Publix: Radicals in the heartland?…

Farmworkers and their allies fast outside Publix headquarters in Lakeland, Florida, during a week-long, non-violent protest in March of 2012, calling on Publix to join the leading human rights program in the field of social responsibility, the Fair Food Program.

Recent revelations in Wall Street Journal cast new light on dangerous, anti-democratic ideology behind friendly facade of “Florida’s hometown grocer”…

Real reasons for Publix’s stubborn refusal to join award-winning human rights program may only now be coming into focus…

Before we get to the disturbing news about Publix from the Wall Street Journal this week, it is worth remembering, one more time, what actually happened on January 6th in our nation’s capital.  The details of that day — which, painful as they are, we will all re-live again this week through the impeachment trial — are important to fully understanding both the news that follows, and, as you read on, the distant echoes of that news from Publix’s Campaign for Fair Food past.

On January 6th, in a park behind the White House known as the Ellipse, supporters of then-president Donald Trump held a rally dedicated to the proposition — the thoroughly debunked proposition — that an elaborate, multi-state conspiracy of voter fraud, corrupt elections officials, and “fake news” combined to steal the 2020 presidential election from their candidate.  Organized around the slogan “Stop the Steal,” thousands of rally-goers were whipped into a frenzy by speakers, including President Trump himself, urging those gathered to “fight like hell,” to impose their will through “trial by combat,” and to march straight from the rally to the Capitol building, where lawmakers were certifying President Biden’s electoral victory, to demand a stop to the certification and the confirmation of President Trump’s re-election instead.   

Rally-goers outside the Capitol Building on January 6th.  Photo by Shutterstock.

The rally-goers proceeded to march up Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol, where a mob formed and stormed the seat of Congress in a sea of Trump banners and Confederate flags.  They overwhelmed the Capitol Police, beat one officer to death and injured countless more, broke windows and destroyed property throughout the building, defecated inside and smeared their feces on the walls, rifled through key leaders’ desks and stole laptops with sensitive information, and eventually walked out hours later, freely into the night, declaring that they would be back — only next time with more violence — as they left a trail of destruction and death in their wake.  Two more police officers ultimately took their own lives in the days following the stunning mob violence at the Capitol.

In short, some of our country’s most ill-informed citizens — egged on by some of our most dishonest, and guided by some of our most evil — attacked and deeply wounded one of the most important symbols of our representative democracy, the US Congress, an institution that sits squarely at the heart of every pivotal moment in our nation’s history, from the American Revolution to the Civil Rights Movement.  They did so in an attempt to seize the power of the Executive in the name of the losing presidential candidate and erase the votes of more than 80,000,000 of their fellow Americans.

And the rally leading to that attack was paid for, in large part, by a member of the family that founded, and largely still controls, Publix.  Yes, Publix.

Wall St. Journal: Publix heiress Julie Jenkins Fancelli “paid for the lion’s share of the roughly $500,000 rally” that ended in the violent attack on the US Capitol on January 6th…

From last Monday’s Wall Street Journal:

Jan. 6 Rally Funded by Top Trump Donor, Helped by Alex Jones, Organizers Say

Publix Super Markets heiress donated about $300,000 to the Ellipse event; far-right show host pledged seed money, organizers say

The rally in Washington’s Ellipse that preceded the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol was arranged and funded by a small group including a top Trump campaign fundraiser and donor facilitated by far-right show host Alex Jones.

Mr. Jones personally pledged more than $50,000 in seed money for a planned Jan. 6 event in exchange for a guaranteed “top speaking slot of his choice,” according to a funding document outlining a deal between his company and an early organizer for the event.

Mr. Jones also helped arrange for Julie Jenkins Fancelli, a prominent donor to the Trump campaign and heiress to the Publix Super Markets Inc. chain, to commit about $300,000 through a top fundraising official for former President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign, according to organizers. Her money paid for the lion’s share of the roughly $500,000 rally at the Ellipse where Mr. Trump spoke… read more

So, according to the Wall Street Journal, the rally that preceded the attempted, violent overthrow of our democratically-elected government was funded by the daughter of Publix’s founder George Jenkins — and major Publix stockholder — Julie Jenkins Fancelli, in association with Alex Jones, the far right media personality perhaps best known for claiming that the children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School were child “crisis actors” who faked their deaths in an elaborate conspiracy to take guns away from Americans.

The outrageousness of this news, like the details of the attack on the Capitol, bears repeating: Publix heiress Julie Jenkins Fancelli bankrolled the prelude to one of the darkest days in the 250-year history of our democracy, a rally organized to promote a thoroughly discredited lie, a platform for false claims of voter fraud designed to overturn the legitimate results of “the most secure election in US history,” a concerted attack on the very citizenship rights of tens of millions of Americans.

In other words, a day that will live in infamy, brought to you by the daughter of one of Florida’s finest families.

Publix, of course, immediately distanced itself from Fancelli:

“The violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6 was a national tragedy. The deplorable actions that occurred that day do not represent the values, work or opinions of Publix Super Markets.

Mrs. Fancelli is not an employee of Publix Super Markets, and is neither involved in our business operations, nor does she represent the company in any way. We cannot comment on Mrs. Fancelli’s actions.”… read more

Case closed, nothing to see here, just a wayward sibling whose support for overturning the legitimate results of the 2020 election in favor of her preferred candidate has nothing to do with Publix, the corporation.  Though Mrs. Fancelli is a Jenkins — the family that founded Publix way back in 1930 in Winter Haven, Florida — and a major shareholder at that, she does not speak or act on behalf of Publix. 

At first blush, Publix’s defense sounds perfectly reasonable — and for many of us, maybe even familiar.  The 2020 election, set against the backdrop of the increasing radicalization of former President Trump’s most avid supporters, has deeply divided families across the country.  In all honesty, who among us doesn’t have a sibling or a cousin lost down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories about stolen elections, force-fed lie after lie by opportunistic politicians and the media ecosystem that supports them?  The only difference between our family members and Mrs. Fancelli is that she has hundreds of thousands of disposable dollars to spend broadcasting her crazy theories, and convening a gathering of the kind of people who would take violent action in the advancement of those theories. 

To hold Publix accountable for the sins of the founding family’s daughter, simply because she is family, would be without basis whatsoever.  Rather, to know whether Publix also supports the narrative that the election was stolen from former President Trump — the narrative that animated the “Stop the Steal” rally and drove the subsequent violence of January 6th in DC — one would have to look into Publix’s own political actions, or, as Publix is a corporation, its donations.  

“Publix has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in financial support to state and federal officials who set the stage for the January 6 riots by attempting to overturn the results of the presidential election — or encouraging others to do so.”

And, as it happens, a highly respected investigative journalist has done just that. 

Judd Legum, author of the widely-read political accountability newsletter “Popular Information,” dug into Publix’s political donations in the wake of the Wall Street Journal article in an effort to gauge the sincerity of Publix’s official statement, to measure the true distance between the company itself and Mrs. Fancelli with regard to the political underpinnings of the attack on the Capitol.  The results, published in an article titled “Publix Accountability,” are fascinating:

… Publix’s statement, while technically accurate, obscures the larger issue. Publix has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in financial support to state and federal officials who set the stage for the January 6 riots by attempting to overturn the results of the presidential election — or encouraging others to do so. 

Dozens of companies have suspended political contributions to politicians who tried to overturn the Electoral College results. An even larger number of companies have suspended all political giving. Publix is one of a small group of companies that have said nothing about their future political giving. 

Popular Information first contacted Publix about its political giving three weeks ago, on January 8, and received no response. We contacted Publix again on Saturday, in light of its new statement condemning the January 6 riot, and again received no response… read more

The article goes on to provide copious amounts of evidence to support its conclusion.  Here’s just one excerpt (there is much, much more, and we would highly recommend reading the article in its entirety):

… Publix silent on future giving to the 147 Republicans that tried to overturn the election

In response to the January 6 riot, dozens of major corporations — including Amazon, Walmart, and Kraft Heinz — have suspended political donations to the 147 Republicans who tried to subvert the election. Publix is one of a small group of companies that have said nothing at all.

A Popular Information analysis reveals that, in the 2020 cycle alone, Publix donated $127,000 to 43 members of Congress who objected to the Electoral College vote. Publix also donated $10,000 to former Senator David Perdue (R-GA) who said he would vote to object to the Electoral College but was not a member of the Senate on January 6. 

Publix’s donations include support for some of the most extreme members of Congress. The company, for example, donated $3,000 in the 2020 cycle to Congressman Mo Brooks (R-AL). Brooks has enthusiastically embraced Trump’s lies about voter fraud, and spoke at the January 6 rally.

“Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass,” Brooks said. “Are you willing to do what it takes to fight for America? Louder! Will you fight for America?”… 

… Publix will not say whether it will donate in the future to Brooks or any of the other Republicans who tried to undermine the democratic process… read more

Indeed, it would seem that Publix’s carefully worded statement on Mrs. Fancelli’s role in the January 6th rally was not entirely forthcoming.  While declaring that Publix, the friendly neighborhood grocer, was appalled by the events of the 6th every bit as much as, say, its average customer, the statement failed to note that Publix, the corporate political actor, put a portion of its customers’ hard-earned money behind the very politicians whose unceasing promotion of the call to overturn the 2020 election results inspired the violence that day.

So while Mrs. Fancelli put some of her money behind the rally that led directly to the violent insurrection of January 6th, Publix put some of its money behind the politicians whose lies led to the rally, some of whom even starred at the rally itself.  As it turns out Publix, the company, and Mrs. Fancelli, the Publix heiress, have something in common after all.   

In other words, if you shopped at Publix in 2020, it’s reasonable to assume that some of the money you spent there helped finance the politicians whose lies led up to the events of January 6th in our nation’s capital.  Kind of takes the pleasure out of shopping at Publix, unless you’re a fan of violent insurrection, of course. 

Radicals in the heartland…

As it happens, there is a touch of irony in this otherwise deeply disturbing story.

Although the CIW’s history of peaceful protests is above reproach, at least one person affiliated with Publix actually accused the CIW of being dangerous radicals that hate freedom, or words to that effect, while others attacked the CIW in private with accusations of bizarre conspiracy theories.  They did so years ago, when that kind of behavior and overheated language was not yet mainstream, in fact.  

Nearly ten years ago, when the CIW’s Publix campaign was still just getting off the ground, a young bagger working for Publix innocently asked his manager why the company refused to join the Fair Food Program (which at that time already partnered with nearly a dozen major food corporations, including McDonald’s, Aramark, and Whole Foods).  He was handed an 11-page document, made up of badly photocopied pages of a newsletter called The Socialist Worker and hastily scribbled notes in the margin.  The notes read, in part, “Please read!  If you love this country and cherish the freedom many died to preserve for you, you will reject socialism,” and “These are the people you are aligning yourself with… dangerous!”

After taking one look at the disturbing packet, the bagger passed it along to an ally, who brought it to the CIW’s attention.  It was every bit as unhinged as you might expect from the description.  But that wasn’t the only time this unique take on the CIW and the Fair Food Program came to light.  Over the years, multiple allies and others who spoke about the CIW with Publix executives in private related to us that they got an earful of vitriol, conspiracy theories, and wild accusations in return.

When we received the packet years ago, we chose not to share it — and its disturbing implications about Publix’s inability to approach the Campaign for Fair Food with the kind of reasoned calm that more than a dozen similarly placed corporations have exercised over the years — with our allies or the broader public.  The same goes for the conversations relayed to us by allies, because we assumed they would sound too fanciful or unhinged to even be believed.  In our strategic calculus at the time, it just wasn’t worth the effort to convince journalists and consumers that the comments were real, that anyone in a position of influence at “Florida’s neighborhood grocer” harbored such extreme views.  So whenever Publix made its public arguments against joining the FFP, we stuck to answering those arguments, and left any privately stated reasons unaddressed.

But that calculus changed with Monday’s revelation in the Wall Street Journal.  Hearing the uncomfortable echo of that same harsh rhetoric ring out ten years later at the January 6th rally, and reading that the rally was paid for by a Publix heiress, struck a chord here in Immokalee.  Learning that Publix supported the politicians whose angry rants about socialism helped fuel the insurrectionists that day only underscored the irony: Publix, the hometown company with the sterling corporate reputation, now has its name connected to the most violent, most dangerous attack on our democracy in living memory, while the CIW and the Fair Food Program, the farmworker-led movement once attacked as dangerous socialists, have forged what has universally come to be known as the single most effective model in the world of social responsibility for protecting fundamental human rights in corporate supply chains.

It would seem that, despite claims of dangerous radicals behind every Campaign for Fair Food protest sign, the real radicals were hiding in plain sight all along.  

And that might just be the real reason — not the multitude of arguments Publix put forward to the press over the years — why Publix has resisted for so long, and with such ardor, doing what fourteen other retail food giants did so long ago: join the Fair Food Program.