(TNS) — “I hope your businesses burn and rot in hell,” said the caller on the voicemail recording to Amazing Glazed doughnuts in Chesapeake, Virginia. That was Thursday afternoon, the day after a violent break-in at the U.S. Capitol building by Trump supporters.
The caller, and many other people, had seen a screenshot of a Facebook photo, linked to the shop’s owner, of four men posing in a parking lot under the caption: “So proud of these four guys for traveling to DC to support our President!” He had assumed they played a part in the riot that day.
They hadn’t, the doughnut shop’s owner says, but that didn’t stop a descent into days of threatening phone calls and scathing online reviews before fortune swung the opposite direction as supporters rallied around the store. It was a situation not unique to this Chesapeake shop, as people around the country angry with the break-in at the Capitol searched for those to blame.
Reached by phone nearly a week later, the caller was contrite and said he had misunderstood the Facebook post’s timing. Adam, who didn’t want his full name used for fear of threats he received online over a negative Yelp review he’d posted for the doughnut shop, said he regretted calling.
“It was completely out of anger,” he said on Tuesday, adding that he eventually removed his negative review. He said he had seen the post gaining traction on Twitter, and “I kind of fell into that.” He thought the shop had supported the riot itself. It wasn’t until he saw stories on local broadcast news stations that he learned the men in the photo had been there only for the speech and left before violence ensued. There’s a difference, he said.
“They have a perfect right to attend the president’s speech,” he said.
The shop’s owner is still receiving nasty messages, but now they appear to be outnumbered by calls of support and a steady stream of customers who weren’t necessarily hungry but wanted to stand up for a small business on the receiving end of an online backlash. The protest had come full circle.
It was Jan. 5, when Mary Jane Hamblin, owner of Amazing Glazed doughnuts, saw her husband, Ron, and three friends off as they piled into a rental car to drive to Washington to hear President Donald Trump speak.
“He wanted to be a part of history,” she said Tuesday morning sitting at a table inside her shop. The president had lost the election and was turned away by multiple courts and state officials with his erroneous claims that the results were fraudulent.
Hamblin said she wasn’t expecting a concession speech, by any means, but as for the election: “I believe it’s over. They counted the votes and it’s over.”
It wouldn’t be her husband’s first time hearing the president speak. The couple attended a Trump campaign rally in Newport News before the election.
“That was another reason to not think twice about this rally,” she said, remembering that there hadn’t been any issues in the crowd and everyone had been friendly.
So, she took a photo of them, posed in the parking lot just outside the shop, and posted it to her personal Facebook page with the message that ultimately riled up Adam and others.
After pro-Trump attendees stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, the ill-timed caption (“So proud of these four guys for traveling to DC to support our President!”) caught the attention of others and screenshots turned into Facebook posts and Twitter threads accusing her of supporting the violent Capitol siege.
Meanwhile, she said her husband and his friends were in their rental car heading home by the time the violence began, having walked back to the hotel where it was parked after Trump’s speech ended.
“He was just as appalled as me,” Hamblin said of her husband’s reaction to the violence as he and his friends listened to radio reports.
A Twitter thread posted at 10 p.m. that night with the photo and Hamblin’s contact information was eventually retweeted more than 3,000 times and liked more than 6,000. “Oh y’all support domestic terrorism!” the Twitter post said, encouraging others to “go leave them a little review on FB.”
The doughnut shop became the center of debate on a neighborhood Nextdoor app with opinions on both sides politically, and with people questioning their attendance at what might have been a super-spreader event bringing more COVID-19 back to Chesapeake.
As the negative reviews and one-out-of-five stars rankings piled up, someone from the shop pulled down the Facebook page. Yelp put a hold on new reviews, citing an “unusual activity alert” that it issues when negative reviews get prompted by a news event. The doughnuts shop’s site was one of 50 to 60 businesses in Yelp’s system to be frozen for that reason after the Capitol building riot.
Hamblin said her daughters spent 30 hours combing through reviews and reporting them to the social media sites that manage them. Chesapeake Police also confirmed that they were investigating threats against the store.
Adam, who had left one of the negative Yelp reviews and removed it, said he was disgusted to learn from news reports that other people had threatened physical harm against Hamblin and her family.
“I didn’t want to ruin a business that didn’t actually take part in the insurrection that took place at our Capitol,” he said Tuesday.
“I’m still definitely disappointed. It’s really just a shameful scene,” he said of what happened last week in Washington. But the Hamblins’ political views “are their own private thing. Whether they actually took place in the riots or not, it\ufffd\ufffd\ufffds not my place to step in. They know what they did or they know what they didn’t do.”
“You don’t solve fire with fire,” he said. “I do not wish any malice toward the business.”
A study from Northwestern University surmised in 2009 that business boycotts generally don’t result in a loss of revenue, in the short term, but pose a risk to reputation.
Mary-Hunter McDonnell, an associate professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania’s business school who has studied the effects of social activism movements on businesses, said the pressure to change comes less from consumers — who have habitual buying routines — and more from within, leading to higher turnover among employees. Politics, though, makes a difference.
In a published paper in August in the Academy of Management, McDonnell and co-author J. Adam Cobb say that “conservatives, as compared to liberals, are more prone to entrenchment when their firms face challenges from the opposition.”
They’re more likely to steel themselves against an accusation, cite freedom of speech and not change their stances or behavior, attracting support from those who agree.
“That’s just the psychological truth,” McDonnell said.
As for Hamblin’s bottom line, it seems to be doing just fine for now. After news spread about the online attacks, callers from out of state began buying doughnuts over the phone and asking that they be donated, and there were lines of customers waiting for the store to open Saturday morning.
“It’s been a reminder of all the good that’s in the world,” she said.
By Sunday, Amazing Glazed’s Facebook page was back with a message of thanks “to all of the patriots that came out and showed us some love this weekend. It was a very emotional couple of days. Folks from all over traveled to give their support, not just by cleaning us out of donuts, by giving us encouragement, prayer, and a whole lot of love!” In the same post, Hamblin said she would appear on a conservative talk radio show that morning.
At a Chesapeake Public Schools board meeting Monday night, she accused employees in the system of being among those who “created a false narrative,” that her husband was involved in the Capitol riot. “What followed was a witch hunt.”
“Apparently you have teachers in your school that believe if you don’t follow their political beliefs, they have the right to silence you, destroy your business by slandering you and your family,” she told the board, accusing teachers of using social media groups to “plot and plan” against others.
Hamblin has said she doesn’t regret posting anything on her personal page, and it should have been no one else’s concern.
“I’m just Mary Jane and her little tiny doughnut shop,” she said Tuesday. Unabashedly conservative and a pro-life Catholic, she said politics don’t play a role in her store. Her doughnuts are for everyone, she said, understanding that some may not want them. “The beauty of this country is I can take this dollar and take it wherever I want.”