The assault on Denny’s restaurants, a chain beloved by middle Americans and serving a million customers a day, helps us understand the real meaning of civil rights. Flagship, the chain’s parent company, was forced to settle a group of lawsuits—choreographed by the Justice Department, the NAACP, and Saperstein, Mayeda & Goldstein of Oakland, California—for $54 million. The firm will collect a total of $8.7 million.

Denny’s had to hire a “civil rights monitor,” introduce an internal espionage system to expose naughty comments, send its white employees to reeducation camps, endow blacks with franchises, and put a hostile black woman on Flagship’s board of directors. Denny’s also had to promise the NAACP that it would spend at least one million dollars hiring, training, and installing black managers.

By the end, more than 4,300 people had signed up as plaintiffs against Denny’s, and the New York Times tried to recruit even more by publishing a toll-free number (1-80G-GET-LOOT?). The operator answers: “Hello. Claims for the Denny’s settlement. May I help you?” Yet there has been no admission of guilt, no trial by jury, and no sworn statements in court.

The accusations against the company boil down to minor service complaints by customers who may have been setups, assertions by disgruntled ex-employees, smears by sworn enemies, and liberal media hype. For example, in May 1993, six black Secret Service agents entered a Denny’s in Annapolis, Maryland. President Clinton was giving a speech at the nearby Naval Academy. In a recent New York Times version of the event, the agents were “refused a table.” A Times editorial repeated the charge: “The black Secret Service agents” were “refused a table at a Denny’s” as “their white colleagues were seated and served.”

A more honest version of events was reported in the equally anti-Denny’s Washington Post a year ago: “Six black Secret Service agents ordered food at a Denny’s in Annapolis that took so long to arrive, they say, that in effect they were denied service. . . . The six black agents sat together. Their supervisor, also black, sat among white agents. All 21 agents, who had less than an hour to eat, ordered in rapid succession. When the six black agents realized that all the white agents and the supervisor had been served but they had not, they sent [agent Robin] Thompson to ask the waitress about it. She said their meals were on the way. When Thompson demanded to see the manager, the waitress said he was on the phone. White agents [have said] the waitress rolled her eyes after turning to leave the black agents’ table.”

The Post further reports that the six agents were the last to order, that their orders were complex, and that they did get their food. But the agents “refused it because there was no time to eat.” “We had to go to Roy Rogers and eat in the van,” one S.S. type whined to the Post. Poor babies.

Let’s review. The President was speaking nearby, meaning the restaurant was crowded. It was the busy state capital, at noon, but all 21 agents were seated. All were served, but some later than others. That’s a “civil rights violation”?

The implication is that no white man has ever experienced late service in a restaurant. None has ever sat and watched people who were seated after he was served first, and maybe even finish their meal before he was served. And to look at things from the other side of the counter, what harried waitress might not roll her eyes at a table of surly bureaucrats, regardless of the root causes of their rage?

Yet, at the first sign of delay, civil servant Thompson marched up to the waitress and loudly demanded the food. The waitress said it was on the way. Thompson then veiled that he wanted to see the manager. But the latter was on the phone. Naturally, this series of blatantly racist acts—by white taxpayers against black tax-consumers—became a nationwide class-action suit with a $54 million penalty.

On that very day, perhaps not coincidentally, Denny’s had settled another suit in California for $34.8 million, including $6.8 million for Saperstein, Mayeda & Goldstein. But the California case was restricted to that state. The suit stemming from Annapolis gathered plaintiffs from all over the country, except California. In retrospect, it’s clear that the lawyers and the Justice Department wanted to take their racial racket on the road. It’s even possible that the well-to-do feds were provoking a working-class woman as part of a scheme orchestrated in Oakland. The agents were employed, after all, by Bill Clinton. An actual trial might have answered this question, but when the plaintiffs’ lawyers run the show, the media are the only court. Even granting good intentions by the agents, is it now illegal to roll your eyes? If so, I can think of a number of clerks of color who are going to be in deep trouble.

In the incident that kicked off the California suit, black federal judge Kenneth Hoyt had to wait “an inordinate length of time for service” at a Denny’s in Eureka, California. (Is there no end to the white man’s perfidy?) While he waited, he claims, fellow patrons taunted him with racial epithets. Sure they did, judge. This sounds like one of the Fibs of Racism that festoon the media. And indeed, there is no proof it took place.

But let’s suppose someone did make a remark, perhaps in response to the judge’s loud, pompous complaints about discrimination. Was Denny’s supposed to toss out the taunting customer? Of course. That’s “civil rights.” But if a black taunts a white, throwing out the black would be “a civil rights violation,” and Denny’s would be fined another $54 million.

The California lawyers began shopping for plaintiffs as soon as the Crime of Annapolis was publicized, and indeed it was major international news for several days. In one Virginia case, a black choir director with three busloads of kids pulled up to a Denny’s at 11.00 P.M. on a Sunday night and demanded quick service. Only one cook was on duty, so the night manager suggested the bigger Denny’s just up the road. KKK! The choir director filed suit.

As the pile-on continued, Jesse Jackson went on a national victimology tour, and there were NAACP pickets at Denny’s restaurants all over the country. Leading the lynch mob was the Justice Department’s newly appointed head of civil rights, Deval L. Patrick (known to some of us as D’Evil). During confirmation hearings, he was hailed as the moderate alternative to Lani Guinier. Yet how could Guinier’s voting schemes be worse than Patrick’s assault on private enterprise? And he assured us, just in case we were worried, that Denny’s was only the beginning.

It surely is. Yet with the central state, the elites, and the media at war with the majority of taxpayers, and with redistribution from the productive to the parasitic our major economic activity, Americans may begin asking how the feds came to require involuntary servitude from whites. Before the passage of the 13th Amendment, blacks complained about being forced to serve whites in service occupations. That’s why the amendment abolished not only slavery, but also involuntary servitude. Blacks could no longer be forced to wait on whites. But civil rights is the new involuntary servitude, and whites better hop to it. Or they can realize that the two things that distinguish a freeman from a slave are the freedom of association and the freedom of contract. Whether we look at the economy from the standpoint of liberty, prosperity, or justice, it’s clear that civil rights laws have enslaved the majority. It’s also clear that it’s time for a slave revolt.