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Coffee Tavern

The Coffee Tavern is located at 2828 Second Ave. N. in downtown Billings.

By the time Larry Heafner deleted his Facebook page, people had already taken screenshots of posts he'd written with comments they called racist, sexist, homophobic and otherwise offensive.

The posts spread like electricity among Billings Facebook users.

One post penned by Heafner, who is a co-owner of The Coffee Tavern, described sodomizing a women with a bat. Another said he concluded that any man who voted for Hillary Clinton is a homosexual.

In another post, left under a viral video that showed black men assaulting a white man, Heafner wrote that "These f---ing monkeys would be hanging if I saw this s---."

Eight minutes later, he added, "You don't see white people doing this s---!"

Screenshots of his posts erupted on Facebook over the weekend, with some calling for a boycott of The Coffee Tavern, which has yet to open. Most of the saved posts spanned the week surrounding Election Day.

In one post, he said The Coffee Tavern in downtown Billings would "never recognize a murdering whore for president" and that people who didn't like that idea could stay out of the shop. He later took back that statement related to future customers.

Reached on Sunday, Heafner said he realized that he'd made offensive comments. He said he "completely" apologized and said that he'd spent the weekend reaching out to people he knows who might have been offended.

"I'm not going to sit here and try to excuse my derogatory comments, because that would be ridiculous," he said.

But in the middle of a social media backlash, Heafner was bothered by the notion that he would be called a racist.

"I have a hard time buying that," he said.

Heafner said he was wrapped up in the election cycle, which by most accounts took a tense tone in 2016. He said he "bought into the rhetoric" of some of the more extreme views.

Most of his posts had political themes. Heafner repeatedly said Sunday the country is divided and that his comments fell into that contentious vein.

Josh Schleining took screenshots of the original posts. Schleining was collecting multiple offensive posts in the wake of the election.

He said he wasn't trying to target Heafner, but once other users started sharing Heafner's comments, the online floodgates opened. The rate of sharing startled Schleining.

“I feel like people took it a bit too far initially, but if you were able to still see his profile of all the things he was saying publicly, it was absolutely disgusting," he said.

A day after he posted that first screenshot, Heafner's Facebook page went dark.

The shared posts, comments and other reactions to Heafner's comments came by the thousands during the weekend. It's unclear how the online vitriol will affect the material world, as the opening date of The Coffee Tavern remains in question.

“It just can't be tolerated," said Lisa Harmon, executive director of the Downtown Billings Alliance, of Heafner's posts. "I met with my staff yesterday and was in communication with my board and just trying to understand the situation."

Harmon said hundreds of messages came to her phone this weekend letting her know about the posts. She said the business development organization has yet to decide what its next step, if any, might be.

Eran Thompson, who sits on the Montana advisory committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the Montana Human Rights Network Board and the Not In Our Town national board, said he wasn't shocked — he was disappointed.

"I think this is a microcosm of what’s happening in our world," Thompson said. "It’s very real, this anger and resentment toward people of color and women and people with disabilities.”

Thompson said that, in these situations, actions speak louder than words. He said a public apology by Heafner, as well as anti-oppression training, would be positive steps.

Heafner said that his comments, which included racist and sexist ideas, don't reflect his personality. He said that his black friends and colleagues who are minorities are evidence of this.

The Coffee Tavern Facebook page has been shut down in addition to Heafner's. He said the shop's opening has been postponed, but he has no intention to leave his ownership stake.

He's now focused on how this will affect his business on Second Avenue North.

"I just hope people can realize that I am sincere," he said of his apology.

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