WARRENTON, Va. — Not far from a monument dedicated to John S. Mosby — the Confederate commander who later befriended President Ulysses S. Grant to help mend a fractured Union — two rival groups gathered on Courthouse Square, arguing for their vision of what the country should look like more than 150 years after it was torn apart over slavery.
The stakes in this small Virginia town were not so high as in the Civil War, but they were elevated compared with the typical weekend demonstrations between the groups. This was the first Saturday that Red Truck Bakery would be open since it was dragged into a fractious debate between those with “Black Lives Matter” signs, and those who oppose what those words represent.
In late February, a TikTok video called out the bakery for serving free coffee to Black Lives Matter Vigil for Action activists, but not to those aligned with counterprotesters, who gather under the “All Lives Matter” moniker. The shop was soon the target of harassing phone calls, negative reviews and threats against its livelihood, if not the lives of those who work in it. Brian Noyes, the nationally acclaimed baker who owns Red Truck, decided to close down the shop the weekend after the video was published. The shutdown extended to Monday at both the Warrenton location and Red Truck’s main bakery in Marshall, Va.
Tensions were running high Saturday morning before the demonstrators showed up. Warrenton’s police chief and other officers stood watch over Courthouse Square. A Virginia State Police vehicle was spotted making the rounds. Both the Virginia Trust Network and Piedmont Dispute Resolution Center sent mediators to town in case things got out of control.
“There’s nothing to mediate here,” BLM organizer Scott Christian said before the demonstrations started at 10 a.m. “We’re here to listen.”
He was right. For this Saturday, at least, the gathering was peaceful.
After about an hour, the two groups parted ways, and the drama was over. About 60 people stood on one side of the street with Black Lives Matter signs in hand — even if the local group has been careful to separate itself from the racial justice movement that gathered momentum after the 2020 murder of George Floyd. About half a dozen counterprotesters were gathered on the other side, hoisting placards that read “BLM Equals Marxism” and “Warrenton is not racist.”
No one targeted Red Truck over its free coffee program for BLM demonstrators, which Noyes has since stopped. But Jennifer Blevins Ragle, the All Lives Matter protester who took the TikTok video, complained that police were patronizing the bakery, according to Police Chief Timothy Carter. Ragle thought this was a “bit of a conflict,” Carter said. The chief disagreed.
“They are a local business, and we support all local businesses and we support all our citizens. That’s all the officer was doing,” Carter said. “I think that’s important. A situation like this comes up, and if we were to all of a sudden [say], ‘Okay, Red Truck Bakery is the pariah now. We don’t want to be anywhere near them.’ I think that’s a problem.”
Ragle, who was at the demonstration, declined to talk to The Washington Post.
Noyes, a former art director at The Post, said he was “buoyed” and “joyous” by how the morning went. He had received a lot of support, both in person and via email. Supporters had gathered outside the bakery even before it opened, some from far away from Warrenton. A man in San Antonio emailed Noyes to say he’d like to buy 100 cups of coffee for BLM demonstrators.
“That’s a great gesture,” Noyes said. “But that’s the last thing I need to be involved in.”
Noyes said the retail shop he owns in Warrenton was doing brisk business amid the controversy, sometimes recording higher sales than those at his significantly larger Red Truck store in Marshall. “This week, they beat the Marshall store at least once,” Noyes said.
The demonstration itself proceeded much like any other. “If I don’t stand up, who’s going to?” said Josephine Gilbert, an organizer with the vastly outnumbered counterprotesters. Like her compatriots, she believes BLM demonstrators are a destructive force in this largely conservative community in Fauquier County.
Gilbert was there with her husband, Scott, who was passing out hand-warmers and knit caps to anyone who needed them on this cold, blustery morning. They were also promoting websites that purport to reveal the “truth” about the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol and to help those imprisoned for their actions on that day.
Nathan MacEachen, a security guard hired earlier in the week to protect Red Truck, was glad to see national and local news media at the gathering, even if the demonstrations had none of the fireworks and clashes that the media tend to cover.
“Our news is focused so much on bad news. We just need to start reporting on the good news,” he said. “We had peaceful protests.”
The demonstrations ended before 11 a.m. — in song. The BLM demonstrators sang “We Shall Overcome,” the anthem of the civil rights movement. Across the street, the counterprotesters sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.”