- Associated Press - Sunday, October 11, 2020

WILMINGTON, Del. — A pizza restaurant chain has blocked Republican U.S. Senate candidate Lauren Witzke from holding a campaign event at one of its locations, saying it believes in remaining politically neutral.

The Delaware News Journal reports that Grotto Pizza canceled a private “meet-and-greet” event that Witzke’s campaign planned to hold Friday at one of its Wilmington restaurants.

“We do not allow campaign events in any of our locations and do not support any specific candidates in any elections,” the restaurant chain said in a Facebook post, according to the newspaper.

In a message posted on Twitter, Witzke claimed Grotto Pizza canceled the event “due to persistent harassment from a few loud and rabid far-leftists.” Her tweet said roughly 30 people had registered to attend.

Witzke, who is challenging Democratic incumbent Sen. Chris Coons, is one of dozens of current or former congressional candidates who have promoted or expressed an interest in QAnon, a baseless conspiracy theory that President Donald Trump is waging a secret campaign against enemies in the “deep state” and a child sex trafficking ring run by satanic pedophiles and cannibals.

Witzke has been photographed wearing a QAnon T-shirt and has used the QAnon slogan “WWG1WGA,” which stands for “Where We Go One, We Go All,” in some of her Twitter hashtags.

Witzke told The Associated Press in January that she had stopped promoting QAnon months earlier, dismissing it as “mainstream psyops to get people to ‘trust the plan’ and not do anything.” QAnon followers often encourage each other to “trust the plan.”

“I certainly think it’s more hype than substance,” she said.

In an email to The News Journal, Witzke wrote, “While we respect Grottos’ right as a private business to refuse service, I personally spoke with a Grottos representative Thursday evening, and told him in no uncertain terms that we were holding a political event, at which point the Grottos representative did not inform us about their company policy against hosting political candidates.”

Jeffrey Gosnear, vice president of Grotto Pizza Inc., said the chain did not know it was a political event until several customers called.

“If we had known that it was a political meet-and-greet prior to them booking it, we would have told them upfront that we can’t do that,” he said.

Gosnear said the chain created its rule against hosting political gatherings after the 2018 midterm elections.

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