‘This isn’t just me: an angry bartender. This is a grieving black community…’
(Ben Sellers, Liberty Headlines) A North Carolina pizza chain faced protests from both sides of the political spectrum after a fight between a conservative LGBT group and a former bartender alleged to be an Antifa activist.
“It’s like a little microcosm of where we are in this country,” Will Bigham, owner of Charlotte-based Pizza Peel, told The Charlotte Observer.
Bigham said his popular pizzeria, which has three locations in Charlotte, was caught in the middle of the political crossfire.
Andrew Woods, 34, was fired Thursday after an online feud with the Charlotte-based group Deplorable Pride turned into an off-hours physical confrontation near one of the restaurants.
Seizing on a post from Woods’ personal Facebook profile—where he called for “brutal harm” against all white Republicans who support President Donald Trump—Deplorable Pride flooded Pizza Peel with phone calls and negative online Yelp reviews.
The group said that Woods’ extremist rhetoric, far from being an isolated incident, was part of a pattern of alarmingly violent political activism, including an effort in October to attack GOP supporters waiting in line for a Trump rally.
The FBI was called to shut down Woods’ “Stump a Naz” operation, but “since then his violent acts have got progressively worse,” Deplorable Pride founder Brian Talbert told Liberty Headlines in an email. “Mr. Woods is no victim except from his own evil hatred.”
Talbert said he initially tried to reach Bigham through a private message but chose to go public after receiving no response from the owner.
Woods claimed he also received threats targeting him as an activist and a communist, and telling him to “dig himself a shallow grave.”
Two days later, Woods—who was asked by Pizza Peel to take two days off work—posted a Facebook Live video telling his audience to meet at a location two blocks from the restaurant in what may have been another effort to ambush Republicans.
Talbert said Deplorable Pride members had planned to be at the Client and Community Center on March 16 for the MeckGOP‘s annual county convention.
After the two groups clashed, the incident prompted Pizza Peel to dismiss Woods for inciting violence, Bigham said.
Despite the fact that his violent rhetoric initiated both the online and the physical conflicts with the LGBT group, Woods claimed he was a victim of injustice due to the restaurant’s response.
“If they will do it to me, they will do it to people more vulnerable than me,” he told the Observer.
But he said he doesn’t want his old job back or any severance money.
“I’ve been fired—I know how to take a firing—that’s not the problem,” Woods told WSOCTV. “The problem is the weaponization of police against me as a person of color.”
Woods said Pizza Peel used three police officers to intimidate him at the Thursday meeting when he was fired.
CMPD records show the restaurant requested officers about 15 minutes before Woods arrived to the pre-planned meeting.
On Monday evening, in response, Woods led several dozen supporters inside the restaurant, where they chanted “Black Lives Matter” and presented a list of four demands: donations to black youth programs and food for the homeless, mandatory training for staff conducted by black women, and the display of Black Lives Matter signs at all of the group’s restaurants.
Pizza Peel rejected the “offer.”
Now, Woods vows to return with more protestors.
“This isn’t just me: an angry bartender. This is a grieving black community,” he told the Observer.
Woods and his supporters in Charlotte’s black community said the pizza restaurant’s choice to call for police showed a lack of understanding and sensitivity.
Charlotte pastor and activist Ray McKinnon said it “flirts” with the line of racism to pre-emptively call law enforcement when meeting with an employee of color.
“In their firing of Andrew and the way they did it, they took a stand,” McKinnon said. “When white folks call the cops, the cops are there to help … But for some of us in our community, we don’t always feel safe when police are there.”
For his part, Bigham said the concern for violence—based on yet another online post—was what prompted the call to police.
But facing the pressure from the protests and negative media, he noted that his business group is already reviewing its decision and may change its policy on when to call the cops.
“I want to remain open, I want to listen,” Bigham told the Observer. “What we did was what we did, based on threats—but I say let’s review that policy. If it’s not safe for everyone, yeah, we’ll change it.”
Bigham said he supports Woods’ right to free speech and says he has supported many of the causes Woods fights for, such as raising money for the refugee community in Charlotte and hiring people of color from a range of backgrounds.
“Our mission is to intentionally spread the love—and that’s love for everyone,” Bigham told the Observer, referencing the motto of his restaurant group ownership Stomp, Chomp and Roll. “Hate against hate is never gonna win.”
One thing Bigham won’t have to worry about for now is any further protest from Deplorable Pride. “The firing was satisfactory and no we do not have anymore plans for action at this time,” Talbert told Liberty Headlines.
He added: “Mr. Woods only has himself to blame for his firing.”
Dispatches from The Charlotte Observer’s Anna Douglas and Teo Armus were used to compile this report.
©2019 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.