Atwater bar the Griffin was closed last night after a heated confrontation on Saturday between patrons — including a group wearing M.A.G.A. hats and black and gold Fred Perry shirts identifying them as members of the Proud Boys. Opposing contingents including representatives of the Los Angeles Democratic Socialists of America and the anti-gentrification alliance Defend North East Los Angeles reportedly came specifically to protest their presence. Police were called but no arrests or physical violence occurred.
Though the Griffin put out a statement on Facebook after Defend NELA and LADSA's video of the confrontations went viral, it seems the bar only made things worse when it said its tactic for handling such groups who get inside is to “kill them with kindness” until they leave. The Griffin adamantly proclaims that it is anti-Nazi and anti–white supremacist and said that any staff members who don't feel the same “will be dealt with.” But the damage has been done and many have been calling for a boycott of the bar since the
L.A. Weekly contacted the Griffin via Facebook this morning asking how the Proud Boys were allowed inside in the first place and what the bar's management plans to do to make sure it never happens again. We received the following statement in reply from owner Aaron Mark Chepenik:
We're developing a policy that our staff can implement at the front door. The business community should collectively be on alert now because what happened to us can happen everywhere, without warning. On Saturday night we were blindsided. We will never be blindsided again. This week we will be holding a benefit with all proceeds going to local community groups. The Griffin is about love, not hate.
The Proud Boys, created by Gavin McInnes (founder of Vice but no longer with the media company), are self-proclaimed "western chauvinists," but they do not identify themselves as racists or alt-right. Still, perusing their social media and the accounts of some members paints a decidedly different picture. Lately, the all-male group (who don Perry polos seemingly in an attempt to reference the retro skinhead look) appear emboldened to convene and be seen in their signature garb at popular L.A. locales. As reported by L.A. Taco, they met up at the Highland Park Brewery in Chinatown last month, though no altercations occurred and no calls to police were reported.
This isn't the first time such a group has sought to infiltrate a beloved Los Angeles hangout. Though not reported on by local media at the time, L.A. Weekly has learned that a meet-up for the American Freedom Party (AFP) was held at the landmark Taix in Echo Park, just before Trump's election. Local activist Michelle Carr (also known as the proprietress of Jabberjaw, the iconic '90s coffeehouse/punk music venue on Pico Boulevard in Arlington Heights) learned of the gathering in one of Taix's banquet rooms via The Guardian, which mentioned AFP's meeting spot in a story about the organization.
“I was so enraged on my walk home from work, I marched right into Taix and asked to speak to the manager about it,” Carr tells L.A. Weekly. “I was passionate so the hostess was a bit rattled. … I dialed it back and showed them the article on my phone and asked them if they had any knowledge of this.
“They said that they had started getting phone calls that day about it and were mortified,” Carr continues. “I asked them how they could allow this to happen and they said that the group had reserved a banquet room, that they didn't know what the group's affiliation was as they do not ask parties such questions, of course. It's not like the AFP would straight up tell them that they were a white supremacist group, either.”
Carr reminded Taix that she’d been coming to the restaurant for close to 30 years and said they would lose her and a lot of their customers if they allowed groups such as AFP to meet there. “[I told them] this place is special and it is like a second home to us and we will not stand for this,” she recalls. Both the manager and the hostess at the French restaurant and bar assured Carr that they would never knowingly host such a group, and they have not done so since.
“AFP's decision to meet at Taix felt purposeful. It felt like a definite infiltration because Taix is known for its very diverse, left-leaning crowd,” Carr says. “Taix's customer base is like L.A. in a microcosm in a way, so it feels like a definite affront.”
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The same can be said for the Griffin and Chinatown Brewery Proud Boy meetups. They were not simply dudes out for a drink who may have different politics than the majority of the crowd around them. In wearing what they did, they sought to provoke. Whatever one’s beliefs, it would be naive to think otherwise. And in light of the White House's current discriminatory stances on immigrants, LGBTQ, women's rights, the environment and more, it's understandable that liberal Angelenos would want to avoid sharing spaces with people who support the current administration's most hateful points of view, especially at a bar where people are seeking fun, relaxation and escape.
Citizens have a right to communicate their feelings to others in public, but this is not always productive, especially in a place where alcohol is served. The mother who confronted former EPA head Scott Pruitt at a D.C. restaurant did it brilliantly (and got it on tape, too!) but with a group like Proud Boys, who boast about "kicking asses" on social media, this tactic might not be as effective and could lead to real violence. Members of LADSA and Defend NELA appear to have handled this one positively based on the video released, making their feelings known by shouting "No Proud Boys, No KKK, No fascist USA!" as the offenders exited.
In any case, our local businesses are the ones who ultimately have decisions to make. If they refuse service to those on the right (as the owner of the Red Hen did to press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders last month) they probably won't lose any business here in Los Angeles. But if they handle things differently, either by intention or by accident, there is a lot at risk. Any place is apparently vulnerable to this kind of conflict, and as the Griffin has learned, a false move can damage patrons' trust and the business itself. Developing specific door policies on these issues (and posting them where everyone can see them) is a start, and the Griffin's response to us here suggests that this is what they will be doing moving forward. And in case you're wondering, legal precedent by a New York judge on banning M.A.G.A. hats says bars have the right to do so.
Other local establishments should take notes as this cultural conversation continues, and we will be following the situation closely here, but for those who'd like to be heard on these issues and see where the Griffin stands on the incident as of now, the benefit mentioned in its statement above (with all proceeds going to the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council) will be held at the bar on Wednesday, July 18, at 9 p.m. 3000 Los Feliz Blvd., Atwater Village. (323) 644-0444.