This has been the year of public freakouts. From the aisles of Costco to the streets of suburbia, so-called “Karens” have been utterly unable to hold it together as they demand the world bow to their whims. Often, they’ve been caught on camera in the midst of their madness.
In some instances, Karens brought us endless entertainment with their absurdities. In others, they deployed racism to put others at risk, becoming a symbol of weaponized racism in the national reckoning with race and police brutality.
As strange as it is to lump those two categories together, that’s how vast the scope of Karens has become. So let's revisit the 25 most egregious Karen incidents of the year, in all their nonsense and horror, and hope that maybe —just maybe—we can leave “Karens” behind in 2020.
What is a Karen?
The term “Karen” is a vast umbrella that’s taken on different meanings across internet culture. It’s chiefly understood to mean an entitled, often racist, white woman who has a public meltdown that spreads like wildfire across social media. Often, these incidents seem triggered when the Karen meets an unexpected barrier to the privilege of their day-to-day life. (For example, someone tells them they can’t enter a grocery store without a mask, and they respond by throwing produce.)
Men can be Karens, too, though efforts to dub them with a similar catch-all banner like “Ken” haven’t stuck. Critics say the term "Karen" marginalizes innocent IRL Karens and sanitizes racist, abusive behavior.
25 worst Karens of 2020
On the same day that a police officer kneeled on George Floyd’s neck until he died, Amy Cooper called police on a Black man birdwatching in the Ramble in Central Park. Video of the incident showed Cooper falsely informing police over the phone that Christian Cooper (no relation) was threatening her life, potentially putting him at risk of police violence. The outcry across social media was so fierce that it sparked deep dives into Amy Cooper's background, inspired TV episodes about racial profiling, and prompted New York to classify false crime reports against protected groups as a hate crime.
Mark and Patricia McCloskey became household names. The St. Louis couple pulled guns on Black Lives Matter protesters who were passing their house on the way to protest at the mayor’s house. The couple appeared at the Republican National Convention and was an inspiration to conservatives who believe that people pushing for racial equality are a threat to America. However, as the couple became the subject of memes, their litigious history came to light. Both are facing felony weapons charges.
Not long after Amy Cooper made headlines across the country, another Karen called the police on an innocent Black man. In this incident, James Juanillo was writing “Black Lives Matter” in chalk outside of the home where he’s lived for 18 years when Lisa Alexander and her husband accused him of defacing private property, claiming to know the person who really lived there. Fortunately, the police recognized Juanillo as a long-term resident when they showed up, and it didn't become yet another story about a Black man wrongfully detained by police.
Less a truly dangerous Karen than a ridiculous one, Kidz Bop Karen thought it was a smart idea to stick her head into a random car’s window to complain about some unseen traffic incident that happened prior to filming. She was responsible for making “Kidz Bop” trend on Twitter all the way in 2020. If insisting that your kids can’t hear you call a stranger a bitch “because they’re listening to Kidz Bop” doesn’t become a staple of ironic millennial parenting for years to come, what’s even the point of the internet?
The infamous Melissa Rein Lively, aka QAnon Karen, filmed herself having a meltdown all over Target after realizing the store was selling face masks in July. But while that portion of the video went viral, it was actually part of a larger filming spree she went on throughout the day, broadcasting her outlandish QAnon theories to Instagram Live until she was ultimately arrested in her own home. Unlike most Karen stories, this one has a happy ending. The publicity helped Lively confront her mental health issues, take responsibility for her actions, and detach from QAnon. Now, she’s making videos about how to help others move away from the discredited conspiracy network.
There have been a number of Karens tormenting Starbucks baristas this year. But none went as viral as Amber Lynn Gilles, who attempted to name and shame Lenin Gutierrez just for doing his job and enforcing the company’s mask policy. Her cruelty backfired when someone started a GoFundMe to virtually tip Gutierrez, raising over $100,000. Gilles was further humiliated when the barista shared his side of the story and outed her bad behavior during the incident.
7. DMV Karen
Anna Peric first entered public consciousness as the DMV Karen, but that’s hardly her only anti-masking episode this year. First, she berated DMV employees who asked her to leave if she wouldn’t wear a mask while her embarrassed boyfriend renewed his vehicle registration. She popped back up three months later, ruining her own birthday by harassing a restaurant hostess, yelling at a cop, and yet again embarrassing her boyfriend.
Karens threw their fair share of pity parties this year, but Sheriff’s Deputy Stacy Talbert gave us one to remember. When Talbert’s Egg McMuffin took longer to make than she found acceptable, she decided it was a personal affront and that the McDonald’s employees were tampering with her food because she was in uniform. How they would have known that when she placed a mobile order was anyone’s guess, and Officer Karen was rightfully dragged for the tearful video she recorded and uploaded of her own free will.
9. Costco Karen
For every other type of Karen shamed on the internet this year, there were at least three Costco Karens. It’s hard to say why the wholesale store became such a magnet for anti-maskers and people demanding to speak to the manager in 2020, but each and every one of them was a special snowflake. If we had to choose one Costco Karen to represent them all, it's the woman who was so put off by the ultimatum to wear the mask hanging around her ear or leave the store that she plopped on the ground until managers arrived to deal with the situation.
Karens come in all nationalities, not just American. After an Australian woman was confronted for allegedly trespassing on private property with her friends, she dialed it up about a thousand notches and unleashed a verbal hell on the woman filming. Some sort of physical altercation also seemed to take place, all as the Karen’s little chihuahua yapped away in her arms.
This Karen’s real name was repeated so often by her flabbergasted hair stylist that she doesn’t even need the Karen moniker. If you’ve seen this video, you can already hear the exasperated sounds of “Robin!” echoing in your brain. Robin had a bit of a meltdown when her usual hairdresser, Sharon Spellman, told her that her new assistant would be helping with touch-ups. Despite Sharon’s patience and reassurances, Robin lost it, ultimately threatening to get violent over the non-issue before Sharon kicked her out of the salon. A lot of things simply are not worth getting worked up over, and this was one of them. Robin!
12. Cat Lovin’ Karen
Caring about your pets is a good thing, but that doesn’t mean they have to go everywhere with you. One woman in Taiwan learned this hard way when she was turned away from a public gym because she tried to bring her cat inside with her. Rather than take the kitty home and return on her own, the disgruntled woman shoved the cat off on an employee, stripped off her clothing, and started working out as if that had always been the plan. The weirdest part is that the gym apparently had similar encounters with the same woman before. Pretty sure your cat isn’t itching to use the elliptical, Karen.
13. HEB Karen
Katie Bug launched to Karen stardom after deciding to film her own breakdown after she was asked to wear a mask while shopping at Texas grocery chain HEB. Her sobbing and panicking are hard to watch—until you remember that she could simply have stopped filming herself at any moment. Instead, she opted to spout COVID conspiracy theories and make a scene until a manager indulged her selfishness just so that she would finally leave.
Not all Karens are women. One of the most prominent male Karen encounters happened at a Walmart in Alaska, and it was a scene to remember. An anti-masker faced off against employees who refused to go get yet another manager to speak to him and passionately demanded they “return to your service of Satan.” The employee’s response of “that’s cool, bye” should definitely win a "Karen confrontation" award.
15. Postmates Karen
Seeing retail employees get harassed by Karens while they’re just trying to do their jobs is always rough, but watching a delivery driver who isn’t even paid by the hour lose time to one nonsensical fool is even harder. This Karen absolutely refused to let a Black Postmates courier into her apartment building, even after someone inside buzzed him in. In fact, the Karen insisted that the person on the other side of the intercom for the building wasn’t a resident. It’s definitely one of the more exhausting Karen encounters of the year, but at least the delivery guy got a nice virtual tip after the drama.
When people at a memorial for George Floyd in Richmond, Virginia, projected a photo of him over a monument to Robert E. Lee, one white woman’s racism leaped right out. She was caught in several videos roaming around the memorial complaining about it being public property and was eventually pressured to leave after she shouted the N-word, illuminating her real problem with the memorial.
One Canadian male Karen took it upon himself to scrape up all the social distancing stickers at a drugstore in Niagara Falls. But he didn’t want to just accomplish his mission quietly before anyone noticed him; this guy wanted attention. So he became a singing Karen, making up lyrics about scraping for justice, freedom, and love. The store was evacuated, and the man was eventually escorted out by police.
18. Taser Karen
What is it with Karens who trespass while holding their dogs? This Karen apparently had some beef with her neighbor’s dog, who she claimed attacked her poodle. Her claim was disputed by the homeowners (who later shared video of the moment in question), and Karen jumped straight to some old-school racism by telling them they’re “acting like Black people” for… not rolling over and accepting her farfetched accusations? And yes, she did lower her voice when she said “Black.” Anyway, she’s the one who showed up at their front door with a taser, so she’s going right onto the list of Karens who need to mind their own business.
In ye olden days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Trader Joe’s Karen was one of the first anti-maskers to have a public freakout recorded and distributed across social media. These days, someone screaming anti-Democratic sentiments while insisting they can’t wear a mask due to breathing problems is just another day at the grocery store. But in June, it was still fairly novel. Either way, Trader Joe’s Karen’s freakout was pretty spectacular—and an omen of all the anti-mask Karens to come.
20. Road Rage Karen
Back in June, a woman allegedly cut Karlos Dillard off in traffic and called him the N-word. Rather than let her behavior stand, he followed her home and confronted her outside where she had a screeching meltdown over the whole thing. While there are some lingering questions about the situation, the woman’s reaction to being captured on camera earns her a spot in the Karen hall of infamy.
This is one of those incidents that are so strange, you have to see it to believe it. A woman in Louisiana was allegedly kicked out of a bar for biting people but wasn’t ready to go home. Rather than demand to see a manager like a regular Karen, she took running leaps at the locked door, trying to bust her way back in. She wound up busting her head open after nearly two minutes of her charging the door—and licking the glass— was captured on video. This isn’t your typical Karen situation, but since it’s basically how Karens would act in a zombie apocalypse, we’ll allow it.
22. Gelson’s Karen
It seems that every grocery chain has its own Karen. At Gelson’s in California, that was Shelley Lewis. Possibly the original anti-masker Karen, Lewis filmed herself confronting a Gelson’s worker who cheerfully denied her entry to the store without a mask. He brought the manager out to see her but didn’t let her get in the way of him doing his job, and we had the joy of watching him dance as he wiped down all the shopping carts per COVID-19 safety protocols — much to Lewis’ chagrin. It’s like Karens want to ruin employees’ lives over their own minor inconveniences.
A little old grandma eked her way onto our list over her casual racist profiling. Agustist King was just shopping when elderly Karen asked him to please wait until she left before he robbed the store. He turned his camera on and asked her to repeat what she said—and she did without shame. This is another one that’s outside of the standard Karen box, but if a manager had been within reach, she undoubtedly would have brought him or her into the super racist conversation.
It’s hard to forget the Karen who recorded herself decompressing in her car after wearing a mask for the first time. She went through a breakdown over just 45 minutes masked up, insisting she wanted to “cry because you can’t see people’s faces” and “can’t hold their babies.” It was an embarrassing condemnation of just how little fortitude some people have when asked to do something simple that could save lives.
Our final honoree of 2020 is the Karen who was unreasonably threatened by a lone man holding a Black Lives Matter sign. She called the police on him out of fear that he would “crank up the wrong people” and that she would be driving by “and have bullets shot at [her].” Blatant racism, a massive overreaction, and the firm belief that the world should always bow for her convenience make the Karen who tried to take down a one-man protest the only way to end this list.