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GOP Chair Raises Concerns With Business Boycott List

Connie speaks
Ryan Denham
McLean County Republican Party chair Connie Beard speaks at a press conference Friday, June 26, 2020, in downtown Bloomington.

Two Bloomington City Council members on Friday denied creating or endorsing a so-called “boycott list” of conservative-owned businesses, after facing criticism from the McLean County Republican Party chair.

The list has circulated on social media in Bloomington-Normal for at least two weeks. WGLT obtained what appears to be a copy of the list, showing 20 businesses — 12 in McLean County — with a “reason to boycott” for each. Those reasons include past support for President Donald Trump or accusations of racism.

The list was shared in a private Facebook group called Voices of Justice, which describes itself as a home for “progressive and diverse leftist voices.” Bloomington City Council member Jenn Carrillo is a moderator of the group, but has repeatedly denied creating the list or endorsing it. Another woman told WGLT on Friday that she — not Carrillo — created the list.

Despite that, McLean County Republican Party chair Connie Beard alleged Friday the list was “created and endorsed” by Carrillo and "supported by fellow council member Jeff Crabill and many members of the Democratic Party here in our home county.” (Crabill also denied promoting the list.)

WGLT asked Beard if she had any proof Carrillo created the list.

“I’m not saying she’s lying about creating the list. I’m saying, elected officials should not encourage or promote such damaging action to businesses in our community,” she said.

Who created it?

A woman claiming to have created the list contacted WGLT on Friday afternoon, after Beard's press conference.

The woman, who is in her late 20s and lives and works in Bloomington-Normal, said she is not a high-profile activist in the community. She would not provide her real name, asking only be identified as her Facebook profile name Karla Marx. She said she feared for her safety if she disclosed her real name.

"The response to this boycott list has been kind of wild," she said. “It’s silly to me that they’re responding in this way. I didn’t think they would be happy being on this boycott list. But I never thought it would garner this kind of attention.”

"It's one of the easiest things that we can do to vote with our dollar and express our views."

The woman said she was inspired by a similar list circulating in southern Illinois. She said she took her list down about two weeks ago so she could add more documentation and evidence to support each claim. She said she plans to turn the list public again this weekend.

“Boycotting is not illegal, and people do it all the time. It’s one of the easiest things that we can do to vote with our dollar and express our views,” she said.

Indeed, conservatives have at times supported boycotts of their own. Trump has supported business boycotts as both a candidate and since being elected president.

WGLT asked Beard whether she condemned those calls for boycott as well.

“I think condemning any business practices is challenging, and I’ll also remind you that this is not Washington, D.C. This is McLean County,” she said. “We have to be concerned about the steps we’re taking in our county, and let the rest of the state and country take care of itself. We’re in a struggle for our community.”

The real estate company where Beard works is on the list because it employs her. Beard said she was worried businesses on the list might lose customers, and that might hurt their workers.

“We live in a free society,” Beard said. “People can pick and choose where they want to spend their money. That is not the concern. The concern is when elected officials step out to not only support, but to propose and advance such action."

Beard said such a list reminded her of McCarthyism, when innuendo and accusation were enough to prove guilt or take away a person’s livelihood. Beard said she’s never been accused of racism professionally in all her years in real estate.

“We are all one race. We are all one family and children of God,” Beard said. “To judge someone just on the color of their skin, to treat them differently, is not only foolish, it’s a sin.”

The free market

Last June, Carrillo faced criticism after she publicly criticized a new downtown Bloomington business that planned to call itself The Gypsy Room, saying the word “gypsy” is a racist slur. She said she’d boycott the business and encouraged others to do the same until the name was changed. She later met privately with downtown business owners over the matter. The business did change its name, to The Mystic Kitchen and Tasting Room.

Carrillo said Friday “it speaks volumes” that Beard called a press conference about the boycott list, but never did one to condemn the killing of George Floyd or to discuss the economic crisis caused by COVID-19.

“But I do find it curious that those who worship the free market are suddenly very opposed to people refusing to patronize business that do not share their values,” Carrillo said.

The boycott list is not widely available to the public. WGLT asked Beard if she was concerned a press conference would call even more attention to the list, potentially harming businesses.

“The things that happen in the dark are the most dangerous. The things that are happening in secret, in the shadows,” she said. “Those are the things that we need to be shining a light on. We need to be helping people understand what’s happening in the dark undercurrents of our community, or we’re going to end up with the same challenges that the people are facing in Chicago.”

Beard called for local Democratic Party officials to condemn the list. In response, Democratic Party chair Nikita Richards said they believe this is a nonissue.

"The McLean County Democrats could take the position of neither condemning or supporting the list," Richards said in a statement. "McLean County Democrats support free speech, which includes peaceful protest, nonviolent discourse in town hall meetings, and even lists of businesses to boycott on a Facebook page."

Richards added that Beard "in her position of political influence actually comes closer to McCarthyism."

"Any person or group that wants to limit free speech and expression is a direct threat to our Constitution, democracy, and way of life," Richards said.

Others have acknowledged the list. It was referenced in a lengthy message released Thursday by the McLean County Chamber of Commerce. The group said, among other things, that "Black Lives Matter to the Chamber," and it praised “peaceful protests organized by local charitable and community organizations, and … the response of local law enforcement.”

“Unfortunately, our Board of Directors has been made aware of a list circulating entitled ‘businesses to boycott,'" wrote chamber board chair Nathan Hinch. “While we will privately do our due diligence about this serious issue, we would remind you that now more than ever is a time to support all local businesses. The unintended consequences of anything different are significant, especially at a time of economic recovery.”

It would be appropriate, Hinch said, to specifically support minority-owned businesses, as a positive gesture. The Black Lives Matter BloNo group has compiled such a list of Black-owned businesses.

“We should all be coming together as a community and not doing things that drive us apart,” Hinch said.

We’re living in unprecedented times when information changes by the minute. WGLT will continue to be here for you, keeping you up-to-date with the live, local and trusted news you need. Help ensure WGLT can continue with its in-depth and comprehensive COVID-19 coverage as the situation evolves by making a contribution.

Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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