News & Politics

Cruz Ambush Protest Planners: ‘We Have Eyes and Ears Everywhere’

How a DC protest group got ahold of Cruz's whereabouts.

A few hours before protestors from Smash Racism DC arrived at Fiola Wednesday evening, they got a tip that Senate Judiciary Committee member Ted Cruz would be dining there. By midnight, the Texas Senator and his wife had abruptly exited the $145 set-price restaurant—and a video of the confrontation, featuring protesters chanting “We believe survivors” before he was able to order his entree, had gone viral.

But how did it all come together? After all, the confrontation took place on a dank, wet weeknight, in a neighborhood where it’s unlikely that angry, politically engaged protesters were simply wandering around in search of conservatives to jeer. Though the organizers proudly cop to sending out word to their partisans, they won’t say exactly where the tip came from.

“All I can say is this: DC is full of people who are not conservative and believe survivors. We received a heads up hours in advance—we have eyes and ears everywhere,” Lacy MacAuley, local activist who recorded the confrontation tells Washingtonian. 

While the capital was once a place where top officials could eat, shop, and stroll in relative peace, that has changed during the Trump years, with several high-profile administration officials—including Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and then-EPA chief Scott Pruitt—being hounded on camera while doing otherwise innocuous things like eating out. MacAuley aims to keep it that way: Members of her group, she says, believe continuously confronting prominent conservatives, administration officials and influential lawmakers is integral to the process of demanding and maintaining democracy.

“If Cruz thinks he can have a delightful evening, he’s wrong. The wealthy elite can’t hide in their fancy restaurants or boathouses anymore. We have an obligation to let them know that,” she adds.

Fiola co-owner Fabio Trabocchi sidestepped commenting on whether he endorsed Smash Racism’s messaging, instead insisting that management’s priority above all is safety. Once the protest started, his staff called police and kicked out the protesters. “Recognizing that there was a potential for escalation and concerned for the safety of all our customers, our management did what they could do to diffuse the situation immediately and, as is our policy, if there is ever an event of this nature, the police were called. We are trained at hospitality not public safety, and our highest priority is always the well-being of our customers,” he said.

This new reality, of course, also changes the way off-duty pols travel in the region. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, who earlier this year was shooed out of a Lexington, Virginia eatery (by management, not protesters), recently received a Secret Service detail, a security upgrade that has little past precedent. And it’s unlikely that public confrontations show any sign of slowing down. While MacAuley wouldn’t specify if further events are in the works, she entertained a hypothetical: Committee member Sen. Orrin Hatch dines out with his family. What happens next?

“I would love to see Hatch out. If you get any wind of that, be sure to tip us off on our Facebook page,” she punctuates with a laugh.


Staff Writer

Brittany Shepherd covers the societal and cultural scene in political Washington. Before joining Washingtonian as a staff writer in 2018, Brittany was a White House Correspondent for Independent Journal Review. While she has lived in DC for a number of years now, she still yearns for the fresh Long Island bagels of home. Find her on Twitter, often prattling on about Frasier.