Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Tina Casey headshot

From a Bird Refuge in Oregon to the Halls of Congress, Another Reason for Businesses to Stand Against White Supremacy

By Tina Casey
White Supremacy

Photo: Trump supporters, including one carrying a flag that's become a symbol of white supremacy, at Columbus Circle in front of Union Station, along 1st Street at Massachusetts Avenue NE, Washington, D.C. on Wednesday morning, January 6.

Five years ago, practically to the day, a group of armed white men took over the federal Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon and were allowed claim it as their own for six weeks before finally giving up. In many ways, the episode was a dry run for yesterday’s short-lived but terrifying takeover of the U.S. Capitol by a white mob. The question now is what role, if any, can business leaders play in ensuring that white supremacy and white violence are never again defended and legitimized by elected officials.

White supremacy, white violence and white privilege on federal property

TriplePundit closely followed the events of the Malheur takeover because its ostensible leader, Ammon Bundy, was a business owner. On Jan. 2, 2016, he and a group of armed men entered and took over buildings at the nature preserve, driving out federal employees.

At the time, 3p wondered why Ammon Bundy chose the Malheur refuge to make the case for local control by ranchers on federal property, given that he was the owner of a truck repair business in Idaho and not a rancher in Oregon. For that matter, in 2013, cattle ranchers in Oregon reached a land use agreement with the federal government that was reported to be working out well for all parties.

The experience of Ammon Bundy’s father, Cliven Bundy, provides at least a partial explanation. The elder Bundy had become notorious for illegally grazing cattle on federal property in Nevada, culminating in an armed standoff with federal agents in 2014.

Despite the threat of violence, Cliven Bundy enjoyed the support of conservative organizations and legislators involved in the movement to transfer federal property to states, though he later fell out of favor after making blatantly racist remarks in public.

In contrast to the violent treatment faced by Black men and women protesting police brutality as part of Black Lives Matter and other movements, the Bundys and their followers were accorded every courtesy, and were by and large apprehended peacefully (with one notable exception).

In a related matter, in 2018 U.S. President Donald Trump pardoned the Hammonds, two Oregon ranchers who were convicted of setting a series of wildfires after disputes over cattle grazing on federal lands. Unfairness in the Hammond convictions was cited by Ammon Bundy as the proximate reason for invading the Malheur refuge in the first place. Apparently the president agreed, despite the findings of the court. In addition to the 2018 pardon, in recent days the Trump administration has proposed returning grazing rights to the two ranchers.

The Hammond pardons presaged a flood of notorious high-profile pardons for white men during Trump’s last weeks in office, even as his administration has rushed to execute Black men on death row.

From a wildlife refuge to the halls of Congress

The kid-gloves treatment of the Bundys and the Hammonds has been credited with creating an environment that supported waves of armed white mob actions against state and local legislative bodies, with little or no consequences for the perpetrators.

Those actions of white supremacy swelled in 2020 with the onset of the COVID-19 crisis. Not coincidentally, Ammon Bundy himself emerged as a leading instigator.

The mob activity reached a fever pitch in the run-up to the 2020 general election, with the instigation and support of President Trump himself.

Little wonder, then, that a mob populated almost exclusively by white people would run amok in the nation’s closely guarded capitol, secure in the knowledge that they would not be subject to the same violent treatment that so often falls upon people of color.

As of this writing, it appears no one in the mob suffered serious injury, with the exception of one woman who was shot inside the Capital Building and later died of her wounds, who as of press time has been identified by only a few news outlets including the Daily Beast.

What is clear is the double standard between the treatment of Black Lives Matter protestors and people of color and the treatment of those who perpetrate white supremacy.

Yet another lesson for business leaders: Fight racism and white supremacy

In the run-up to the 2020 general election, some leading corporations plunged into get-out-the-vote efforts, with a focus on encouraging people of color to vote. Those efforts were laudable, as far as they went. However, in the face of Trump’s repeated threats to disavow the results of the vote, these efforts did little or nothing to prepare the public for the aftermath of Election Day.

Even after the results of the election demonstrated a clear, decisive win for Democratic challenger Joe Biden, Trump refused to concede. Though some business leaders publicly congratulated the president-elect, many others did not. There was no strongly organized effort to advocate for the peaceful transfer of power until Monday, Jan. 4, when the organization Partnership for New York City published an open letter from more than 170 business leaders to Congress, urging acceptance of Joe Biden as president-elect.

It was too little, too late. By then, scores of Republican members of the House and Senate had already pledged to exercise their right to object to the electoral count in several states, thus providing powerful new fodder for Trump’s false claims of election fraud. Even as these members of Congress stood up to voice their complaints yesterday afternoon, Trump egged on attendees at an ostensibly peaceful “Save America Rally” being held nearby.

“You dont concede when theres theft involved ... our country has had enough and we will not take it anymore,” Trump reportedly said, before encouraging the crowd to walk to the Capitol.

The rest, unfortunately, is history — and it will repeat itself, unless business leaders finally take white privilege, white supremacy and institutional racism for what it is: a dire threat to the rule of law and to the peace and security of the nation.

One good sign was raised by the conservative National Association of Manufacturers, which last night called upon Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove President Trump from office immediately.

In its published statement, NAM also noted that Trump has been “cheered on by members of his own party,” suggesting that the 12 Republican senators and more than 100 Republican representatives who pledged to object to Biden electors share equally in the blame.

Their names are a matter of public record, and business leaders who wish to set things right could start by financing more responsible candidates to hold the safety and security of all the public in their hands. After all, the 2022 midterms are right around the corner.

Image credit: Elvert Barnes/Unsplash

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

Read more stories by Tina Casey