While Spiffy’s and Farm Boy Drive-in were in court Tuesday, protesters rallied outside the Lewis County Law and Justice Center in support of the restaurants that have become icons in the push to lift restrictions meant to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Although Spiffy’s was issued a continuance and will be back in court next week, Farm Boy Drive-in was found in contempt of court, with Thurston County Superior Court Judge Chris Lanese ruling in favor of the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) and levying a fine of $2,000 for each day the restaurant continues to offer indoor dining, imposed retroactively from the first day the court issued its temporary restraining order, Dec. 15. Both restaurants have continued to offer indoor dining even after being issued an order of immediate restraint by L&I and then a temporary restraining order by their respective county courts.
Attorney Jason Celski, who is representing both restaurants, dismissed claims that the restaurant is offering indoor dining as “hearsay,” and said that “I honestly do not know if they’re offering (indoor dining).”
That did not convince Lanese, who said it was not a legal argument and that it was “difficult to believe” that Celski hadn’t asked his client that question. Online, Farm Boy Drive-in has made it clear that they are choosing to offer indoor dining in defiance of Gov. Jay Inslee, who ordered a stop to the activity at the state’s restaurants and bars until Jan. 4. Lanese also noted that the declarations — letters of support written by customers and supporters and submitted to the court by the defense — “made it abundantly clear” that the restaurant has been willfully flouting statewide orders by allowing patrons to eat indoors.
“My order did not prohibit Farm Boy from being open. My order did not prohibit them from employing individuals to prepare food to sell to customers … nor did it prohibit anyone from being inside that dining establishment to acquire that food,” he said. “The only thing that my order prohibited was for those things to occur, and then for an individual, a customer, to remain inside that building to consume that food.”
If Farm Boy Drive-in is able to prove that they’ve come into compliance, Lanese ruled, the fines will be dropped.
But that doesn’t appear to be the restaurant’s plan. Almost immediately after the judge’s ruling, owner Brian Robbins appeared at the Lewis County protest and was cheered on by a crowd of hundreds, some of who chanted “don’t pay it” in regards to the new fines.
Earlier, Spiffy’s General Manager Rob Grant took to Facebook, urging supporters to attend and saying “we’ve done nothing wrong.”
“We love you guys and we just want you to know that everything you’ve been doing, we’ve appreciated,” Grant said. “All you patriots, man, I tell you. We love you and we thank you and you guys are right on.”
Since L&I first contacted Spiffy’s, far-right groups such as Patriot Prayer, militia group the Three Percenters and Ammon Bundy’s newest group People’s Rights, formed to protest coronavirus mandates, have put their organizations’ support behind the restaurant and shown up to rallies. Spiffy’s continues to offer indoor dining despite having racked up over $100,000 in fines.
Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson helped organize the rally, directing supporters through Parler, a new social media site many conservatives have flocked to. Gibson also helped organize the recent “freedom rally” that drew in hundreds of out-of-towners to Mossyrock, where the city’s mayor has said, without authority, that Inslee’s orders will not be recognized.
Last week, Gibson led Patriot Prayer members in an attempt to force their way into the Oregon state Capitol — a demonstration that turned violent and led to several arrests. The Three Percenters, who have followed Gibson to protests in and around the county, were reported this week to have a similar plan for the Washington state Capitol.
Although some protesters were armed Tuesday and sheriff’s office deputies were deployed to guard alternative entrances to the building, the protest remained peaceful. Several speakers denounced restrictions on businesses, questioned the science of the pandemic and called Inslee a tyrant. Some protesters peddled conspiracy theories about the pandemic, including that the virus is an attempt by China to engage in “germ warfare.”
The continued drama around Spiffy’s has in some instances gotten ugly. As promised, People’s Rights identified an L&I employee involved in the Spiffy’s investigation, and this month protested outside his home.
In a video posted by People’s Rights Washington, organizer Kelli Stewart, who was present at the first armed protest outside Spiffy’s, publicized the state employee’s name, age and address, comparing L&I to the Gestapo and encouraging viewers to “take off your mask and open your business.”
“By the time we’re done we hope every neighbor out here understands what a little tyrant they have living in their neighborhood,” Stewart said. “We’d like you to leave Spiffy’s alone. We do not consent to the harassment of these businesses. We’re paying your salary, we’re paying your mortgage, we pay for that spiffy little car in your driveway.”
L&I spokesperson Dina Lorraine confirmed that it was the first time an employee had been identified and singled out by protesters.
“You wouldn’t have believed the emails that poor man has received,” Lorraine said Tuesday. “We’re no longer putting our inspectors’ names on (orders of immediate restraint) because of that. So that’s a change that has happened because of Spiffy’s.”
It’s a strategy Patriot Prayer has used before. In November, the group identified an Oregon Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) employee involved with the fining of a gym that had defied COVID-19 restrictions and protested outside their home.
Even with Spiffy’s court-ordered restraining order still in effect, and the restaurant still vulnerable to contempt of court charges, potential imprisonment and more fines, there’s little sign that the establishment has plans to comply with state law. Last week, Lewis County Sheriff Rob Snaza publicly threw his support behind Spiffy’s, echoing ideas popular among protesters, that reopening businesses is a matter of constitutional rights. It was a public statement quickly and enthusiastically picked up by Spiffy’s owner and staff.