Hobby Lobby Funds ISIS, But Not Birth Control

You may remember the Hobby Lobby corporation from their assault on women’s rights. Rather, I should say “its” assault on women’s rights because what was at issue in that lawsuit was whether or not a corporation can be said to have a religion.

People, of course, can have religious beliefs. Corporations, however, are set up for the sole purpose of not being the people who own them. This becomes important when a company goes bankrupt: creditors can go after the assets of the corporation, but not the assets of the persons who own or run the corporation. This is true because under the law the corporation is not the people that make it up. It is its own entity.

Hobby Lobby, however, argued that because the people who own and run the corporation have religious beliefs, then so does the corporation, because the corporation is meaningless without the people. The corporation *is* the people who own and run it, argued Hobby Lobby. Despite being entirely contrary to the entire purpose of the law of business organizations, US courts ultimately gave Hobby Lobby most of what it wanted.

What did it want? It wanted to be exempt from laws that affect corporations (but not flesh-and-blood people) that require that when a corporation is above a certain size, and when that large-enough corporation provides health insurance to its employees, then that corporation must not prevent employees from receiving coverage for birth control equivalent to coverage for similar health expenses (voluntary surgeries for surgical birth control implantation, prescription drugs for prescription birth control, etc.). It did allow for a mechanism where health insurers did not charge the company itself for those benefits, should the people owning/running the company object to birth control. It merely blocked those companies from preventing employees from accessing birth control through a health insurer that the employee does not have a relationship with separate from the relationship in which the employee health plan is provided.

But why did it want that? Sure, money is fungible, and money to pay for birth control has to come from somewhere. So there’s a bit of artificiality to a mechanism where insurers pay for coverage without spending money taken in as premiums by the objecting company. But the truth is that birth control coverage saves insurers money. By spending its own money on BC, the insurer saves costs on births, abortions, prenatal care, neonatal care, and on and on. Rather than secretly charging Hobby Lobby more, and spending some of their own “profit” earned from Hobby Lobby on BC for HL’s employees, the insurer actually pays for the BC then charges all of its customers, including Hobby Lobby, LESS. So it’s very, very difficult to make the case that Hobby Lobby money goes to birth control even indirectly.

Ultimately the Hobby Lobby argument was this:

We are too moral to be involved in birth control in any way. Our god declared “No IUDs allowed” in Uteruses 4:ever.

That is why it is so interesting to learn today that Hobby Lobby has been buying up Mesopotamian archaeological artifacts at least since 2009 and continuing until very recently…if not up to today. This, curiously enough, includes all the time that Hobby Lobby was arguing about its surpassing morality in court.

Now, the Mesopotamian artifacts Hobby Lobby has purchased were apparently largely (if not entirely) made up of cuneiform writings. Curiously, availability of these writings to private collectors surged at the same time that the ability to trace these artifacts back to their origins fell. It seems that while the Islamic State was busy murdering people, forcibly converting others, and generally stealing land and committing violence a large number of sites of archaeological relevance fell under the sway of ISIS leaders.

While legally buying such artifacts requires a proper provenance, a proper procedure, and an opportunity for experts to examine them before they pass into private hands (and even to stop the sale if the object is determined to be sufficiently important), oil-rich families who are more fundamentalist in their practice of Islam have allied themselves with ISIS leaders and made it possible for ISIS to smuggle valuable artifacts out of the territory they control. The oil-rich families serve as intermediaries between ISIS and wealthy collectors. The families take a cut for their salesmanship, and the remaining money spent goes back to ISIS to fund its campaigns of war and terror.

Hobby Lobby, it turns out, was buying its artifacts from one or more families in the UAE, even going so far as to have high corporate officers take paid trips to the UAE to examine artifacts and choose their purchases. Needless to say this is not a small-money operation.

Now, we don’t know enough yet to say for sure that the cuneiform tablets and other writings purchased by Hobby Lobby originally came from ISIS controlled territory or that their money went back to ISIS and funded weapons and warfare. What we can say, however, is that the use of cuneiform is limited geographically, that the range of use of cuneiform overlaps quite a lot with ISIS controlled territory, and that ISIS control over certain archaeological sites correlated very, very strongly with an increase of undocumented cuneiform artifacts being offered on the private market not long before Hobby Lobby began buying these priceless relics.

Curiously, we can also say that the objects were clearly smuggled illegally into the USA: bills of lading and importation documents were knowingly falsified. They were just wrong, they were intentionally crafted to lie to customs officials so as to smuggle in things that Hobby Lobby could not legally bring into the country. it’s true that raiding archaeological sites happens nearly everywhere in the world and there’s no absolute guarantee that an object that originated outside of ISIS control but inside the boundaries of ancient Mesopotamia would have received documentation from the government of Iraq, Syria, or Kuwait. Hobby Lobby did purchase and smuggle quite a number of artifacts, however, and the odds that none of these were excavated from ISIS controlled territory are virtually nil. The odds that none of the money spent on these illegally sold artifacts made it back to ISIS to fund their violence are a mere rounding error to those (virtually nil) odds.

But here’s the thing: markets being what they are, even if none of the money was taken directly from a Hobby Lobby cash register and forced straight into the hands of a gun-toting ISIS killer, it was known that ISIS was funding their violence and war with the sale of artifacts. Purchasing artifacts on the black market sends ISIS the signal that they can continue to fund their activities by selling the artifacts they find. This is a market, and as demand goes up, either supply goes up or price goes up or both. You can’t participate in the illegal sale of Mesopotamian artifacts without contributing to the ISIS bottom line.

And so, here we are: We now have a picture of the very, very religious and very, very moral corporation that could not tolerate the mere thought of its own employees getting some of the money they spend on birth control reimbursed from the accounts of some health insurer with which that moral corporation does business. The picture that we have is one of a corporation who, very religiously, very morally, believes that it should be aiding the ISIS efforts to fundraise for its  campaigns of violence and that it should break US law to do so.

So… now I’m curious about all those right-wingers who called it obscene and who called it violence and who called it a violation of the freedom of religion when told that some people didn’t want to shop at a corporation that does some things that those people didn’t like?

When they find out that Hobby Lobby supports violent Islamic extremism, and that doing so is, apparently, compatible with Hobby Lobby’s religious beliefs (else the corporation wouldn’t have done it, of course), what will they do? Will they boycott Hobby Lobby and violate its religious freedom to support Islam and even violent, fundamentalist Islamists? Will they stage more “Buy Hobby Lobby” days as they did during the court proceedings of Burwell v Hobby Lobby because refusing to buy from Hobby Lobby is a violation of HL’s religious freedom?

Hobby Lobby has made itself part of the ISIS funding strategy for its wars. What is a good right winger to do?



  1. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @khms, #2:

    Since they signed a document with DHS admitting the company’s guilt, it’s pretty hard for them to say that it’s not true. They could still call it “fake news” though, since the right wing seems to use that to mean, “things that I shouldn’t see on the news” whether true or not.

  2. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says


    You can try this NYTimes article, for a start.

    They come to much the same conclusions that I do:

    It is not the case, as some have alleged, that Hobby Lobby bought artifacts from ISIS. Though it is true that ISIS profits by looting artifacts and passing them on to dealers and collectors in the West, the shipments for which Hobby Lobby was scrutinized predate the rise of ISIS.

    But Hobby Lobby did participate in and perpetuate the same market from which ISIS profits. If collectors like the Green family were unwilling to purchase unprovenanced antiquities — items that do not have a clear and clean history of discovery and purchase — the black market would dry up. As long as there are buyers, there will be sellers. It is because collectors like Hobby Lobby are willing to pay a premium and look the other way that looting continues. They dramatically expanded the market for biblical antiquities in the late 2000s.

    They give Hobby Lobby more credit than I do because the import fraud to which Hobby Lobby pled guilty involved objects taken from their contexts before ISIS became ISIS (though violent groups were already operating in the regions now under ISIS control and some of those undoubtedly became part of ISIS when that banner was raised). This is a bit like saying that something didn’t benefit Bill Gates’ children because the particular payment in question was made to Bill Gates a year before the children were born. The relationship isn’t quite that direct, but it’s an informative metaphor to think about.

    But as I noted above, even if their artifacts weren’t from ISIS and even if the artifacts came from regions entirely outside of ISIS control even today (and some of them do come from outside, though not all), it is the money of wealthy collectors that makes this market possible, and ISIS would not today be funding their wars with money from looted artifacts without such wealthy collectors. The NYTimes (with access to better information than I have) asserts that Hobby Lobby not only participated in the market for looted artifacts, they actually significantly expanded the market in the late 2000s.

    Given the new information (this particular NYTimes article was published after my blog post, which was based on a number of sources including the plea deal between Hobby Lobby and the federal government as well as mainstream coverage that interpreted that plea deal and gave some background), there is less ambiguity about whether Hobby Lobby bought objects in a manner that sent funds directly back to ISIS, but the role of Hobby Lobby in the artifact black market was much more significant than I realized.

    And as the NYTimes implies, by creating and/or expanding markets for looted artifacts, Hobby Lobby helped build the networks of connections that smuggle and sell such artifacts. Hobby Lobby helped build what became a significant part of the infrastructure for ISIS’ smuggling-revenue enterprise.

    Now, ISIS has other revenue streams, but I’m told that smuggling artifacts (not necessarily cuneiform only) is a “significant fraction” of their revenue. Whether that means “above 1%” or whether that means something much higher I have no idea, though it seems unlikely the phrase would be used for either a number over 50% or under 1%.

    It’s actually easier to talk about raw numbers rather than percentages. Reuters reports:

    Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq are netting between $150 million and $200 million per year from illicit trade in plundered antiquities, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations said in a letter released on Wednesday.

    That article is dated April 6th 2016. Without a full budget, we can’t know more about how crucial the smuggling is to ISIS’ ability to function, but I imagine that losing 100M+ per year would hurt any small nation’s budget.

  3. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    No offence was ever taken. Asking for more info is always a good idea. Though I won’t necessarily always have time to reply if RL intrudes, questions and discussions (at least good faith ones) are always encouraged on this blog.

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