After White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to leave a Lexington, Virginia, restaurant this weekend, she stoked outrage after tweeting the name of the business, the Red Hen. This morning, Trump fanned the flames by naming the restaurant in his own tweet and criticizing its upkeep. Agree or disagree with the Red Hen owner’s decision, this is irresponsible — but not surprising.
Since the incident, the Red Hen’s Yelp page has been flooded with negative reviews, in what has become a routine event whenever there is some kind of political incident involving a restaurant. Far-right personalities like Charlie Kirk (who went on Fox News and called the owner “a backwards thinking intolerant leftist”), Dinesh D’Souza, and Jack Posobiec got in on it, and random online trolls tweeted claims like the Red Hen won’t serve “U.S. military, Executive Branch, DOD, and government employees.” Other trolls are trying to claim that there’s secret meaning in the restaurant’s street number, 666.
An unrelated restaurant with the same name, Washington, D.C.’s the Red Hen, has spent the last three days trying to explain to people on Twitter that it is not the restaurant they think it is. Which sounds really frustrating, especially when people take “unaffiliated” to mean that you are part of a chain.
It’s also scary, considering what other real-life actions like-minded individuals have taken. Trump has a tendency to ID his targets, a tactic that can provoke a deluge of harassment. You might recall a hoax called Pizzagate, in which D.C. pizzeria Comet Ping Pong was baselessly alleged to be a front for a child sex-trafficking ring. It entangled the Brooklyn pizzeria Roberta’s, where employees received death threats, and culminated in a gunman showing up at Comet Ping Pong to “investigate.”
One of the hoax’s most notable promoters was the alt-right figure Mike Cernovich, who tweeted that Sanders being booted from the restaurant “creates a dangerous Energy for all sides.” You could say the same thing about promoting a conspiracy that inspires gunmen to show up at restaurants, and using government platforms to complain on a platform that’s a breeding ground for harassment and conspiracy.