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Leaked Email: Private Prison CEO Decries Anti-ICE Protesters

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), seen in Clint, Texas, during a July 1, 2019, tour of migrant detention centers, is criticized by GEO Group's CEO in an internal email.


(Image: Photo by Christ Chavez / Getty Images.)

The CEO of GEO Group, the largest private prison operator in the U.S., decried protests against the firm’s migrant detention facilities as well as a range of other subjects including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), the Jewish activist group Never Again Action, and “misguided individuals” who “defamed the American flag,” in an internal email obtained exclusively by The Young Turks.

The email, sent on August 19 by George Zoley, GEO’s founder and CEO, comes on the heels of a series of high-profile demonstrations at numerous migrant detention facilities operated by the company.

Asked about Zoley including Ocasio-Cortez in his email, a spokesperson for GEO told TYT, “Organizations that have threatened our employees or taken violent action against our company have also directly used the same terminology as Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, including ‘concentration camp.’”

According to Zoley’s email, GEO employees have been eager for the company to address the criticisms.

“Many of you are hungry for information to help set the record straight, not only for you, but in some circumstances for your family and friends,” Zoley’s email states.

The GEO Group spokesperson said of Zoley’s email, “We communicate with our 23,000 employees to ensure they have the latest updates and information, which may include steps being taken to address recent events that have occurred at our facilities, such as the shooting that targeted our regional office in San Antonio this month.”

But the email goes beyond logistics, condemning what it calls “false and baseless claims in the media against our company.”

“I felt it important that you receive a response directly from me concerning the recent events that occurred at our facilities in Boulder, Aurora, Tacoma, Boca Raton and San Antonio,” the email begins, referencing the locations of numerous anti-ICE protests.

“On August 12, 2019, our Corporate Office in Boca Raton was protested by ‘Never Again Action.’ Never Again Action is a mobilization of different affiliated Jewish organizers whose goal is to shut down ICE. This new organization sprang up after congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez referred to ICE processing centers as ‘concentration camps.’ A host of mainstream Jewish organizations joined the U.S. Holocaust Museum to reject the comparison made between the Holocaust and current events.”

Asked whether Zoley was llinking Ocasio-Cortez to anti-Semitism or the emergence of Never Again Action, the GEO representative replied, “No, the correspondence did not make any claims or put forth any theories as to how this organization was started.”

In early July, Ocasio-Cortez visited CBP detention facilities and described the conditions as “horrifying.”

Shown the GEO Group memo, a spokesperson for Never Again Action told TYT: “Direct action works.”

In the email, Zoley insists his intentions are not to frighten his employees.

“The intent of my message is not to cause you to be fearful, but rather ensure you know fact from fiction. False narratives and deliberate mischaracterizations were the basis for these recent events. Misguided individuals intimidated our employees and defamed [sic] the American flag at a time when we recently commemorated the birth of our nation and the 75th anniversary of our landing at Normandy,” Zoley wrote.

Asked what “defamed” American flag Zoley was discussing, the spokesperson referred TYT to a news article about protesters in Aurora, Colorado, who took down an American flag and replaced it with a Mexican flag.

A document attached to the email titled “Setting the Record Straight on GEO’s Role” includes a list of things the firm says it does and does not do. Some parts of the list appear relatively straightforward, like the section describing the amenities of the ICE facilities.

“We manage modern immigration Processing Centers under contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) with amenities including artificial turf soccer fields, flat screen TVs in living areas, indoor and outdoor recreation, classrooms, multipurpose rooms, and libraries.”

Other parts, however, seem dubious.

“We don’t play a role in passing criminal justice or immigration laws, and we have never advocated for or against criminal justice or immigration enforcement policies,” one section states.

However, GEO Group spends considerable sums of money — at least $1,000,000 each year since 2016 — lobbying the federal government on issues like homeland security appropriations.

The vast majority of GEO Group’s campaign contributions go to Republicans and much of its lobbying pertains to homeland security and criminal justice issues. In 2016, a GEO Group subsidiary contributed $225,000 to a pro-Trump super PAC and an additional $250,000 for the president’s inaugural committee.

One segment of the document touts, “We proudly comply with the Obama-Biden Administration’s performance-based national detention standards.” But a June report by the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General found “egregious violations” of these standards by GEO Group’s facilities.

These violations included “significant health and safety risks, including nooses in detainee cells, improper and overly restrictive segregation, and inadequate detainee medical care.”

You may view the email on which this report is based here.

Ken Klippenstein is a senior investigative reporter for TYT. He can be reached securely via Signal at 202-510-1268, on Twitter @kenklippenstein or via email: [email protected].

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