Taking on the Corporations Behind the Muslim Ban
By Molly Gott (LittleSis) and Saqib Bhatti (ACRE) | June 29, 2018
This week, the U.S. Supreme Court told us something we already knew: Muslims are not welcome in this country. There is plenty of blame to go around, from the men on the Supreme Court to the Senators that conspired to steal a Supreme Court seat to the man who imposed the Muslim ban in the first place. It is important to hold all of these people accountable. But we must also look beyond these public officials to the corporations behind the ban and take the fight directly to them. These are the corporations that contribute to a culture of Islamophobia and profit from and enable the immigration detention machine.
The Muslim ban builds on a culture of anti-Muslim sentiment that has been pervasive in this country for decades, but which has spiked in recent years with hate crimes against Muslims reaching record levels last year. In this piece, we focus on some of the corporations that contribute to and profit from the current culture of Islamophobia. They fall into several categories:
Companies whose core business models depend on hate- and fear-mongering, such as Fox News’ parent, News Corp
Companies whose core business models depend on the dehumanization of Muslims and Arabs and perpetual warfare in Muslim-majority companies, such as Halliburton or ExxonMobil
Companies who finance elected officials that carry out anti-Muslim policy agendas, such as Blackstone and AT&T
Companies who profit from and enable immigration detention and incarceration, such as GEO Group, a private prison company that operates immigrant detention centers, Wells Fargo, which finances these detention centers, and Microsoft, which has large contracts with ICE
The companies whose business models depend on Islamophobia
A company like News Corp, the parent company of Fox News, which peddles in hate- and fearmongering on a daily basis, is an obvious agent of Islamophobia. So are defense contractors like Halliburton, Blackwater, and Caterpillar whose businesses are contingent on the dehumanization of Muslims and Arabs, which makes it possible to wage perpetual warfare in Muslim-majority countries. Big Oil companies, like ExxonMobil and BP, which are the economic drivers of war in the Middle East also bear a great degree of responsibility. These companies are irredeemable. Islamophobia is baked into their business model and they could not survive without it.
The companies financing anti-Muslim politicians
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. This includes, for example, corporations who are major donors to people like Congressman Steve King from northwestern Iowa and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell from Kentucky. Some of these corporations may claim that they only contribute to a politician because they support their regulatory policies and not their racist ones, but that is beside the point. Once they are in office, they are pushing a racist agenda, so any corporation that helps catapult these bigots into office is complicit in their Islamophobia and white supremacy.
Congressman Steve King’s biggest donors include the American Bankers Association, Berkshire Hathaway, and AT&T
Steve King may well be the most racist member of Congress. He is certainly the most anti-Muslim. Just last week, he encouraged meat-packing plants in his district to discriminate against Muslim workers. In 2017, 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.” Before Obama’s election in 2008, King also said that if someone whose middle name was “Hussein” was elected President, that “The radical Islamists, the al-Qaeda… would be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on Sept. 11 because they would declare victory in this war on terror.”
One of King’s top campaign donors is 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, Capitol Hill’s resident Islamophobe.
Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway is another one of King’s top campaign contributors. Interestingly, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, U.S. Bancorp (the parent company of U.S. Bank), and Goldman Sachs are all among Berkshire Hathaway’s top stock holdings. Berkshire Hathaway is the largest shareholder in both Wells Fargo and Bank of America.
AT&T and American Crystal Sugar are also among King’s biggest financial backers.
Blackstone, hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer, and Goldman Sachs are backing Senator Mitch McConnell
The person most responsible for the Supreme Court’s atrocious decision on the Muslim ban arguably isn’t any one of the justices, but rather Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—the man who masterminded the theft of the Obama’s Supreme Court pick.
Wall Street looms large on the list of McConnell’s top campaign contributors. The Blackstone Group, the world’s largest private equity firm, 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 donors, as is Elliott Management, the hedge fund run by Paul Singer. Goldman Sachs alums are ubiquitous in the Trump Administration, holding a number of key senior positions, earning the firm the monicker, “Government Sachs”. Gary Cohn, the former President and COO of Goldman Sachs resigned from the firm to become Director of Trump’s National Economic Council, a post he left in April. He stood by Trump as he announced the various iterations of his Muslim bans, but resigned in protest after Trump imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum.
Some of McConnell’s other major contributors include Kindred Healthcare, Humana, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Peabody Energy, FedEx, UPS, and AT&T. 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.
The Immigrant Detention Profiteers
The role of anti-Muslim fervor and Islamophobia in the immigration debate cannot be overstated. Immigrants and refugees from Muslim-majority countries are the most directly affected by Trump’s Muslim ban, and the companies that profit from and fund immigrant detention centers play a key role in creating the climate that enables Trump’s Muslim ban. It is important to remember that ICE was first created after September 11th, 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.
Earlier this month, reports surfaced of ICE officers creating obstacles making it difficult for Muslim detainees from Somalia to fast during Ramadan and subjecting them to other forms of religious discrimination. A lot of these same detainees had been on a failed deportation flight to Somalia last December, on which they say “they were shackled with chains on their wrists, waists, and legs for more than 40 hours; forces to urinate in bottles or on themselves; and that ICE officers beat and threatened some passengers.”
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. This means that the companies that are profiting from Trump’s immigration policies are also all directly responsible for creating a culture of Islamophobia in this country.
Private prison companies Geo Group and CoreCivic are integral to Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy
GEO Group and CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA) are the world’s largest private prison companies; they gave $250,000 and $475,000 to Trump’s campaign and inauguration, respectively. Now, they are ready to reap their rewards. Both companies stand to make a windfall from Trump’s zero tolerance policy that is pushing thousands of immigrants into detention facilities. As of March, private prison companies ran 71% of immigrant detention beds. Geo Group runs 11 immigrant processing centers around the country, including one of the country’s three immigrant family detention centers in Karnes County, Texas. CoreCivic runs eight, including an immigrant family detention center in Dilley, Texas.
The continuation of zero-tolerance and implementation of indefinite family detention will require the buildout of significant additional detention facilities and infrastructure, and though it is not clear how this will play out, GEO Group and CoreCivic will likely be key players. Two days after Trump issued his executive order that ended family separation to detain families together, the Department of Homeland Security posted a request for information on the cost of adding up to 15,000 beds to detain families. These beds will almost certainly be run by private prison companies.
Wells Fargo is a key financer of private prisons
A slew of big banks finance the companies that profit from immigrant and family detention – and profit, in turn, from these lucrative lending arrangements. The credit these banks extend to these companies will be especially important as they look to continue growing their operations under Trump’s zero-tolerance and family detention policies. Additionally, these financial institutions are also significant investors in the stock of publicly-held corporations.
As mentioned above, GEO Group and CoreCivic (formerly known as the Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA), the two largest private prison operators, are major profiteers off of immigration detention. A 2016 report from In The Public Interest identified six banks as the primary financiers of GEO and CoreCivic. They are: 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 (the parent company of U.S. Bank). As of 2016, both companies had $900 million in lines of credit from this consortium of banks.
The report detailed several ways that these banks have financed and helped expand the private prison industry. These include extending huge lines of credit for GEO and CoreCivic to buy up other companies tied to mass criminalization, including electronic monitoring and reentry services. Bank of America also negotiated credit agreements with other banks on behalf of GEO, and BNP Paribas did the same for CoreCivic. Wells Fargo served as the largest underwriter of corporate bond offerings for GEO and CoreCivic. Wells Fargo and U.S. Bancorp serve as trustees to GEO and CoreCivic respectively and are responsible for enforcing the bond agreements put in place.
In the past, Wells Fargo has been one of the top shareholders in GEO, and the bank still has over $16 million invested in CoreCivic and $10 million invested in GEO Group.
Microsoft provides the technological infrastructure ICE needs to carry out their agenda
In the wake of this month’s public outcry over the Trump administration’s cruel policy of separating children from their parents who are detained at the U.S.-Mexico border, tech companies have 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.”
Whether they present a consumer-friendly and multicultural face or openly flirt with Neo-Nazis and fascists, these companies are all complicit in the culture of Islamophobia that has emboldened Trump 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, these are just some of the companies behind the Muslim ban. It’s high time to hold them accountable.
This report was written in partnership with our friends at LittleSis.