OAK GLEN, Calif.—If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of Hell’s Kitchen, says Frank Opp, owner of Hell’s Kitchen Motorsports Bar and Grill in Lake Elsinore, Calif.
He’s fed up with restrictions on small businesses like his in California—and he’s, well, quite frank about it. He says if some people are worried about COVID-19 and don’t want to enter places of business, they can stay home. But he’s going to open his doors to all the others.
And he’s not going to be Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “COVID police,” he told The Epoch Times. He’s not going to school his biker clientele on social distancing etiquette, and he won’t make them wear masks if they don’t want to.
“I am going to open fully and just roll with the punches,” Opp said. “I know they say this is the ‘new norm.’ No, this is not the new norm. This is a violation of our constitutional rights. This is not what America was founded on by our forefathers.”
Opp, 56, is the founder of the Redeeming America Tour. In recent weeks, he’s held rallies in Murrieta and Oak Glen, and he’s headed for San Diego next, with the intention of making his way up to Sacramento.
His rally in Murrieta drew thousands on July 18, including Sen. Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) and Dr. Jeff Barke, an outspoken critic of public health policies amid the pandemic. Opp’s Freedom Protest Rally 2020 in Oak Glen drew several hundred on Aug. 15.
The Redeeming America Tour calls for lifting COVID-related restrictions on small businesses, but it’s also a response to the looting and destruction that have affected those businesses and communities at large. Opp is a former police officer, and he’s also rallying behind law enforcement, and against calls to defund the police.
This has made enemies for him among some Black Lives Matter supporters, who have led the call to defund the police.
His rally in Oak Glen was called a “white supremacy protest” in a flyer opposing it. The flyer was posted on social media by “blm4poc” (which stands for Black Lives Matter for Persons of Color), a group based in neighboring Redlands that has been active in protests against what they say is a strong current of racism in the region.
The group takes issue in particular with Jim Riley, who hosted the Aug. 15 rally on his farm. Riley has made comments on social media that have earned him the nickname “Racist Riley.”
Riley told The Epoch Times that people have misunderstood his comments, which he says are against what he sees as anti-white ideologies, but not against black people.
One of his tweets said, “If there’s a problem in America today, it’s BLACK supremacy,” and he named Louis Farrakhan Sr. as a leader of “black supremacy” thought. Farrakhan—a protégé of Malcolm X who also went by the name Louis X—is a leader of the Nation of Islam, a movement that combines elements of Islam with black nationalism.
Riley is a history buff, famous for his reenactments of the American Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the Gold Rush. One of his Civil War reenactments appeared in a short scene at the end of the movie “Amistad,” starring Morgan Freeman and Anthony Hopkins, which portrayed the brutality on the notorious slave ship, Amistad.
The blm4poc flyer denounced the Redeeming America rally at Riley’s as “falsely using the word protest to disguise a full-blown illegal festival amidst a pandemic killing hundreds of thousands.”
Outside the rally at Riley’s on Aug. 15, vendors sold merchandise that was pro-President Donald Trump. Other stands represented church groups; one was collecting petition signatures to recall Newsom.
Among the speakers at the event were San Jacinto Mayor Andrew Kotyuk, Robin Hvidston of We The People Rising, and Tea Party Patriots California organizer John Berry.
Opp said he also had the support of Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco, and the blessings of Pastor Tim Thompson of Our Watch and Pastor Rob McCoy of Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Ventura County’s Newbury Park.
McCoy recently defied the state ban on indoor church services and a temporary restraining order. He was charged and found in contempt on Aug. 21. McCoy was fined $500 for each of the three services on two Sundays, for a total of $3,000. In a YouTube video, McCoy called the fines “a small price to pay for liberty.” Two days later, he again held indoor services.
Opp told The Epoch Times, “We should not be walking around in fear.”
‘Business as Usual’
Instead, Opp said, people should be educated on how best to protect themselves from the virus and get back to “business as usual.”
“If one of us is not following the rules, they’ll make an example out of you,” he said. “They will make your life miserable and make a public example out of you. … I got it, I see the way they’re playing this game.”
Opp’s bar and restaurant caters mainly to bikers who like to ride the winding Ortega Highway, otherwise known as State Route 74.
“Bikers are probably some of the most patriotic, loyal, and protective people you’ll ever meet,” but many of them are not inclined to wear masks, he said.
And if they stay close together, “I’m not going to get in the middle of them and try to tell them they need to separate. And I’m darn well not going to kick them off my property.”
Opp said that reducing seating capacity to 50 percent is not economically viable when he still has 100 percent of the bills to pay.
“This is not right. It’s not fair,” he said. Seating them outdoors isn’t a solution either, he said. “Putting people in 108- and 110-degree weather in my parking lot—that’s ridiculous, too.”
He’s frustrated with the ever-changing regulations, and he has lost revenue for most of the prime riding season, so he’s ready to reopen regardless of state mandates.
He described his rallies as educational and informational “protests,” because under statewide COVID restrictions, a protest is the only legal means for large groups to gather. Opp said he has chosen large open areas to hold the protests.
The protests are also held on private properties with security as a preemptive measure against potential disruption from “opposing groups that might be inclined to cause chaos,” he said.
“That’s not what I want,” he said. “I want to be able to reach out to every small, family-owned business that’s struggling just like I am, and my son is.”
Opp said he welcomes everyone, regardless of their political stripes, to attend the protest rallies as long as they support ending restrictions on small businesses and are not disruptive. But for those who may fear the unmasked, his protests are probably not the place to be. Masks are optional.
Riley characterized Opp’s Redeeming America Tour as a grassroots reaction to government oppression.
He said it’s “an organic response to the cruelty that’s been visited upon small businesses.”
“These are people who don’t have the security of continued wages for a crisis, and they have to make a living,” he said.
“And so they’re basically saying the economic lockdown is killing them. I mean, literally taking away their homes, taking away their businesses, and they want the lockdown to end.
“It’s either colossal incompetence on the part of public officials, or there’s something profoundly evil going on here—they really do want to change completely the economic complexion, so that all work is for government or super large corporations.”
He said many also believe the call to defund the police “is a tremendously dangerous reality.”
Opp was working as a police officer in Huntington Beach in 1992 when violence erupted in Los Angeles following the acquittal of four white police officers in the beating of Rodney King.
Opp opposes police brutality, but he said “a few bad apples” are being used “as an excuse to go out and just terrorize the world.”
“It’s not the day and age to be a cop. … It’s just a shame,” Opp said. “I feel sorry for these guys. … I don’t believe in defunding law enforcement. If anything, we need to appreciate them more. They need to be paid more for what they’re doing.”
Several attendees of the Aug. 15 rally held banners and signs that said “Blue Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter.”