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 regime. 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 9/11 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.
In this new book, longtime organizers and movement educators Mariame Kaba and Kelly Hayes examine the political lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath, including the convergence of mass protest and mass formations of mutual aid. Let This Radicalize You answers the urgent question: What fuels and sustains activism and organizing when it feels like our worlds are collapsing?
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