WESTERLY — A constant stream of phone calls and emails from people haranguing her for controversial T-shirts her staff wore on Election Night has prompted Wendy Carr to turn off the telephone at Amigos Taqueria Y Tequila and to shut down the downtown restaurant’s website and social media pages.
“We were getting calls from all over the country. It’s too much … if I had the phone on it rings nonstop,” Carr said Tuesday.
The maelstrom Carr and her staff are experiencing is connected to “86 45” T-shirts her staff wore on Election Night and occasionally at other times. The restaurant also sold the shirts for a time last year and before the Nov. 6 election.
State Sen. Elaine Morgan, R-Ashaway, took to Facebook, asserting that the shirts promoted the assassination of President Donald J. Trump. She called for a boycott of the restaurant. Carr insists the shirts were intended as a means to generate interest in the midterm election and in candidates who shared her belief that the president should be impeached.
“It’s vile and malicious to take our picture and attach the word murder to it. It’s a horrible message,” Carr said.
On Tuesday Carr again insisted that 86 is a restaurant term used when a menu item is no longer available. Morgan did not respond to a message seeking comment for this article but last week said “86 45” is a call to kill the president. She repeated her position in a prepared statement to a television news outlet on Tuesday.
Carr said, “I think it is clear what my intention was. Why is she targeting me? Just because I have a different view then her?”
In the wake of the controversy dozens of critical reviews of Amigos showed up on online restaurant review websites. According to a temporary website that Carr had made, a photograph of her staff wearing the shirts that was originally posted to the Amigos Facebook page was altered to make it appear that the shirts were intended to incite violence. The callers, while she was answering, sometimes delivered racist remarks, according to the website.
Some have questioned Carr’s decision to mix politics and business.
“There’s this criticism that talking about politics is divisive. The division occurs when politics is talked about but not in a respectful way,” Carr said. “It’s OK to have a different point of view but political differences shouldn’t be more important than our humanity. Being a good person is more important.”
State Sen. Dennis Algiere, R-Westerly, the leader of Senate Republicans, said in an interview Wednesday that he looks forward to the controversy simmering down.
“I’m hoping that this matter will settle down and that the businesses in the downtown area don’t get affected by this, especially now during the holiday season,” Algiere said.
Algiere declined to say whether he had discussed the situation with Morgan. “I’m not going to comment on who I spoke to or the conversation,” he said.
Algiere did say the situation involves speech that is protected by the Constitution.
“I do respect people’s First Amendment right. Speech is protected even when it is something that some perceive as offensive,” Algiere said.
For the time being, Carr said, she and her staff are trying to hold on and move forward. With the phone turned off the restaurant cannot take reservations or takeout orders.