Black Squirrel Owner: Undiscovered Foreign Beers, Good; Undocumented Foreign People, Bad
Black Squirrel learned this week that nothing ever really disappears. Especially polarizing rhetoric about illegal immigration.
Back in October, a blog post appeared on the Adams Morgan beer bar's website just as the Chandra Levy murder trial was in the news. The post's subject: Illegal immigrants, a population that includes the man who murdered the former intern. Emma Lazarus, it wasn't. The post begins by criticizing Stephen Colbert for making light of the issue, then delves into stronger words about illegal immigrants. The incendiary bits:
The next time Stephen Colbert slips into his alter ego and skewers the illegal-alien issue to laughs, he might want to consider the family of Chandra Levy, the 24-year-old intern who went jogging in Rock Creek Park on May 1, 2001 and was brutally murdered. [...]
The Levys are hardly the only U.S. family to discover that not all illegal aliens come here to work and eventually enter the mainstream. Too many come here to ply their illicit trades, take up with gangs and live in the shadow of polite society.
They are a menace who eat up tax dollars and terrorize neighborhoods. That is a reality different from the one often peddled on Capitol Hill in bi-partisan fashion, which is: They do the menial work that Americans no longer are inclined to do. The latter is an insult to millions of blue-collar Americans.
The post lay there, sans controversy, for months. And then, this week, the post suddenly provoked a flurry of comments on Twitter and on Wonkette, which highlighted the piece. Commenters cast Black Squirrel, heretofore known as the home of a broad array of beers, as the home of a narrow-minded variety of politics.
There's no date or author listed, but I spoke with Black Squirrel co-owner Tom Knott, who told me he wrote the piece. "It wasn't intended to be political," he says. Notwithstanding this week's online critics, Knott says it was Colbert who was the offending party. "Cracking jokes about something like that can be taken in poor taste. … Sometimes satirists get a wide berth when they're talking about stuff like that."
Knott updates the site infrequently (his last post is a few weeks old), and the content mostly leans toward posts about sports, like a recent one poking fun at Allen Iverson. He writes all the stories; co-owners Gene Sohn (who's also the chef) and Amy Bowman (who manages beer and runs the bar's Twitter feed) aren't involved. When Knott and I spoke this afternoon, he hadn't heard the recent clamor about the Levy post. At the advice of his web designer, he said, he had added an Associated Press news feed and occasionally posts about current events to help draw traffic.
"The idea [for the website] was to do topical things that people are Googling or Twittering about or whatever," he says. "The thinking was if that drives more traffic to the website, that would lead to more customers. It's to do something a little bit different than a regular website, that just lists the menu and the specials."
He certainly got the traffic. Alas, feedback has been overwhelmingly negative, with people calling the establishment "crass and racist" and espousing "rank bigotry."
Knott, for the record, says he likes the legal kind of immigrants:
"Plenty of restaurants have Latinos that work for them. We do. I don’t have problem with that. Talking about illegal immigration, that's a problem. We do have a problem. … I don't have a problem with immigration, but if someone's suffered, that's not good. I think we have good pathways to citizenship, and I have no problem with that."