Fifteen minutes after he was scheduled to apologize to African-American and Latino community members at Lo-Lo's Chicken and Waffles in south Phoenix, Arizona Representative David Stringer still hadn't shown up.
Reporters started to speculate that maybe he'd never agreed to be part of the press conference and community forum that had been announced that morning by Jarrett Maupin, a controversial activist and radio show host. After all, Stringer had made national headlines two weeks beforehand for saying that immigration presents an existential threat to the United States, and that "there aren't enough white kids to go around" in Arizona public schools.
After a few interviews where he doubled down on his comments, the Prescott Republican had begun avoiding the press, claiming that the viral clip of his speech was a "Democratic hit piece" and accusing the media of distorting and misrepresenting his remarks.
Then, in a media alert sent out on Wednesday morning, Maupin, whose tactics are frequently criticized by members of the Black Lives Matter movement, promised reporters an opportunity to attend a "black and Latino leadership luncheon" where Stringer would apologize for his "offensive, bombastic, and ill-conceived" remarks.
No lunch was served until after the hour-and-a-half long forum had ended and the reporters had left, and not many black and Latino leaders were present. The handful of community members who showed up got only a halfhearted apology from Stringer once he finally did arrive.
"If there are people in this room who were offended, I am going to apologize for making statements that allowed someone else to excerpt them, misrepresent them to the community," he said.
"Do you apologize to at least the African-American and Latino people who are gathered in this room?" Maupin asked him.
"I thought what I said was that I do apologize for anyone who was offended by my remarks," Stringer answered. "I do believe that the 51-second segment — "
A man at the back of the room spoke up.
"You could have just stopped there," he told Stringer. "An apology is good enough. You don't have to clarify that it was the Democrats' fault."
Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Do not come to a Chicken and Waffle spot to apologize for offensive remarks to people of color. You might as well wear white gloves and have a watermelon in the background. https://t.co/nQO5kfWy82— Marcus Ferrell (@Marcus4America) June 27, 2018
Stringer's decision to apologize to people of color at a soul food restaurant, of all places, raised some eyebrows. But the venue was Maupin's choice.
Asked why the event didn't take place in Stringer's home district of Prescott, Maupin cracked, "Are there any colored people in Prescott?"
He added, "I'm not serving up cubed watermelon, and no one's buck dancing for Stringer."
Wearing a navy blue blazer and a red tie, and clutching a mysterious manila folder full of documents, Stringer knocked over a jar of pickled peppers as soon as he sat down. Visibly uncomfortable, he made several attempts to explain his June 11 comments at the Yavapai County Republican Men's Forum, while also refusing to answer questions and protesting that he was only there to talk about criminal justice reform.
Mostly, he touted his experience as an attorney in Washington, D.C., and Maryland, saying that he'd done pro bono civil rights work for young African-American men and had also represented "crack babies."
Asked if he was a white nationalist, as had previously been rumored, Stringer struggled to give a simple yes or no answer.
"That phrase, I suspect, is used is many different contexts," he said. "I am not a white nationalist, as I understand the term."
After some prodding, he declared himself to be "emphatically not a white nationalist."
While Stringer had previously claimed that immigration and multiculturalism would lead to civil disorder and a dissolution of the United States, the views that he expressed in front of a diverse crowd on Tuesday were somewhat less extreme. He acknowledged that immigration has "revitalized and energized America," but he argued that too many people had entered the country in a short period of time, preventing new immigrants from assimilating into American life.
"Who is most affected by this?" he asked rhetorically. "I would say that arguably, the African-American community. The African-American community has been supplanted by a huge influx of other minority groups, principally people from south of the border."
Stringer also doubled down on his belief that the most successful countries are the ones with the least diversity.
"If you look at the most stable nations in the world today – like Japan, for example – they have a high degree of homogeneity, if you will," he said.
Asked to respond to the calls for his resignation from Arizona Republican Party chairman Jonathan Lines and Governor Doug Ducey, he remained stoic.
"I don't know how repeated the calls are, but basically I have no response," he said.
Stringer also suggested that the governor had been misled.
"I understand the predicament that he was placed in with incomplete information," he said. "A small section of my comments came out and were making it into the mainstream media and causing a furor on social media, and he was confronted with this incomplete information."
Insisting that the event he'd convened wasn't "the forgiveness hour," Maupin also advised reporters and community members to understand where Stringer was coming from.
"Part of what he's dealing with in his district up in Prescott is, look, their kids are all on opioids," he said. "It's like the walking dead in some places up there. They're hemorrhaging jobs. What do they produce up there? They're struggling economically. Poor whites are aging, they've got an aging workforce up there. They are going extinct in Prescott. But they need to understand what are the real driving factors behind that, and it's not a bunch of Mexican kids enrolling in public schools."
Anxiety over the races mixing is fueling fear among many Republicans, Maupin suggested.
"The difference between now and the 1960s, frankly, is that it's no longer against the law for you to find a black or brown man and make a little colored baby," he said. "A lot of this is a cultural shock. There is a change in what American babies are looking like. I guess my proof of that is all the girlfriends in the NBA and the NFL draft."
Both Maupin and Stringer were vague on the details of how their "luncheon" came together.
Maupin said that he's held regular lunches at Lo-Lo's with people involved with groups such as Black Lives Matter Arizona and the NAACP for the past eight to 10 years. The group doesn't have a name, but typically talks about criminal justice reform, he said.
"We already had the meeting," Maupin said. "We got a call from him to come here, and we accepted his interest in coming."
Who placed the call?
"Well, I don't think I need to reveal his whole campaign staff," Maupin replied.
Stringer also dodged the question. "I'm going to defer to Reverend Maupin," he said. "I was given the opportunity to come here, and I welcomed that opportunity."
The consensus did seem to be that someone in Stringer's camp had made the initial overture.
"Folks that are familiar with him made an inquiry," Maupin acknowledged.
Was one of them Constanin Querard, a right-wing political consultant who'd been spotted escorting Stringer to the restaurant?
"I think it's safe to say that Constantin was one of the people who called," Maupin said. "Not the only person. A young lady called ... there's a bunch of people who called."
Since Maupin has been known to charge for his advocacy work, reporters naturally wanted to know if he'd been paid by Stringer.
"Oh, hell yes, 40 acres and a mule up in Prescott," Maupin joked, but denied receiving money.
The summit came to an end after a woman seated at the back of the room demanded that reporters explain why Stringer shouldn't have come to Lo-Lo's, "a beautiful restaurant."
Before anyone could answer, Merissa Hamilton, who said she was unaffiliated with Stringer or his campaign, jumped in front of the cameras and began hectoring the media.
"We came in this room so that we could have a conversation about criminal justice reform, and all of you media here — you don't want criminal justice reform solved, and that's what we need solved, that's what needs to happen," she said, sounding like she was on the verge of tears.
Hamilton, who described herself as "just a Republican who cares about criminal justice reform," previously made headlines when she got herself arrested in 2017 while unsuccessfully attempting to run for governor as a libertarian.
At that point, the question-and-answer session devolved into sheer chaos, and most of the media packed up to leave.
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The Arizona Republican Party was not amused.
“I find this to be highly offensive, insensitive and counterproductive. Chairman Lines shares my sentiments,” AZ Republican Party spokeswoman Ayshia Connors wrote in a statement. “The optics of this are despicable and it just goes to show how tone-deaf David Stringer really is. I don’t know who put him up to this, but it was an awful move.”
This story has been updated to clarify that lunch was served — though not until after 4 p.m., after the media had left. A manager at Lo-Lo's Chicken and Waffles confirmed Maupin's account below.