Young and Hungry

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."

  • whostheboss

    After seeing all of the shrill name-calling lobbed at the Black Squirrel over the last couple of days, I fully intend to patronize the establishment. In my mind, they've come off as the good guys while those cowardly calling them "insane" and "racist" on Twitter rather than engage in rational discussion of the issue are the bad guys.

  • Mike

    It doesn't sound as if he was really called to task for his remarks. What does he think about the former customers now saying they'll stop patronizing the Squirrel? How does he respond to that?

  • Phillip

    Life in DC is already overly political, and I'm always happy to let bars just be bars and stay out of the owners politics. BUT Tom chose to politicize the Black Squirrel when he as owner posted his views on illegal immigration.

    If he'd made comments about hating the Eagles or Patriots, I'd buy a beer and argue with him but he didn't. He posted a simplistic and bigoted view of immigration. I won't be spending my money to support him or his views, I'll move to one of the many other bars in AdMo.

  • whostheboss

    I'll give you simplistic (though blog posts are typically simplistic by nature), but what exactly is bigoted about pointing out that some illegal immigrants come here to engage in illegal activity? The theme of the posting seeks to remind folks that there's still a serious consequence that comes along with illegal immigration, and that we shouldn't make light of it.

    Nowhere in the blog post does the author indicate that all illegal immigrants are criminals. Quite the contrary, the posting implies that most do come here to work and enter the mainstream. It also specifically names those who come to "ply their illicit trades" as the ones who "terrorize neighborhoods." That is a bigoted thing to say?

    Seems to me the discussion should be more about the merits of such a thesis, and whether or not the actual crime numbers associated with illegal immigrants warrants such a posting. But it also seems that people have a knee-jerk reaction against expanding on the simplistic and starting a rational discussion on this topic, and prefer to instead write off opinions such as these as being "racist," "bigoted" and "insane."

  • Nick

    Tom just seems to not really understand the issue he's talking about. Just claiming that the post was "not political" doesn't make it so. By writing a post on a necessarily political issue and employing political arguments, he has entered the conversation and shouldn't be surprised the people may disagree and change their opinion of his establishment.

    The biggest problem though, is that Tom isn't just sharing his personal opinion. It's that the evidentiary claims he makes about immigrants and crime are FACTUALLY UNTRUE, and have the effect or unfairly smearing an entire group of people and driving fear and mistrust in our community.

    The truth is illegal immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than other residents and one particular crime is in no way a good indicator of national patterns.

    Moreover, Tom should ask his Latino employees whether they think that we have "good pathways to citizenship" right now.

    Tom is welcome to join the immigration debate, and hold whatever views he wants. But it would be helpful if he spent some time familiarizing himself with the realities of the situation instead of relying on his own assumptions.

  • whostheboss

    See, there's a big difference between a bigot and someone who "doesn't really understand" the issue. If only that understanding came as easily to others as it does to Nick in the above post. If someone doesn't understand an issue and is making generalizations or making overblown statements, then it should be easy to debunk. There's no need to misuse words like "racist" "bigot" and "insane."

  • Raul

    Stephen Colbert has defended undocumented immigrants (which includes those who travel here illegally as well as those who overstay visas) because they are too often scapegoated and attacked with inflammatory remarks and, well, literally attacked too.

    To point out that some people in this very broad group are criminals is completely uncalled for. Yes, that is true, but so what? If someone made remarks that African Americans still face discrimination, how would we react if Tom Knott pointed out that there are many African-American rapists and murderers? Comments of this nature are racist, inflammatory, and completely unacceptable.

  • D. Porter

    So a guy points out that illegal aliens (not 'undocumented immigrants') aren't all here picking cabbage or washing cars and he gets attacked as being some sort of bad guy? How Orwellian is that!!!! All you whiners might want to take a look at these two sites and tell us how tolerant you'd be of these border-hopping parasites if YOU were a victim:

    You clowns who constantly use the loathsome La Raza tactic of shouting "racist!" and "xenophobe!" attempting to silence those espousing the obvious had best try something else..... it isn't working anymore.

  • D Porter

    White Power!

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  • Shithole Resident

    The next time Tom Knott slips into his alter ego and skewers illegal-aliens, he might want to consider the families of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the 40-year-old member of Congress, and Christina Taylor Green, the promising nine year old student, who were (among others) shot by a deranged white guy on January 8, 2011 while exercising their constitutional right to peacefully assemble in Tucson, Arizona.
    The Giffords and Greens are hardly the only U.S. families to discover that not all white guys are here to work and eventually enter the mainstream. Too many are here to ply their illicit ideologies, take up with nut job fringe groups and live in the shadow of polite society.
    They are a menace who eat up law enforcement resources and terrorize neighborhoods. That is a reality different from the one often peddled on Capitol Hill by nut job enablers like Tom Tancredo, which is: They do the menial thinking that illegal-aliens aren’t inclined to do. The latter is an insult to millions of blue-collar illegal-aliens.

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