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Brian Noyes and Josephine Gilbert agreed to sit down on March 1 and talk it out. Noyes, founder of the celebrated Red Truck Bakery, and Gilbert, the leader of a loose coalition that demonstrates under the banner of All Lives Matter, wanted to reach an accord before events spun out of control in the usually restful town of Warrenton, Va.

The issue was coffee — and the weekly demonstrations on Courthouse Square in downtown Warrenton, where two groups have been trying to poke and prod the conscience of the city.

Since June 2020, not long after George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis, a handful of organizations have hosted a Black Lives Matter Vigil For Action on Saturday mornings when, for 45 minutes, dozens of people quietly hold up signs to remind locals about racial injustice and institutional racism. The demonstrations eventually led to counterprotests across the street, aimed at shutting down the vigils that All Lives Matter activists see as destructive to this conservative community in Fauquier County, a traditional Republican stronghold.

Red Truck got dragged into this drama on the last Saturday in February when a relatively new member of the ALM group entered the bakery, camera phone in hand. Jennifer Blevins Ragle asked a young employee why the shop was giving out free coffee to participants at the BLM vigil, but not others on the square. She implied Red Truck was discriminating against ALM.

“I just don’t understand giving free coffee to some people, but not others. I mean, that makes your store very political,” Ragle said to the 17-year-old employee behind the counter. “I’ll make sure it gets to the paper and everything else.”

Ragle’s video was posted on a YouTube channel called Singing Patriot, where it gained little traction. But it was also posted on a TikTok account, named crossstitch1954, where it has racked up more than 21,000 views and generated more than 800 comments, many of them calling for boycotts of Red Truck. Or worse.

“Hope this place burns to the ground,” wrote one commenter. “Close the place down! Let those black lives keep the place open. All the other lives don’t matter,” wrote another. “Someone please put a pallet of bricks in front of that store so we can protest against Red Truck Bakery,” added a third.

Negative reviews started appearing on Red Truck’s Yelp and Google pages, sometimes from people far from the streets of Warrenton. The bakery began receiving harassing phone calls, too. “Threats of damage and injury,” Noyes told The Washington Post.

One caller said, simply, “we are watching you,” Noyes said. “Picture a young girl answering the phone at a small bakery and hearing that.”

On Feb. 27, Noyes issued an apology and an explanation to try to defuse the situation. The owner wrote that he is not in the Warrenton store often — Red Truck’s headquarters are in Marshall, Va. — and that when he first encountered the BLM vigil in 2021, he saw no counterprotesters on the square. He treated the vigil participants to water and cranberry muffins. Noyes then told his staff that BLM members might occasionally wander in for water or coffee, which would be on the house.

“It started as an innocent and spur-of-the-moment neighborly gesture, but no good deed goes unpunished, I guess,” Noyes wrote. “I don’t remember an All Lives Matter group being there back then, but if they had ever asked me about this, I certainly would have given them the same consideration.”

Before Noyes posted the statement on his social channels, he sent it to Gilbert, as a courtesy. She acknowledged that she received it ahead of time and “thought it was fine,” she told The Post. They then agreed to meet for coffee at Red Truck. They had a favor to ask of each other.

After exchanging pleasantries, Gilbert asked Noyes if he would talk to the BLM demonstrators. She hoped Noyes would use his influence in the community — earned by hosting fundraisers and events, garnering national acclaim for his baked goods, even getting a shout-out from President Barack Obama — to convince the BLM group to stop their weekly gatherings.

Gilbert had already petitioned others to stop the vigils. She had addressed the Warrenton Town Council. She had expressed her concerns to the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors. She had even talked to the city’s chief of police and mayor. “I appreciate you figuring out a way to stop this indoctrination,” Gilbert told the town council on Sept. 14, 2021.

Gilbert clarified her “indoctrination” comment for The Post.

“When I say ‘indoctrination,’ what I mean by that is, normalizing this type of protest for kids that come by every Saturday morning with their parents to the farmers market,” she said. “They’re not going to change my mind or any of the people who are standing with me. They are normalizing behavior that is not right. Warrenton is not racist.”

Like the public officials in Warrenton, Noyes rejected Gilbert’s proposal. Noyes told her that he has no control over BLM demonstrators. “That’s their right to be out there, just like it’s your right,” he said to her.

Once rebuffed, Gilbert started to raise her voice. Noyes called her loud and animated. Gilbert said she’s from Sicily. “As I get passionate about this and get excited, my voice automatically goes up,” she told The Post. She said she apologized to Noyes on the spot after raising her voice.

The meeting did the exact opposite of what Noyes had hoped. He left it feeling “discouraged and realizing that there’s no way to work with these people.” His employees were worried, too, after hearing the conversation turn intense.

Noyes decided right then he would shut down Red Truck in Warrenton for the weekend, including the Saturday when demonstrators would gather again on Courthouse Square. He said he would pay the staff for those two days. (The closure would stretch into Monday and not just in Warrenton; he also closed the Marshall shop that day as he worked to hire security to ease his staff’s fears.) Noyes even moved his signature red truck, a 1954 Ford F-100 that he bought from Tommy Hilfiger, out of an abundance of caution.

Noyes thought the closures would calm things down — and demonstrators were calm that weekend — but Gilbert thought the closings were “ridiculous.”

“Why didn’t he just shut down for the two hours that we were going to be there” on the square?, Gilbert said. “This is just a game that Mr. Noyes is playing. He’s a smart man, but like I told him when I left, I’m smart too. I’m not stupid. I’m not rolling over.”

Even as the conversation turned noisy, Noyes reminded Gilbert that he still had a request. He wanted her to ask Ragle to take down the video. Not only was it stirring things up, it was putting a minor in the public eye, which was troubling to the girl’s parents and to Red Truck’s staff. Gilbert said she wouldn’t contact Ragle, that Noyes would have to do it. She said she didn’t believe in taking down the video. She wanted people to see it, as further evidence of how BLM demonstrators have divided the town, she said.

What’s more, Gilbert didn’t think Red Truck’s free coffee policy was an honest mistake or a misunderstanding, as Noyes alleges. “He got caught,” she said. “He told me he didn’t want to take sides, but he did take sides and now he got busted. And he doesn’t want the community to know he took sides.” (Noyes, incidentally, has halted the free coffee program.)

Both Red Truck employees and the minor’s mother attempted to track down Ragle, but Noyes wasn’t sure they ever made contact. Ragle’s video remains up on both YouTube and TikTok.

Ragle’s behavior has given Red Truck staff cause for concern, Noyes said. She refused to turn off her video camera, as requested by an employee, and as she exited the bakery, she bumped into a man at the front door. Ragle later contacted police and said the man, apparently a BLM demonstrator, was blocking her exit. “Our investigation revealed that that did not happen,” said Timothy Carter, Warrenton’s police chief. “It was probably just a big misunderstanding.”

Ragle has also posted more videos, including one where she appears to be on the opposite side of the street, yelling at BLM demonstrators. Another video scrolls through a recent article in the Fauquier Times, with added captions that suggest it was Noyes, not Gilbert, who raised his voice during their meeting. (Noyes denied the charge.) “Bryan [sic] Noyes,” the caption continues, “backs BLM period!!!” Cage the Elephant’s song, “Hypocrite,” plays in the background.

According to public records and one newspaper story, Ragle has had criminal charges filed against her. She was charged with violating a restraining order in 2013 and trespassing in 2014. The charges in both cases were dismissed. In 2016, the Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office arrested Ragle for assault and battery, according to the Culpeper Times. The Post could not immediately find out how the case was resolved.

The Post left a pair of voice mails to a number connected with Ragle in public records. A woman who called back did not identify herself and hung up after learning she was talking to a Post reporter. A short time later, Ragle posted another video featuring a screenshot of a 2014 news story about Red Truck. Ragle superimposed a caption over the story: “Prior Washington Post writer, sending out his goons to cover his backing of BLM.” (Noyes is a former art director for The Post.)

Ragle’s TikTok video has changed the dynamic in Warrenton, said Noyes and Carter, the police chief. It has taken an issue that was rooted in the community and spread it beyond the city’s borders. “This video on TikTok is just living a life of its own,” Noyes said. “It’s just bringing in so much. . . anger from people who don’t even know the store. It’s just reason for them to rally.”

The police chief harbors similar concerns: that someone from outside might “take action kind of in the fog of what’s going on,” Carter said. “I’m not really concerned about either one of our groups, but what I’m concerned about — what we’re always concerned about — is someone coming in and just using it as a platform to do something else.”

This weekend will be the first one, post TikTok video, when Red Truck is open and the demonstrators are back on the square. No one in Warrenton — not Noyes, not Carter, not BLM organizer Scott Christian — is sure what to expect. The dueling demonstrations have been generally peaceful, especially in recent weeks, said Carter and Christian, though the BLM leader has lately seen signs among ALM protesters about freeing the prisoners who were convicted of their actions during the Jan. 6 riots.

Gilbert said ALM has “no intention” of singling out Red Truck this weekend. “Our beef is actually with the town for not stopping what’s going on across the street,” she said.

Del. Michael J. Webert (R-Fauquier) released a statement on Thursday that said it was time for the community to put this incident behind them. The coffee, he noted, was given out in good faith. “We are a close-knit community that has no need to be angry or mistrust one another,” Webert said. “Let’s remember that we all have a stake in making our community the best it can be, and act like the neighbors we are.”

For his part, Noyes is debating just how neighborly to be on Saturday. He’s contemplating whether to bring muffins to people on both sides of the square, a kind of Red Truck peace offering. But he also wants to see how things unfold. He doesn’t want to make a wrong move. He’s already paid a price, both emotionally and financially. He figures he has lost between $15,000 to $20,000 because of the bakery closures. He’s paying out another $1,000 a day for security.

“That’s a lot of muffins,” he deadpanned.

#bakery #gave #BLM #activists #free #coffee #backlash

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