Alt-Right Nativists Launch Witch Hunt Against Chobani Yogurt Founder For Helping Refugees

They want to stop even private charity by private citizens


Not to put too fine a point on it, but in the libertarian moral universe, liberal government programs are bad and private charity is good. In fact, one of the core

Syrian refugee girl
Bengin Ahmad via

libertarian arguments against government aid is not just that it is wasteful and inefficient but that it displaces private acts of philanthropy. Over time, this erodes a functioning civil society that thrives on voluntary altruism that Alexis de Tocqueville praised as the true and unique spirit of America. (Sorry Ayn Rand!)

This is one reason — beyond just ordinary human decency — that libertarians should be particularly alarmed that alt-righters are now going after Chobani yogurt founder Hamdi Ulukaya for using his own money and his own resources to help resettle Syrian refugees legally admitted into America after "extreme vetting." (It takes up to three years of screening by multiple agencies before refugees are admitted into the country which is why the risk of an American being killed by a refugee-perpetrated terrorist attack is one in 3.6 billion, lower odds than dying by their clothes catching fire. Even then, since Syria's civil war began in 2011, the U.S. until last year had admitted fewer than 1,600 of Syria's estimated four million refugees. After a lot of international shaming, the Obama administration took in 10,000 Syrian refugees this year, still a pittance given that more people have been displaced in this conflict than in World War II.)

As I noted in my Reason feature, "Muslim in America," post 9-11, a cottage industry of Muslim baiters has sprouted in this country that has turned demonizing Muslims from a hobby to a livelihood. Led by Pamela Geller of the Draw-the-Mohammad-Cartoon fame and gutter sites such as World Net Daily and Breitbart, they make their living off of depicting every Muslim community in America as a precursor to a caliphate in the United States. And now they've all turned their collective sights on Chobani's Ulukaya.

Ulukaya, a Muslim, is the kind of immigrant success story that has Made America Great – Again and Again and Again. He came as a student in the 1990s to New York from a Turkish town near Syria. But within a few years, he started selling feta cheese and kosher yogurt made from his family recipe to a Long Island grocery store. His products were so popular that by 2005 he had purchased a defunct Kraft factory with an $800,000 loan and within 10 years turned it into a $1.5 billion yogurt empire employing 2,000 people with plants in New York and Twin Falls, Idaho. In fact, during my recent visit to Syracuse, an old white cab driver who drove me to Colgate University regaled me with stories all the way of just what a boon Chobani had been to local dairy farmers (the company purchases 4 million pounds of milk everyday) and local youth looking for decent employment (Ulukaya pays workers far above minimum wage, offers generous benefits such as company-paid maternity leave and recently pledged to give away 10 percent of the company's shares to employees).

But because Ulukaya is an immigrant himself, even before the current refugee crisis, he had made it a point to hire fleeing refugees, both in upstate New York and Idaho which has a history of resettling refugees that dates back to at least the 1970s when the Vietnamese Boat People started arriving on America's shores. Indeed, Idaho, which for half a century has relied on immigrant labor for its agricultural economy, has among the largest refugee populations in the country on a per capita basis. And Ulukaya has always employed these refugees – first Nepalese, Vietnamese and others – and now also Syrians and other Muslims. About 30 percent of Ulukaya's Twin Falls factory labor force is composed of refugees because, he believes, "the minute a refugee has a job, that's the minute they stop being a refugee"—and, one might add, they become far less likely to rely on government welfare. He offers them transportation from their camps and special translation services to help them settle into their new workplace. None of this costs local taxpayers a dime. Nor does it displace native workers given that unemployment in Twin Falls is less than 4 percent.

All of this is not just laudable, but entirely in keeping with America's pre-welfare state tradition in the early 20th Century when fraternal organizations of various ethnic groups funded by members provided insurance and other social services to new arrivals, as University of Alabama libertarian economist David Beito has richly documented.

But where most people see goodness and success, alt-righter nativists see darkness and danger.

Chief anti-Muslim conspiracy monger Geller got the ball rolling against Ulukaya this summer. She dubbed his plea during the annual Davos summit to corporate CEOs to assist Syrian refugees as "stealth jihad in Davos." This Cassandra warned these companies that if they employ fleeing Muslims they should be prepared for lawsuits for prayer rooms, prayer times, or stopping the line for Islamic rituals. "He [Ulukaya] is Muslim — they won't hurt him," she declared. "But mark my words: Airbnb, LinkedIn, MasterCard, UPS and IKEA will all be the target of Islamic supremacists."

World Net Daily followed suit with its own charming little anti-Ulukaya jihad, running a piece with a headline – subsequently changed, as The Daily Beast's Jamie Kirchik reported—"American Yogurt Tycoon Vows to Choke U.S. With Muslims." The story claimed, falsely, that refugees were being sent to Twin Falls specifically to work at the Chobani plant.

The worst, however, was Breitbart that dedicated a reporter to filing regular dispatches from Twin Falls. One dispatch misleadingly linked an alleged 500 percent spike in tuberculosis a few years ago to the opening of a Chobani plant. The spike consisted of six cases over eight counties, not just in Twin Falls, up from one case the year before. But the real kicker, Kirchik notes, is that none of cases were found to be Chobain employees. Another "story" — in the true sense of the term — mischaracterized an inappropriate sexual encounter of minor refugee boys with a five-year-old girl as a "gang rape."

A white nationalist organization misnamed the American Freedom Party used such ammo for robocalls all across Idaho to discredit the state's refugee resettlement program by informing listeners that the "nonwhite invasion of their state and all white areas constitutes white genocide." This is the same racist outfit that endorsed Trump, points out Kirchik, calling him the "Great White Hope," and paid for robocalls on his behalf in the run-up to the Iowa caucuses.

Accusing immigrants of bringing disease, crime and debauchery is a perennial leaf in the nativist playbook. Indeed, 150 years before Breitbart and WND arrived on the scene, nativist, Know Nothing publications such as WASP and Judge were running cartoons depicting immigrants as harbingers of "disease, immorality and filth."

But an added twist in the age of social media, reported The New York Times last week, is that alt-righters have mobilized on twitter to issue death threats not just against Ulukaya but also Shawn Barigar, the mayor of Twin Falls. The rap against Barigar is that he is a "globalist corporatist" who is colluding with Ulukaya to help him secure cheap labor and Islamicize America — accusations that have ominous and obvious parallels with anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda that accused Jews of taking over international banks in order to undermine Western civilization.

Chobani's saga shows of course the ongoing radicalization of the restrictionist movement both in its demands and its methods. No longer is it content on calling into the Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing talk shows to oppose amnesty for illegals in the name of an alleged rule of law. Now it touts its nativism openly and makes no pretense of its agenda to stop all immigration — family-based, refugees, economic migrants including, mind you, the high-skilled variety that Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions, a nativist hero, recently attacked at a Trump rally, suggesting that the H-1B visa program for foreign techies should be scrapped. And it is willing to use any means necessary to accomplish its ends — including violence and intimidation to stop private acts of charity by private individuals on trumped up (no pun intended) charges of harm to natives.

This is a profoundly indecent and anti-freedom movement that should spook all decent people, but especially libertarians.