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Tina Casey headshot

U.S. Businesses React to Trump Insurrection: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Lax social media policies are in part to blame for the Trump insurrection, but those platforms, plus other firms, are now taking far more meaningful action.
By Tina Casey
Trump Insurrection

Evidence is mounting that the storming of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6 was a purposeful insurrection with the intention of disrupting the Electoral College certification and kidnapping, if not killing, the vice president and members of Congress.

In that context, the efforts of U.S. businesses to counteract the damage wrought by the attempted insurrection carry all the more weight. A few have already taken steps, but a more coordinated, forceful effort is needed to prevent Donald Trump and his supporters from inflicting further damage before — and after — he leaves office on Jan. 20.

Businesses should stop supporting legislators who support insurrectionists

By the time Trump spoke at the "Save America" rally on Jan. 6, his supporters were already primed and ready to attack the U.S. Capitol Building. At that very hour, all of Congress had gathered to certify the Electoral College vote, providing the insurrectionists with a target-rich opportunity like none other.

Republican business leaders have long been reluctant to criticize Trump’s policies, but the horrific events of Jan. 6 may finally compel a sea change.

One Republican business leader has already set a relatively high bar for action. On Jan. 7, David Humphreys, president and CEO of the 75-year-old Joplin, Missouri-based firm Tamko Building Products, publicly excoriated Republican Sen. Josh Hawley for provoking yesterdays riots in our nations capital.”

Humphreys was referring to Hawley’s leading role in disrupting the certification process on Jan. 6. With Hawley’s encouragement, 147 other senators and House members pledged to raise objections during the Electoral College certification process.

Following the money leading to the Trump insurrection

Humphreys may not be a nationally known figure, but his criticism is especially significant. As reported by the Kansas City Star, he and his family are prominent Republic donors in Missouri. They raised a total of $16 million for Republican candidates in 2016, including $4.4 million for Hawley to campaign for the states office of attorney general that year.

The Humphreys' financial support continued into 2018, when the family contributed $2 million to Hawley’s successful run for the Senate.

In a statement provided to the Missouri Independent, Humphreys made it clear that no such help is forthcoming in the future. Missouris U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley … has shown his true colors as an anti-democracy populist by supporting Trumps false claim of a stolen election,'" Humphreys said. “Hawleys irresponsible, inflammatory, and dangerous tactics have incited violence and further discord across America. And he has now revealed himself as a political opportunist willing to subvert the Constitution and the ideals of the nation he swore to uphold.”

Humphreys is not the only prominent Republican to push back against Hawley in the wake of Wednesdays insurrection. The senator also lost his political mentor, former Missouri Sen. Jack Danforth. In the aftermath of the riot, Danforth disowned Hawley, telling the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and other media that his promotion of Hawley was the biggest mistake he had ever made.

Adding to the hurt, on Thursday night, Hawley’s A-list publisher, Simon and Schuster, announced that it was cancelling the contract for the senator’s much-anticipated book, to be titled The Tyranny of Big Tech“As a publisher it will always be our mission to amplify a variety of voices and viewpoints; at the same time we take seriously our larger public responsibility as citizens, and cannot support Senator Hawley after his role in what became a dangerous threat to our democracy and freedom.”

More than just one senator

In another development with financial consequences for the Republican party, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) forcefully waded into the issue even before the insurrection was quelled. Though closely associated with the Republican party, on Jan. 6 NAM publicly rebuked Trump and called upon Vice President Mike Pence to remove him through the 25th Amendment.

In particular, NAM emphasized that Trump’s allies in Congress and elsewhere were all complicit in the insurrection attempt and the violence that followed.

"The outgoing president incited violence in an attempt to retain power, and any elected leader defending him is violating their oath to the Constitution and rejecting democracy in favor of anarchy. Anyone indulging conspiracy theories to raise campaign dollars is complicit," NAM stated.

A broader movement by business stakeholders to inflict financial punishment on the Republican party has yet to materialize, but on Saturday the Washington Post suggested that the worst is yet to come.

In one ominous sign, The Lincoln Project has already swung into action. The organization was founded by disaffected Republicans to rally voters against re-electing the president during the 2020 campaign. Now they are eager to take on a new mission that extends to every Republican associated with the Trump insurrection.

“Project Lincoln will be running a brutal corporate pressure campaign targeting Companies, Trade Associations, CEOs, Directors and senior leadership of organizations that serve as the financiers of the Authoritarian movement that attacked the U.S. Capitol,” warned co-founder Steve Schmidt in a Twitter message on Jan. 7.

As an example, Schmidt cited any donations made to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California’s 23rd district, along with any organization or committee under his control.

Big tech and employee activism

The financial stick is the most effective way for the majority of businesses and individual executives to take action, but some are in a unique position to wield much broader influence.

The root of the problem that exploded with the Trump insurrection is the normalization of a white supremacist perspective on human rights and civil rights, a threat that predates Trump by many generations. It has percolated throughout American history, from state-sanctioned slavery and segregation, to genocide against Native Americans, and on through to racist legislation promoted by the National Rifle Association and the ostensibly pro-business lobbying organization ALEC.

With the growth of the corporate social responsibility movement during the Barack Obama administration, U.S. businesses slowly began to disentangle themselves from this legacy.

Leading advertisers and other businesses also began to respond to pressure from the influential Sleeping Giants and Grab Your Wallet boycott campaigns, and in 2020 the reenergized Black Lives Matter movement galvanized more business leaders to act.

Despite the progress, the white supremacist movement continued to grow with direct encouragement from President Trump, helped in great measure by lax social media policies.

Fortunately, a sea change has occurred in just the past few days since the Trump insurrection, partly at the insistence of employee activists.

Following an open letter signed by hundreds of Twitter employees, last week CEO Jack Dorsey permanently banned Trump from the platform. The company has also taken action to prevent Trump from communicating on Twitter through other accounts.

Facebook had previously put Trump under temporary suspension, and on the evening of Jan. 6, an internal Facebook message board was on fire with employees calling for the company to issue an outright ban, immediately and permanently. The following day, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg affirmed that the suspension would not be lifted until after Trump left office, if ever.

Facebook's ban covers Trump’s access to Instagram. He has also lost access to Pinterest, Amazon-owned Twitch, and Snapchat. In addition, Reddit has banned a popular pro-Trump subreddit, though many others may remain.

So far, YouTube has only taken down individual Trump videos. It has yet to issue a blanket ban, but the newly organized Alphabet Workers Union has already begun to pressure the company, warning that YouTube will continue to function as a vector for the growth of the fascist movements” if it continues to provide a stage for Trump and others.

White supremacists and other Trump followers have begun moving to alternative social media sites, like the Parler app financed by the conservative Mercer familyHowever, that opportunity may not last long. Google has already suspended Parler from the Google Play app store, and Apple soon followed suit.

The employee activist organization Amazon Workers for Climate Justice had also been pressing Amazon to stop hosting Parler through its Amazon Web Services arm, and the company pulled the plug on the extremist social network on Saturday night.

Even e-commerce has a role to play

In an interesting twist, the e-commerce field has also become suddenly aware of the reputational risk of being associated with a movement linked to a violent insurrection that left four people dead. 

That is a significant development because Trumpism has thrived on cultural identification through clothing and accessories. It began with the infamous “MAGA” hat during the run-up to the 2016 General Election and it has since grown to a torrent of T-shirts, flags, posters, pins, automotive accessories, and other wares bearing the Trump name, MAGA messages and other cultural unifiers.

Shopify, PayPal, and Venmo have now banned at least some Trump sites and accounts from their platforms. Other leading e-commerce sites, such as Walmart and Etsy, have yet to take action. However, Trump’s suspension from Amazon-owned Twitch may portend future steps on the part of Amazon owner Jeff Bezos.

All of these anti-Trump actions are important, not because they can put an end to the white supremacist undercurrent in America. After all, it is impossible to extinguish a thought from the collective mind. The point is to cut off its access to power and push it far below the normal current of discourse on civic affairs.

At this unprecedented juncture in American democracy, U.S. businesses have much to answer for, but they also have the power to de-normalize white supremacy and help lead the country back from the precipice.

Image credit: Tyler Merbler/Wiki Commons

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