A Napa restaurateur has apologized on Facebook after coming under fire for postings deemed racist by viewers who are urging a boycott of his Napa restaurant, Trancas Steakhouse.
On the Facebook page for Trancas Steakhouse, owner Norman Sawicki wrote: “Recently on my personal Facebook page I posted a meme that was hurtful to the community. I admit when it comes to some issues, that I am really uneducated about how my posts can be so hurtful. Recently this was brought to my attention and I was made aware of the impact to others. I want the public to know how very sorry I am about the posts. Not only have I removed the posts, I will be making some personal changes as well. I ask the community to forgive my poor judgement.”
The May 23 posting was a manipulated image of Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, wearing a white suit, in an old-time style associated with Southern men, with a caption that read, “Well I do declare boy, you ain’t black unless I say you black.”
The posting has been removed, but comments from social media users maintain this is one of many objectionable postings from Sawicki, including another from July 18, 2019 which shows a woman holding a gun with the caption, “All I’m saying is if we didn’t have so many pansy ass’s (sic) running this county, we’d be removing illegal aliens, not confederate flags.”
The uproar was partially spurred by a new Facebook group called Stop Napa Hate, which founders say is dedicated to calling out racist behavior. Contributors have also been highly critical of Napa City Councilmember Doris Gentry, citing her conservative positions and comments over the years. They have also been critical of the recent “We Back Blue” rally in downtown Napa showing support for law enforcement. A Fresno-area man who has been associated with white nationalists and anti-immigrant protests spoke at the rally.
Dining at his restaurant on Tuesday night, Sawicki declined to comment on the record for the Register.
On his Facebook page, however, he expressed frustration with the social media outcry.
“I hope you understand I was making fun of the Vice President’s continued racist comments,” Sawicki wrote on Facebook. “I was not supporting racism. It was pointed out to me that by sharing these type of posts it makes me look racist too. How ashamed I am for that perception. I stand against any racism and I plan on working hard on my actions, instead of my words, to prove this to the community which has been so good to me and my family. I hope everyone will accept my sincere apology which comes from a place of love. My hope is we can all move forward in peace and healing.”
Sawicki, a longtime Napa resident, opened Trancas Steakhouse in 1999. He was also the owner of the Red Hen Bar and Grill, which closed in December 2019 after 37 years, when the lease expired. The Red Hen, like Trancas Steakhouse, was a popular local hangout that also catapulted Sawicki into the public eye in 2018, when it was confused with the Lexington, Virginia establishment with the same name, which had refused service to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, then press secretary for the Trump administration.
Facebook reaction to Sawicki’s apology was mixed in 262 comments, from “Thanks for clarifying” from Dina Greenberg, to one from Lili Bach: “He does NOT STAND AGAINST RACISM. HE GOT CAUGHT. yes, there is a difference.”
After Sawicki’s apology last week, the Stop Napa Hate group has largely turned its attention to Gentry, posting clips of her past speeches, including one from 2010 where she suggests that the heavily Latino Roseland neighborhood in Santa Rosa is “like Vallejo” and that it is not safe to travel there at night.
Members of the Stop Napa Hate group have also decried the presence at the We Back Blue rally of Ben Bergquam, the founder of a conservative website Frontline America. He gave brief remarks at the rally and filmed a lengthy video of the rally, interviewing both attendees and counter-protesters.
Supporters of law enforcement officers rallied Wednesday on Napa's Third Street bridge, steps from where anti-racism, anti-brutality protests have played out for the last three weekends.
Although his website makes no mention of it, Bergquam has told Fresno-area media that he was a member of the Proud Boys, an alt-right white nationalist group that has gained notoriety for violent confrontations at protests and rallies, including the 2017 Unite the Right event in Charlottesville, Virginia. where a woman was killed by a right-wing rally attendee.
It’s not clear, however, how deeply he is involved with the movement. A spokesperson for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups including the Proud Boys, said the organization doesn’t know anything about Bergquam other than the scattered mentions in Fresno-area media where he said he was a member.
Bergquam also made it into the news in 2019, when he was among a group of protestors who trespassed on the grounds of the governor’s mansion in Sacramento, saying they were against Gov. Gavin Newsom’s soft stance on immigration. The protesters were clad in ponchos and wore fake mustaches in a derogatory caricature of traditional Mexican style.
Bergquam did not respond to an email this week asking how he came to be at the Napa rally and whether he was a member of the Proud Boys.
On his website, he describes himself as “an unashamed, politically incorrect, social conservative that believes that abortion is murder, homosexuality is sin, and transgenderism is insane.” He says that “Liberalism is a plague on society that has replaced the creator with the created, support of life with death, economic freedom with socialist and communism theft and destruction, personal responsibility with perpetual victimization and ultimately will be the death of America if left unchecked.”
Gentry has appeared at at least one event with Bergquam, according to video clips posted on Stop Napa Hate, and she is listed as one of his friends on Facebook, but she told the Register she met him only once, at the 2019 event in the film clip, and did not invite him to the Napa rally.
“I now have learned he is a member of Proud Boys. I am not a member of Proud Boys. I am not a supporter of that organization. And I publicly said so on Facebook,” Gentry said in an email this week. “However, nobody is listening. They love to spread the rumors, and at some point, I have to just step back and allow them to express themselves.”
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