julie Swearingen, a clinical psychologist, said the incident may be an example of redirecting frustration with the Trump administration toward a scapegoat. A theory called the "frustration aggression hypothesis" proposes that when people are frustrated in attempting to reach a goal, aggression can result, she said.

If someone were to believe the administration had done something "horrible or harmful, especially that might be harmful," it could result in anger and frustration, Swearingen said. But a person can't realistically lash out at the administration.

"So when a convenient social target arises, like a young kid wearing a hat, that triggers all of that anger, all of that emotion, that we've harbored up towards the administration," she said.

It's not an excuse for the behavior, Swearingen said, but she also cautioned against rushing to judgment. The full context surrounding the video isn't available, she said, and people use a different measuring stick for others' bad behavior than they do for their own, known as "fundamental attribution bias."

Many social media users, however, went the other way after the video was posted. Once they had identified Jimenez as the suspect, some insinuated or outright called for violence against him in online posts.

Swearingen said that's the same sort of scapegoating - just in the opposite direction.

"There just is all this pent-up emotion, and unfortunately when a convenient target makes itself available, like this kind of video where it seems so cut and dry, but again we're all subject to these kinds of biases when we're interpreting people's behavior," Swearingen said.

As for what would allow someone to blow up like that in public, Swearingen said, there may be fewer social constraints than there once were.

She also hypothesized that perhaps we as a society are evolving from being more concerned with the group as a whole toward being more concerned with individual rights, "and that to some extent, my rights out-trump your rights."

"You have a right to wear a hat, but then I have a right to say what I want and do what I want when it comes to, you know, your right to wear a hat," Swearingen said in explanation of that mindset.

Though it's clear from Jimenez's arrest that those rights don't come without consequences.

About the Author:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.