A Republican running for governor of Georgia is bringing his racist “Deportation Bus Tour” to Cracker Barrel restaurants—and Cracker Barrel isn't having it.
Michael Williams, a Georgia state senator, is currently polling dead last in the state’s Republican primary. With the primary next week, Williams is trying to rally racists by hosting a “Deportation Bus Tour” from a converted school bus plastered with slogans like “FILL THIS BUS WITH ILLEGALS” and “DANGER! MURDERERS, RAPISTS, KIDNAPPERS, CHILD MOLESTORS [sic], AND OTHER CRIMINALS ON BOARD.”
The bus tour, which launched this week, has scheduled stops at Georgia restaurants, including at least 10 Cracker Barrels. Those stops are new to Cracker Barrel, which has spent the past two days unsuccessfully telling Williams to buzz off.
Williams is a long-time Trump supporter who courts the racist right. Last July, Williams attended a “March Against Sharia” event where he posed with a fringe militia for a picture. Among the group was Alex Ramos, a man who was convicted this month for his role in beating a counter-protester at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia last August.
Cracker Barrel is something of an in-joke among some racist circles, which claim, incorrectly, that the restaurant’s name derives from a slang term for white people.
In a statement, Cracker Barrel distanced itself from Williams.
“We are not sponsoring this event or supporting Mr. Williams’ campaign stops in any way, and per our company policy, we will not allow him – or any political candidate—to host an event on Cracker Barrel’s property,” the company said in a statement. “We take pride in showing our communities and our country that the hospitality we practice is indeed welcoming and inclusive to all.”
A spokesperson for Williams answered The Daily Beast’s phone call, asked to call back in five minutes, and never did.
Williams isn’t banned from Cracker Barrel, per se.
“If he wants to come in and eat, that’s fine,” Janella Escobar director of Cracker Barrel’s corporate communications told The Daily Beast in a Thursday phone call. But she said Williams’ campaign had been mum when Cracker Barrel tried informing them of their policy against campaigns.
“We’ve tried repeatedly for the past two days to be in contact with him,” Escobar said. “We’ve tried his cell phone, his campaign’s email, to no avail. He did not ask permission to come onto our properties and host these events.”
Other businesses listed as stops on Williams’ tour website said they were uninvolved.
“It is not our intent as a business to participate in political debates or campaigns,” Cabin Coffee Co., a Blairsville, Georgia coffee shop wrote in a Thursday Facebook post. Like Cracker Barrel, the coffee shop said Williams’ campaign was not responding.
“Yesterday I left a voice mail message, sent an email and then ‘messaged’ on their facebook page this morning,” a representative for Cabin Coffee Co. told The Daily Beast over Facebook messenger. “I have not received a response.”
Another restaurant on tour, Brian’s Buffet in Griffin, Georgia issued a one-sentence statement on its Facebook page.
“We do not support Micheal Williams running for governor and he is banned from the parking lot,” the statement read.
Seth Weathers, a spokesperson for Williams’ campaign said the bus tour is within its rights to host events outside the restaurants.
“As far as I know, it’s still a free country, and if we want to stop and get a bite to eat at one of these places, I don’t think there’s any problem with that,” Weathers told The Daily Beast. “I understand we can’t throw a party in the parking lot.”
When asked about the Williams campaign specifically listing those restaurants as tour stops, Weathers claimed those restaurants had signs outside catering to tour buses.
“I’ve never even heard of the place or seen it,” he said when informed that Brian’s Buffet had specifically banned Williams’ tour from the parking lot.
So far, Williams’ bus tour has been marked by protests from people who want him there even less than the restaurants do. On Wednesday, the first day of the tour, Williams allegedly threatened the throng of protesters who far outnumbered his supporters.
“Williams threatened to have protesters arrested and run over with his bus, while one of his supporters hit a protester with an umbrella, while an associate of the tour destroyed protesters signs,” activist news site It’s Going Down reported.
“That was not the case, but I find it very humorous,” Weathers said. “He did not make a threat, is my point, and there’s clearly not any proof of that or anything else, other than, I guess, a crazy person running around saying that Williams made a threat.”