Make Westing, a popular bar in Oakland, California, has a front patio that some patrons refer to as the city’s front porch. “We have a huge crowd, and it’s everything—it’s black, it’s white, it’s old, it’s young,” says a representative of the bar, who asked not to be named. Imagine their surprise last summer when an assistant manager saw a Reddit post claiming that a local chapter of the Proud Boys would be meeting there.
The day before Make Westing’s event, African American teenager Nia Wilson was murdered by a white man at an Oakland train station, and the organizers of a march scheduled for the next day decided it would end at the bar. Suddenly, Make Westing was at the center of an upheaval: Even the mayor of Oakland tweeted a link to its original Facebook post, which reached more than 100,000 people.
On the big day, the Proud Boys didn’t show. Make Westing’s event raised thousands of dollars for Wilson’s family and various progressive causes, but the bar experienced online and voice-mail vitriol from both sides. “No matter what we did, we were wrong in a lot of people’s eyes,” the bar’s representative says.
There was barely an employee manual, let alone a policy for this situation.
It can happen the other way too: In Los Angeles last summer, a scuffle broke out in a bar one Saturday night after a Proud Boys gathering wasn’t ejected quickly enough and opponents of the group showed up en masse. The bar closed that night and Sunday. Its owner, who was not at the bar during the incident, issued a statement: “I am ultimately to blame for not having a policy in place to deal with this sort of thing that could be implemented in my absence,” he wrote. “I’ve just never had any experience with something like this before.”
With hard-right groups growing ever more bold since the 2016 election, standoffs like these won’t be going away anytime soon.
Make Westing’s representative agrees: “If you’re fighting or treating people poorly, you’re kicked out; you’re banned. But there was no specific policy on the Proud Boys.” There’s still no specific policy at Make Westing, and the representative is ambivalent about the bar being drawn into this controversy. “Hopefully it brought more good than bad, but I don’t know.”
Wardle doesn’t regret her actions. “Wearing a hate group’s shirt is a statement of hate; it was designed to provoke a reaction,” she says. “Whether or not he was a member of this group, his shirt made him one. As bartenders, our responsibility goes way beyond just putting stuff in glasses. It’s creating a space that’s inviting and safe.”
The event and its counterprotests were relatively peaceful, especially compared with the deadly Charlottesville rally of 2017; D.C. saw only one arrest. But with hard-right groups growing ever more bold since the 2016 election, standoffs like these won’t be going away anytime soon.
Proprietors, pint pullers and patrons will have to decide for themselves whether extremist groups should hide in the shadows or be exposed to the (neon, possibly smoke wreathed) light.