A scenic spring break rail trip along the California coast came to a screeching halt in San Jose this week for a Los Angeles family when they were verbally assaulted by another passenger.
Robbie Pierce and Neal Broverman were taking their two children on a train ride and from apparently out of nowhere, another man sitting across from them began shouting at their 6-year-old son that marriage is between a man and a woman.
“He said ‘these are not your parents, they’re rapists. They’re pedophiles,’” said Pierce.
He said the man went on to accuse the couple of even stealing their children.
Broverman said he and Pierce got between the man and the children who started crying. But he said the stranger just got louder and more vulgar with his comments.
Police were called and the train was delayed after the man refused to leave.
“And he said ‘I will die before I get off this train’ and then, we knew it was already very scary, but we knew it was deadly serious at that point,” said Broverman.
The couple has an adopted son and a 5-year-old foster daughter. They say they’ve dealt with homophobic strangers before, but they say the words “pedophile” and “rapists” are part of a larger narrative – one they’ve seen on far right, mainstream news.
“We’ve seen those talking points over the last few weeks coming from the DeSantis camp, and coming from online, and from legislators and Fox News,” said Pierce. “We’ve seen those talking points and it just gets closer and closer until now, it’s in our real lives.”
NBC Bay Area Political Analyst Larry Gerston has been tracking the data on these issues in the U.S. in recent years and said there seems to be a core group of people expressing discriminatory beliefs against lots of different groups.
"Exactly what causes it, I can’t tell you. But we do know that there is this uptick, and the uptick of course, will be upsetting to those people who are impacted and to other people who feel that this is wrong," Gerston said.
Amtrak told NBC News in a statement that it “strongly condemns this reprehensible act of hate” and that it is “conducting a full investigation on this incident.” It added that it is looking into potentially banning the unidentified man from Amtrak.
The two dads and their children were on their way back home to Los Angeles Friday. They said Amtrak treated them to a private cabin for the return trip where no one could harass them.