These Are the Corporations Behind Trump’s Muslim Ban

Saqib Bhatti and Molly Gott July 20, 2018

A new report looks at the companies that either directly profit off anti-Muslim policies or that finance the politicians who support these policies. (Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court offi­cial­ly gave its seal of approval to dis­crim­i­na­tion against Mus­lims by uphold­ing Pres­i­dent Trump’s Mus­lim ban. With all three branch­es of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment now appar­ent­ly unit­ed in their anti-Mus­lim ani­mus, it is clear­er than ever that we can­not wait for our pub­lic offi­cials to see the fol­ly of their ways and right this wrong. 

That is why on June 29th, we at the Action Cen­ter on Race and the Econ­o­my (ACRE) and Lit­tle­Sis released a report, Ban Them: Tak­ing on the Cor­po­ra­tions Behind the Mus­lim Ban, which looks at the com­pa­nies that either direct­ly prof­it off anti-Mus­lim and anti-immi­grant poli­cies or that finance the politi­cians who sup­port these poli­cies. Our goal is to inspire cam­paigns that force these com­pa­nies to stop pro­mot­ing Islamophobia.

When we think of anti-Mus­lim cor­po­ra­tions, orga­ni­za­tions like Bre­it­bart News and News Corp may come to mind. How­ev­er, these com­pa­nies make for poor tar­gets because hate- and fear­mon­ger­ing are a core part of their busi­ness mod­els. Sim­i­lar­ly, defense con­trac­tors like Hal­libur­ton, Black­wa­ter and Cater­pil­lar — as well as Big Oil com­pa­nies like Exxon­Mo­bil and BP — depend on war in Mus­lim-major­i­ty coun­tries for their prof­its. They need a large por­tion of Amer­i­cans to view Mus­lims as the ene­my in order to sur­vive and thrive. This also makes them imper­fect targets.

How­ev­er, there is a dif­fer­ent set of com­pa­nies — com­pa­nies whose exec­u­tives are brand-sen­si­tive and want to appear cos­mopoli­tan and mul­ti­cul­tur­al, many of whom count large num­bers of Mus­lims among their cus­tomers, but who nev­er­the­less help prop up Islam­o­pho­bia and our bru­tal anti-immi­grant régime. This includes, for exam­ple, cor­po­ra­tions who are major donors to anti-Mus­lim politi­cians like Rep. Steve King from Iowa and Sen­ate Major­i­ty Leader Mitch McConnell. It also includes com­pa­nies that prof­it from and enable immi­grant deten­tion, incar­cer­a­tion and surveillance.

Com­pa­nies that sup­port anti-Mus­lim politicians

Rep. King may well be the most racist mem­ber of Con­gress. He is cer­tain­ly the most anti-Mus­lim. Just last month, he encour­aged meat-pack­ing plants in his dis­trict to dis­crim­i­nate against Mus­lim work­ers. Last year, King tweet­ed out an endorse­ment of the far-right Dutch politi­cian Geert Wilders, who has com­pared the Qur’an to Hitler’s Mein Kampf, writ­ing, Wilders under­stands that cul­ture and demo­graph­ics are our des­tiny. We can’t restore our civ­i­liza­tion with some­body else’s babies.”

It is not a stretch to say that Sen­a­tor Mitch McConnell gave us the Mus­lim ban. McConnell mas­ter­mind­ed the theft of Obama’s Supreme Court pick by refus­ing to sched­ule hear­ings for Mer­rick Gar­land and made it pos­si­ble for Trump to appoint Neil Gor­such to the bench, which gave Trump the fifth vote he need­ed to uphold the ban.

Both King and McConnell receive major fund­ing from Wall Street. Over the course of King’s polit­i­cal career, his sec­ond biggest cam­paign donor has been the Amer­i­can Bankers Asso­ci­a­tion (ABA), the lead­ing indus­try asso­ci­a­tion of big banks like Wells Far­go, JPMor­gan Chase, Bank of Amer­i­ca, Cit­i­group, U.S. Bank and Gold­man Sachs. JPMor­gan Chase and Bank of Amer­i­ca both have rep­re­sen­ta­tives on the ABA’s board.

The ABA gets its mon­ey from its mem­ber banks, and banks often rely on the ABA to do their lob­by­ing and push their agen­da with­out get­ting their own hands dirty. All of these banks are indi­rect­ly fund­ing Steve King. War­ren Buffett’s Berk­shire Hath­away is anoth­er one of King’s top cam­paign con­trib­u­tors. Berk­shire Hath­away is the largest share­hold­er in both Wells Far­go and Bank of Amer­i­ca and a major share­hold­er in Gold­man Sachs and U.S. Ban­corp (the par­ent com­pa­ny of U.S. Bank).

The Black­stone Group, the world’s largest pri­vate equi­ty firm and a Wall Street giant, is McConnell’s top donor. Blackstone’s invest­ments include com­pa­nies like Ver­sace, Crocs, Motel 6 and Michaels craft stores. Black­stone CEO Stephen Schwarz­man was also the Chair­man of Trump’s busi­ness coun­cil before it dis­band­ed. Cit­i­group, JPMor­gan Chase, Gold­man Sachs, and the Swiss bank UBS are also among McConnell’s top cam­paign con­trib­u­tors, as is Elliott Man­age­ment, the hedge fund run by Paul Singer. All of these com­pa­nies are com­plic­it in the theft of Obama’s Supreme Court pick, which has giv­en us the con­ser­v­a­tive major­i­ty we now have today.

One com­pa­ny that is on the list of both King and McConnell’s top donors is AT&T. Even though thou­sands of Amer­i­can Mus­lims are AT&T cus­tomers, by giv­ing so much mon­ey to these anti-Mus­lim politi­cians, the com­pa­ny is actu­al­ly a leader in pro­mot­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion against Mus­lims in the Unit­ed States. AT&T also has a his­to­ry of dis­crim­i­nat­ing against Mus­lims in its own work­force. In 2012, a jury award­ed a Mus­lim for­mer AT&T work­er a $5 mil­lion award over puni­tive dam­ages.

Some of these cor­po­ra­tions may claim that they only con­tribute to a politi­cian because they sup­port their reg­u­la­to­ry poli­cies and not their xeno­pho­bic ones. How­ev­er, once they are in office, these politi­cians are push­ing a racist agen­da, so any cor­po­ra­tion that helps cat­a­pult them into office is com­plic­it in their Islam­o­pho­bia and white supremacy.

Com­pa­nies prof­it­ing from Trump’s immi­gra­tion policies

The role of anti-Mus­lim fer­vor and Islam­o­pho­bia in the immi­gra­tion debate can­not be over­stat­ed. It is immi­grants and refugees from Mus­lim-major­i­ty coun­tries that are the most direct­ly affect­ed by Trump’s Mus­lim ban. It is also impor­tant to remem­ber that ICE was first cre­at­ed after 911 as part of the Bush Administration’s efforts to clamp down on immi­grants from Mus­lim-major­i­ty coun­tries as part of the so-called War on Terror.

The same zero-tol­er­ance immi­gra­tion poli­cies that are sep­a­rat­ing fam­i­lies at the South­ern bor­der are also sep­a­rat­ing Mus­lim fam­i­lies, and the Mus­lim ban is a part of that frame­work. The same deten­tion cen­ters that are used to lock up migrants from Latin Amer­i­ca are also used to lock up Mus­lim immi­grants. This means that the com­pa­nies that are prof­it­ing from Trump’s immi­gra­tion poli­cies are also all respon­si­ble for cre­at­ing a cul­ture of Islam­o­pho­bia in this country.

As of March, 71 per­cent of immi­grant deten­tion beds in the Unit­ed States were run by pri­vate prison com­pa­nies. The two largest pri­vate prison com­pa­nies in the world — which con­trol a large por­tion of these beds — are GEO Group and Core­Civic. Although demand­ing that these pri­vate prison com­pa­nies stop lock­ing up peo­ple of col­or is also akin to ask­ing some­one to stop breath­ing, there are oth­er com­pa­nies that enable these immi­grant deten­tion prof­i­teers that are more sus­cep­ti­ble to pub­lic pressure.

A slew of big banks pro­vide financ­ing to and are major investors in these pri­vate prison com­pa­nies. A 2016 report from In The Pub­lic Inter­est iden­ti­fied six banks as the pri­ma­ry financiers of GEO and Core­Civic: Wells Far­go, Bank of Amer­i­ca, JPMor­gan Chase, BNP Paribas (which owns Bank of the West and is the largest investor in First Hawai­ian Bank), Sun­Trust and U.S. Ban­corp. As of 2016, both com­pa­nies had $900 mil­lion in lines of cred­it from this con­sor­tium of banks. Wells Far­go stands out, as it served as the largest under­writer of cor­po­rate bonds for both GEO and Core­Civic. Wells Far­go has been one of the top share­hold­ers in GEO in the past, and the bank still has over $16 mil­lion invest­ed in Core­Civic and $10 mil­lion invest­ed in GEO.

It’s not just pri­vate prison com­pa­nies that are part­ner­ing with ICE to enforce our bru­tal immi­gra­tion poli­cies. In the wake of the pub­lic out­cry over the Trump administration’s pol­i­cy of sep­a­rat­ing chil­dren from their par­ents who are detained at the U.S.-Mexico bor­der, tech com­pa­nies have also come under scruti­ny for their con­tracts with ICE. These com­pa­nies pro­vide a wide vari­ety of hard­ware, ser­vices and infra­struc­ture to the agency, includ­ing sys­tems for track­ing immi­grants, mobile radio com­mu­ni­ca­tions and tac­ti­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tions pro­grams, and facial recog­ni­tion software.

At Microsoft, employ­ees are call­ing on the com­pa­ny to can­cel its $19.4 mil­lion con­tract with ICE for pro­cess­ing data and arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence capa­bil­i­ties. In a Jan­u­ary blog post, Microsoft said it was offer­ing cloud ser­vices to ICE and was proud” of the work. The com­pa­ny said the ser­vices could help employ­ees make more informed deci­sions faster,” such as enabling them to process data on edge devices or uti­lize deep learn­ing capa­bil­i­ties to accel­er­ate facial recog­ni­tion and identification.”

Hold­ing anti-Mus­lim com­pa­nies accountable

Even though they don’t open­ly flirt with Neo-Nazis the way Bre­it­bart does, and are not bent on elim­i­nat­ing Mus­lims and the Islam­ic faith from the globe” the way Black­wa­ter is, com­pa­nies like Wells Far­go, AT&T and Microsoft are all com­plic­it in the cul­ture of Islam­o­pho­bia that has embold­ened Trump, McConnell and the Supreme Court to cement dis­crim­i­na­tion against Mus­lims into law. Whether their attacks on Mus­lims are direct or indi­rect, and whether their inter­ests in doing so are ide­o­log­i­cal or eco­nom­ic, all of these com­pa­nies are part­ly respon­si­ble for the Mus­lim ban.

With legal and leg­isla­tive avenues for chal­leng­ing the Mus­lim ban closed for now, we need to broad­en the fight. While it is impor­tant to hold our pub­lic offi­cials account­able for their role in pro­mot­ing the Mus­lim ban, we can­not stop there. We also need to take on these cor­po­ra­tions direct­ly and make them pay a price for enabling, sup­port­ing and prof­it­ing from anti-Mus­lim and anti-immi­grant policies.

Saqib Bhat­ti is the Co-Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of the Action Cen­ter on Race and the Econ­o­my. Mol­ly Gott is a researcher with LittleSis.
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