Southern Star Brewery CEO Dave Fougeron said he does not doubt that he made the right decision to back out of hosting a right-wing publisher event called “Rally Against Censorship” due to the backlash over the move. At the behest of the regular patrons, he opted to decline to host the event, and since making the decision, Fourgeron and the brewery have experienced harassment and threats.
“It’s been kind of a shitstorm,” Fougeron said in a weekend interview with the Texas Tribune about the cancellation. “But now I’m more certain than ever that I made the right decision.”
The Conroe brewer, the producer of popular local craft beers such as Bombshell Blonde, was scheduled to host the private event on Jan. 26, but based on concerns voiced by regular patrons of the brewery, Fougeron said he felt it was a good customer service move not to host the event.
“Our place is super inclusive,” Fougeron said. “We are super pro-veteran, super pro-law enforcement. We’re trying to be good people in the community. We’re friends with our firefighters, with our police department…We have a lot of gay patrons who come in because it’s a place of inclusivity. It’s crazy that we’re getting threats from people.”
Defiance Press & Publishing, a Conroe-based publisher that primarily works with conservative and libertarian authors, is the organizer of the rally and has since assured its social media followers that the rally will take place somewhere as scheduled on Jan. 26.
They are the publisher of far-right titles like “Corona-fascism” and a biography of Joe Arpaio, the infamous former Maricopa County, Arizona sheriff whose department willingly violated the rights of local Latino citizens despite an order from a federal judge to stop the practice.
“A lot of our paying customers contacted us and were expressing concern that we were going to have this and they said that they wouldn’t be buying our product anymore,” Fougeron said. “This wasn’t a cancellation at all, this was a business decision,” adding that he sees the decision as a gesture of goodwill to his loyal customers.
Fougeron explained that his team was originally approached by the local publishing company to rent out their facility for a private event, but did not mention Rittenhouse was scheduled as a guest speaker.
“Personally, it had nothing to do with Mr. Rittenhouse. I’m sure that some of my customers were upset that we were having him. I had no idea he was such a firebrand. I haven’t been following him,” Fougeron added.
Fougerson also said he has received criticism, and threats, and is now a target of a disinformation campaign by the far-right publisher who was set to host the event and right-wing social media users. “I am 100% sure I made the right decision now that these people have shown their true nature. They have been dishonest with me,” he added.
“And you know, when I called the gentleman that was starting the rally and explained to him that we were canceling, he pretty much said ‘I’m going to use this against you’ and he’s doing as best he can to, you know, use us to what I see further his political agenda,” Fougerson said.
Friday, Rittenhouse — who was acquitted of fatally shooting two people in Kenosha, Wisconsin, at a Black Lives Matter protest in 2020 — claimed that the brewery was censoring him in response to the brewery’s announcement to discontinue the event, tweeting his disappointment.
At his trial in 2021, a jury found Rittenhouse not guilty after Rittenhouse testified that he acted in self-defense. He was acquitted of all counts after facing five charges, including first-degree intentional homicide.
“We certainly didn’t censor him,” Fougeron said of Rittenhouse. “We reserve the right to deny rental to anybody. And we don’t usually make it a policy to vet who’s running our facility.”
But the brewery is far better known for events such as trivia contests and crawfish boils, as opposed to activist events.
“Southern Star Brewery is an apolitical organization, but we feel that this event doesn’t reflect our own values and we could not in good faith continue to rent out space for the event on 1/26. We don’t do rallies, we make beer for people who like beer,” the company tweeted on Friday.
The concerns voiced by local patrons undoubtedly reflect recent reports of the increase in hate speech, which is sometimes confused with the right to free speech by right-wing advocates.
Recent articles in multiple publications regarding the increase of racist and sexist rants have revealed, particularly from users on Twitter since Elon Musk, a self-proclaimed free speech advocate, took over the platform.
The Center for Countering Digital Hate recently said hate speech on Twitter is up exponentially under Musk’s ownership. The group reports the daily use of the n-word under Musk is three times the 2022 average, and slurs against gay men and trans persons are up 58% and 62%, respectively.
“Elon Musk sent up the Bat Signal to every kind of racist, misogynist, and homophobe that Twitter was open for business,” said Imran Ahmed, the chief executive of the Center for Countering Digital Hate. “They have reacted accordingly.”
The Anti-Defamation League also reports its data shows “both an increase in antisemitic content on the platform and a decrease in the moderation of antisemitic posts.” The organization described the deteriorating civility of dialogue as a “troubling situation” that “will likely get worse, given the reported cuts to Twitter’s content moderation staff.”
And one person’s ‘censorship’ is another person’s ‘book banning’ — as many on the right who crusade against the ‘woke mob’ on social media are directly responsible for challenges to many books in schools across the country.
And according to a recent report by ABC News, which interviewed Jonathan Friedman, the director of free expression and education programs at PEN America, the problem is escalating. The group reports that there were at least 2,532 book challenges from July 2021 to June 2022, affecting 1,648 book titles.
“We’re in danger of removing from libraries all kinds of materials, some of which are seen as classic forms of literature, and some of which are now in danger of not becoming classic works of literature for the future because they’re being censored in this way,” Friedman said.