A widely viewed video this weekend showed a man in a “Make America Great Again” hat being asked to leave a New York City bar. That much is certain. Why he was kicked out isn’t as clear.
The Trump supporter says it was because of his polarizing red hat, but the bar’s owner disputes the account: He says the man was drunk, loud and used an anti-semitic slur. Since the video was posted, people outraged by the recording have flooded his bar’s phone line with threats, some of which have been violent.
It’s not the first time the man in question, Dion Cini, has found himself at the center of a political discrimination controversy. He regularly posts videos to his personal Facebook page of him flying “Trump 2020” flags in unlikely places, hawks pro-Trump merchandise as a side business, and has a history of antagonizing those who don’t support the president.
The encounter at the bar is the latest in an ongoing culture war. Trump supporters around the country have claimed harassment and mistreatment from liberal business owners, especially where red “MAGA” hats are involved. Some Trump supporters have pushed back, even creating an app, 63red Safe, that identifies apolitical restaurants, like a “Yelp for conservatives,” according to its creator.
The recent incident began last Wednesday evening. After ordering several drinks and a plate of fish-and-chips, Dion Cini was refused further service at Jake’s Dilemma, a popular bar on Manhattan’s west side.
Cini claims it was because of his red “Make America Great Again” visor and uploaded a video he recorded with his phone of the incident to Facebook, writing, “Enough is enough!”
The video starts with Cini, not in view of the camera, saying, “he said he won’t serve me because I’ve got this hat on.” The bartender, a young man wearing a backwards green Jets hat, hits at Cini’s phone, who then says, “Don’t take my f*cking phone!”
A minute into the video, Cini asks: “You won’t serve me another beer because I’m wearing my hat?” The bartender responds, “Correct.” Cini asks the same question again, and the bartender gives him a thumbs up.
But Mitch Banchik, who owns the bar, said that Cini was actually refused service before he began shooting the video and for an entirely different reason: being disruptive and using an ethnic slur.
Banchik wasn’t in the bar when the incident happened, but spoke to several employees who were working at Jake’s Dilemma that night, including the bartender, to find out what happened. He said that calls to the staff in the wake of the incident have been so threatening and disturbing that he felt uncomfortable asking them to speak to the media.
“The problems actually started long before he put his camera on,” Banchik told CBS News in a telephone interview. Cini was being “loud and obnoxious,” he said.
The bartender asked him to “calm down” and “keep his voice down” several times before Cini began recording. Each time, Cini would briefly comply, but would then begin to raise his voice again, disrupting the other patrons at the bar and “making people uncomfortable,” Banchik said. After 30 minutes of the back and forth, Cini loudly said “McJew,” according to Banchik, based on reports from his staff. The bartender, who is both Irish and Jewish, saw that as “the final straw,” Banchik said.
“It was this real loud, racial comment and that kind of thing just doesn’t mix well with alcohol,” Banchik said. “That’s when he was asked to leave.”
But Cini refused, forcing the bar to involve security and call the police, as Cini’s video shows. At one point, Cini yells “Take my hat off? How about I take my pants off?” The frustration in getting him out of the bar is what pushed the bartender to agree with Cini that the reason was his hat, Banchik said.
“It had absolutely nothing to do with that that, the bartender had just had it with this guy and wanted him out as fast as possible by that point,” Banchik said, insisting that the only reason the bartender expressed any political views was to get Cini out quickly. Banchik added that the bartender is “totally apolitical, he couldn’t care less who’s President.”
Even though Banchik says the hat wasn’t the reason for asking Cini to leave, Jake’s Dilemma still issued the bartender a two-week suspension. And a statement from the bar on Facebook indicated the bartender did express his own political views. “We do fully acknowledge that one of our employees took it upon himself to wrongly promote his political views,” the statement said, adding that the employee had be “disciplined” and would be “retrained.”
“Jake’s Dilemma is not a place promoting any specific political ideology nor a place where we want anyone to feel unwelcome,” the statement reads.
Cini called Banchik’s account of the evening an “absolute lie,” in a call with CBS News on Monday. In a text message on Thursday, Cini didn’t specifically deny that he used the slur, but said, “I made no anti-Semitic remarks.” Cini noted he was sitting next to a Jewish man. “If I were to use a racial slur, I wouldn’t have done it in front of him.”
At a press conference in front of the bar on Wednesday, Cini, wearing his now-infamous MAGA visor, said that the bar accused him of saying the slur “because it’s a fresh topic in the media today.” On Thursday, his lawyer, Manny Alicandro, told CBS News that they planned to file a civil lawsuit against Jake’s Dilemma.
Right before the press conference began, a young African-American woman walked by said, “F*ck Trump,” to which Cini snapped back, “Say that a little louder, see what happens.”
A “part-time career” promoting Trump 2020
Cini has made a name for himself for displaying Trump 2020 garb in unlikely places and selling the items on his website. Cini brings political items inside popular, public places and displays his large-scale flags, and acknowledged that he knows he may get kicked out. In some cases — most notably— the displays have gotten Cini lifetime bans.
Cini also displays the banners at places where he knows it’s not welcome, he said. After Upper West Side residents voted to remove “Trump Plaza” from their apartment building, Cini showed up waving a 20-foot “Trump 2020” flag and laughed at a resident who was upset, asking if she “beat her children” and to “get used to it,” according to a video he posted to Facebook that received about 143,000 views with an original caption: “detached deranged and demented.”
“When someone tells me I’m not welcome to do something, expect me to do something,” Cini told CBS News.
The day of the incident, Cini shared a video of himself waving his “Trump 2020” flags at a woman’s march in Columbus Circle with the caption, “asphalt fishing for she-male zombies.” Last month, Cini shared a video of himself at an anti-Trump rally in Union Square Park waving a similar banner with the caption, “Happy Still Your President Day Soyboys! #OperationFlagDrop.”
Cini told CBS News that a “soy boy” was a person who decides to drink soy-based products rather than whole milk. That dietary decision, according to Cini, is a “catalyst” for people to judge Trump supporters before meeting them.
Selling the Trump paraphernalia he uses in his stunts has become a “part-time” career for Cini. He declined to say what his full time job was, only offering that he was a “businessman.” Cini said that after media coverage his online store typically gets an “uptick” in sales.
While Cini said that the incident at Jake’s Dilemma had nothing to do with his flag business, he said that the event had “elements that the media likes.” In the caption that accompanied the video of his getting asked to leave Jake’s Dilemma, Cini added his hashtag, #OperationFlagDrop, to the post as the video was was going viral on Monday.
The efforts have gotten the attention of the Trump administration. Last summer, President Trump’s Instagram account shared a photo of Cini’s “Trump 2020” flags in Yankee Stadium, writing, “Thank you!”
Cini described the stunts as “Operation Flag Drop’ and calls them “guerilla campaigning,” and that the events are intended to “advertise” for Trump’s reelection campaign.
“I was invited into the Trump circle, but I didn’t want to be part of the Trump organization because there’s already enough people,” he said.
The White House did not comment.
“Disgusting” twist of the situation
Banchick said that Cini “is purposefully trying to twist the situation.”
“It’s disgusting,” he said.
Meanwhile, Banchik says that since Cini posted the video the phone at Jake’s Dilemma has been ringing “nonstop” with threats, some of which have been violent. Callers have threatened to burn down the bar and beat up the employees, Banchik said.
An email to the bar’s general inbox which was shared with CBS News wrote, “I’ll be celebrating the death of you intolerant liberal pieces of s*** come down south motherf*kers y’all are going to get it in the next civil war.”
Banchik says it’s the first time anything like this has happened to the bar since he opened it 25 years ago. He’s filed police reports since the calls and emails began over the weekend, but said that none of the staff was comfortable speaking to the media because of all the threats.