The night that ended far differently started out normal. It was Thursday at Mekelburg’s, a busy Brooklyn grocery with a cafe and bar in the back and picnic tables on the patio, with locals tucking into sandwiches and sipping craft beers.
Everything changed at 7 p.m., when someone noticed a news story online. Word spread through the place like a rotten odor. Customers scanned their phones, looked up and signaled for the check.
“By 8:15, we were completely empty,” said Alicia Guevara, who owns Mekelburg’s with her husband, Daniel Mekelburg.
Slowly, she pieced together what had happened.
HuffPost had just published a profile of a prolific Twitter firebrand from New York, a woman who frequently attacks Islam — one post warned that “500K Muslims will Invade Europe this Summer” — under the user name @AmyMek.
The story revealed her full name, Amy Mekelburg, offered details about her family and mentioned a brother who “runs a popular restaurant and craft beer bar in Brooklyn that also bears the family name.”
The backlash to the story was instantaneous and widespread, rattling even veterans of the high-volume, high-vitriol, endless shouting match that plays out on the fringes of ideological dividing lines in this country.
The HuffPost reporter who wrote the article, Luke O’Brien, was accused by Ms. Mekelburg’s supporters of “doxxing” her and her family, the term for revealing personal information about a person online. He was, in turn, doxxed by her supporters, and was immediately inundated with threats. One, he said, included a picture of a gun and the words, “Your time is come.”
Mr. O’Brien, a HuffPost senior reporter who covers political extremism and propaganda, is familiar with doxxing tactics and vitriolic responses. But newcomers to the world, like Ms. Guevara and her husband, were unaccustomed and ill-prepared to deal with the fallout.
It came from both the political left and the right, playing out online on Twitter, on Facebook and, where they could hurt the restaurant worst, in bogus one-star reviews on Yelp.
n the ground that night, the story’s repercussions could be seen in real time with the stampede for the door, Ms. Guevara said. “No one really asking for information,” she said on Monday. “Just accusing us.” Someone asked her, “How much of my money has gone to your sister’s cause?” she said.
She had no idea the story was in the works, she said. She and her husband have little contact with Ms. Mekelburg, seeing one another a few times a year at family gatherings in New Jersey and even then keeping their distance, she said. Ms. Guevara said she was unaware of the @AmyMek account until the story broke.
Alone in Brooklyn while her husband was traveling overseas, she hastily published a statement on social media the following day.
“Amy has never been linked to or involved with our business in any capacity whatsoever,” the statement read. “This revelation of her Twitter account has, frankly, thrown our family into chaos. We are disturbed, revolted and humiliated.”
The couple was planning on expanding to a second location in Brooklyn, but now she was consumed with one thought: “We’re over,” she said three days later. “This is over.”
Mr. O’Brien said he only became aware of @AmyMek on Twitter a month ago, and learned her identity from a source. After he tried to contact Ms. Mekelburg for the story, she wrote about him on Twitter and asked her followers for help.
“He has threatened to reveal my identity putting me and my family at great personal risk,” @AmyMek tweeted on Thursday. “But it’s MUCH worse than you can imagine …”
Mr. O’Brien, whose phone number is listed in his Twitter profile, heard from her supporters immediately, he said. “I was getting threatening calls as I was finishing my story,” he said.
The story was published Thursday evening. One detail in particular enraged Ms. Mekelburg’s supporters: Mr. O’Brien learned that her husband, Sal Siino, was a senior vice president at WWE, World Wrestling Entertainment, and when he questioned the organization about its knowledge of Ms. Mekelburg’s Twitter activity, Mr. Siino was fired.
Ms. Mekelburg attacked Mr. O’Brien in a series of 20 posts to Twitter on Thursday, asking for prayers for her family and expressing gratitude to President Trump, who she said has retweeted her in the past, and his attacks on “fake news.”
Some of her supporters posted Mr. O’Brien’s photo on Twitter. He has shown some of the more violent threats to the police. He declined to say where he lives for his family’s safety, and raised the specter of “Pizzagate,” the 2016 incident in which a 29-year-old North Carolina man fired a military-style assault rifle inside a Washington, D.C., pizzeria, believing what he’d read online about children trapped in a supposed sex-slave ring.
“This actually does lead to real violence — that’s my real fear,” Mr. O’Brien said Monday. “Someone just shows up with an AR-15 and thinks they’re doing God’s work.”
He responded to attacks on Twitter, telling one user upset about the WWE detail to “Go DDT himself,” a reference to a wrestling move. Twitter suspended his account for several hours, viewing the language as a threat, he said.
Lydia Polgreen, the editor in chief of HuffPost and a former reporter and editor at The New York Times, said she also received personal attacks after the article, as did three other journalists at the organization. “It takes real courage to work this beat,” she said.
Ms. Mekelburg could not be reached for comment by telephone or with a message on Twitter.
At Mekelburg’s, in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, the phones rang so incessantly — mostly out-of-state callers, Ms. Guevara said — that they were briefly shut off. She added a security detail at the store over the weekend, and shut down the bar’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. By Monday afternoon when a reporter visited, the restaurant was half full, and a customer interrupted at one point to hug Ms. Guevara. She said customers are returning.
Ms. Guevara said the notion of the bar endorsing Ms. Mekelburg’s Twitter activity is laughable. “Have you seen my staff?” she said. “White, black, Hispanic. Straight, gay, transgender. Catholic, Jewish, Baptist, agnostic. Everything.”
She said she does not know how to reach Ms. Mekelburg and has no reason to believe her sister-in-law will stop using Twitter anytime soon. “I think what she does is dangerous,” she said. “She speaks to people with words that frighten them.”