The manager of the D.C. restaurant Taqueria del Barrio said the LGBT-friendly establishment, which hosts a monthly drag brunch and a weekly drag trivia night, will continue to hold those events despite a barrage of threatening phone calls the restaurant received earlier this month.
Manager Miguel Barajas and Taqueria del Barrio owner Anna Bran Leis recounted in press interviews that beginning on Dec. 12 the restaurant began receiving up to 30 homophobic, threatening calls each day from at least four different numbers with different voices.
The two have said the restaurant, located at 821 Upshur St., N.W., in the city’s Petworth neighborhood, called D.C. police after one or more of the phone callers relayed threats to burn down the restaurant and kill members of its staff.
Bran Leis provided the Washington City Paper with a recording of an answering machine message from one of the callers that her daughter recorded after dialing the caller’s number that was picked up by a caller I.D.
“Check out the Loyal White Knights or punch in KKK into your search engine for the Klan’s fight for white supremacy,” the City Paper quoted the outgoing recorded message as saying. “If you’re white and proud, join the crowd for white power,” City Paper quoted the message as concluding.
Experts that monitor hate groups have said the Loyal White Knights is an active Klan organization in the U.S. that issues racist, anti-Semitic, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-immigrant propaganda.
Lt. Brett Parson, who oversees the D.C. police LGBT Liaison Unit, said the Liaison Unit and other branches of the department are actively investigating the threatening calls.
“Quite honestly we have no clue why we’re being targeted,” Barajas told the Washington Blade. “Why us and not more out there gay bars, because we’re not a gay bar necessarily,” he said, noting that he considers the place “queer forward” or LGBT friendly.
“A majority of our staff is queer,” Barajas said. “We don’t hide it. We’re not going to hide it as I went on the air to say,” he pointed out, referring to an interview he had with D.C.’s Fox 5 News.
“We’re going to actually amplify it more just to show that we’re not going to hide what we are just because of phone calls and comments that are being said,” he told the Blade.
Barajas said Taqueria del Barrio has been open for three years and it began featuring its drag brunch and drag trivia night about a year ago.
“This is the first time in three years that something like this has been going on,” he said.
The Washington Post reported D.C. police assigned an officer to observe the restaurant until its closing time on Dec. 17, when one of the drag events was scheduled to take place.
Parson declined to say whether police have obtained recordings of any of the threatening calls or whether steps have been taken to trace the calls.
“I would never answer any question about investigative techniques or what has or hasn’t been done” in an ongoing investigation, he said.
“It is illegal to threaten to do bodily harm to an individual or to threaten to cause destruction of property,” Parson said. “So that is what we’re investigating right now – if in fact those threats were made or if there were any other crimes,” he said. “And that investigation is ongoing.”
According to Parson, D.C. gay bars and other establishments have occasionally received threats of this nature.
“This is not something that is the first of its kind,” he said. “It does happen occasionally and it’s not just isolated to the gay community. We have seen these types of calls go to Jewish organizations, Islamic organizations, political organizations, members of the media,” Parson said.
The D.C. online publication Popville told its readers, “It is Time to Flood Taqueria Del Barrio with Love (and Money)” as a sign of community support in the face of the recent spate of threatening phone calls.
“As we showered Comet Ping Pong with love in their time of need, I say we do the same for Taqueria Del Barrio,” Popville stated “Let us show them the power of love. Have a look at their menu and plan a visit soon!”
The online publication was referring to a 2016 fake news campaign on social media targeting the gay-owned Comet Ping Pong pizza restaurant in Northwest D.C. that claimed it served as home to a “pedophile ring” in a hidden basement room.
The social media allegations, which D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham called total fabrications, prompted a North Carolina man to drive to D.C., enter the restaurant with an assault rifle, and fire three or four rounds of bullets to unlock a door. He surrendered to D.C. police minutes after acknowledging he found there wasn’t a pedophile ring at the restaurant.