Michigan Economics Professor: Boycotting Target is “Literal Terrorism” [Updated]

In New York, a pro-life display was declared by a professor to be an act of “violence.” In Colorado, a university site warned that misgendering is violence. It is part of a national pattern on campuses where opposing views are declared “harmful” or “violent” as a justification for censorship or even violence. Now, University of Michigan economics professor Justin Wolfers has declared some of those boycotting the store Target over its line of LGBTQ+ “Pride” clothing are guilty of “literal terrorism.”

Target is the latest example of a corporation that is being “Bud Lighted” over its link to LGBTQ+ efforts. While experts on MSNBC and CNN assured viewers that these boycotts fade quickly, these companies have now lost billions. Target has reportedly lost over $10 billion. Miller Lite is also being hammered over its “Bad $#!T to Good $#!T,” ad slamming male-oriented beer campaigns.

With these boycotts picking up steam, the coverage has turned from dismissive to alarmist.

Wolfers told MSNBC:

“[If] Target caves into this, then it says that the moment you threaten the employees of even a very large corporation, you get to control its policies. This is economic terrorism, literally terrorism, creating fear among the workers and forcing the corporations to sell the things you want, not sell the things you don’t.”

Wolfers did not object to past boycotts of companies like Twitter after Elon Musk sought to dismantle its censorship bureaucracy. He did not object to boycotts of Republican states over their laws concerning abortion, election integrity, or gender transitioning.

In fairness to Professor Wolfers, he acknowledges in the interview that “we do have groups all the time that protest by boycotting, and that’s their democratic right to do so.” However, he still considers aspects of this boycott to be “literal terrorism.”

Most notably, Wolfers was one of the figures leading the mob against UChicago economist Harald Uhlig, who was discussed earlier.  I quoted Wolfers as one of those seeking the removal of Uhlig from a leading economics journal because he criticized Black Lives Matter and the movement to Defund The Police.

Yet, Wolfers now claims that some boycotts can amount to “literal terrorism” and objects that they are “forcing the corporations to sell the things you want, not sell the things you don’t.”

Boycotts have long been an important form of political speech extending back to the colonial protests against the British stamp and tea taxes. Indeed, the left has targeted advertisers and boycotted companies to pressure corporate officials to change their policies. Twitter was targeted when Elon Musk sought to dismantle the company’s massive censorship operation. Now, however, boycotts are acts of terrorism when used against some of those policies.

The problem is that the media and these commentators cannot force customers to buy beer or other products. Consumers have found a way to express their views through the invisible hand of the markets. These advertising and public campaigns were designed to closely associate the brands with particular causes. That association has triggered a market response, including consumers and shareholders who object to campaigns that seem more political than commercial.

Alissa Heinerscheid, vice president of marketing for Bud Light, pledged to drop Bud Light’s “fratty reputation and embrace inclusivity.” She certainly succeeded in changing the entire view of the brand in less than a year on the job. Heinerscheid knew that the brand image sells the beer. That image is now unpalatable for some consumers. The social value of these campaigns is lost if consumers reject beer with the branding message.

Even Adam Schiff creating his own public endorsement of Bud Lite appeared to backfire. It is not clear that Anheser Busch was eager to have one of its labels pegged as the beer of choice by Adam Schiff as more than Dylan Mulvaney. Indeed, the company now appears to be in a death spiral. After it tried to distance itself from the Mulvaney controversy, it was then boycotted by liberal groups for not staying the course with its earlier campaign. Those boycotts, however, are not being denounced as terrorism by Wolfers.

Update: Professor Wolfers contacted me after this posting to explain that he was only referring to the intimidation of Target workers as terrorism and that he supported boycotts as political speech. He insists that “it’s the (possibility) of threats of violence that I describe as terrorism (ie the use of terror), not the boycott.” He added:

“It’s false to say (as you do) that “Wolfers now claims that boycotts are “literal terrorism” because they are “forcing the corporations to sell the things you want, not sell the things you don’t.””. I distinguish between consumers boycotting, and folks like DeSantis who use the machinery of the state to bully corporations, as the latter concerns me more. (This used to be a standard conservative position.)”

I have tweaked that line and added an additional quote in light of Wolfers objections.

You can see the full interview here.

129 thoughts on “Michigan Economics Professor: Boycotting Target is “Literal Terrorism” [Updated]”

  1. It has never been difficult to find economists, particularly in academia, who use their academic credentials to give their political views a patina of undeserved respectability.

  2. Wolfers’ “use of the term economic terrorism referred to the violent threats made to employees.”


    Here’s the relevant quote:

    “When Target caves into this, then it says that the moment you threaten the employees of even a very large corporation you get to control its policies. This is economic terrorism. Literally terrorism.” (Wolfers)

    His primary focus is the boycott. The “this” refers to that boycott (and others like it). That is also consistent with his use of the Marxist expression: “economic terrorism.”

    (And, yes, I did watch the interview.)

    1. Do you have the dialogue from the interview immediately preceding that quote to justify that “this” refers to a boycott? Or is this just completely made up?

  3. It’s the Stalinist who took away the stonemill….the livelihood of another man! They think man is substituted for!? He is not! But they will never get it. They will sell us out unless and until we the people bring them to their knees! So don’t stop now.on their retreat. Get man to stop advertising women clothes.. Bring them to their knees. To confess their sins. Bankrupt them! For what doing to our men! Do we need t all? Don’t retreat! Hold the line. Our truth I more evident than theirs. Be men!

  4. Among upper-income, predominantly white, American leftists in 2023—many of whom turn a blind eye to leftist, political violence—the term terrorist has become very popular for describing people they disagree with. Also popular is calling people they disagree with racists, nazis, fascists, deniers, Bible thumpers, and the religious right.

    Looking on the bright side, it is good that the left feels comfortable and safe using such terminology.

    America is, after all, the land of free speech.

  5. It is evident that, within the hallowed halls of academia, a cadre of mentally defective, disgruntled, and hopelessly uninspired, underachieving malcontents, perhaps the detritus of the ‘60’s, or influenced and motivated by this movement, have been lying in wait, in protected tenure, anticipating the coming of this moment in time.

    1. Choosing not to support grooming children is terrorism. Fine, send homeland after me, they get zero of my dollars.

  6. Makes ya wonder why a “school” would hire someone to stupid to tell TERRORISM from CHOICE. Its almost like they have an Agenda.

  7. When discussing the pros and cons of the Target boycott, the opinion of a guy who works as an economics professor means no more to me than the opinion of a guy who works as a plumber, a factory worker, or a Waffle House cook.

    1. To Economics Professor; consumers can choose where they wish to shop and what they choose to buy.

  8. Did MSDNC convene a clown council to opine about the ACTUAL economic terrorism Target experienced when blacks and other Democrat voters LITERALLY destroyed Targets in Minneapolis, Philly, and other cities? If so, I wonder what kind of deep thoughts the clown council shared with MSDNC viewers.

  9. Well, it appears the boycott is hitting Target pretty hard.
    JP Morgan downgraded Target to Neutral with a price cut from $182 to $144.
    However, only a few are talking about the recession that may already be here. People maybe cutting spending where they can and spend on what they need. Targets little Bud Light moment might have just given them an incentive to cut back on spending their money there. For the company, could not of come at a worst time. They recently announced they lose some $1.3billion in theft. It has become so bad in some markets, they have closed stores.
    Costco CFO noted in previous economic downturns, customers cut beef purchases for cheaper cuts or lower priced pork and chicken.
    Since Bidenflation, the wife and I have noted the pasta isle is thin and often with open spaces.

  10. In other news: “Target changes company logo to Red Cross symbol after employees express fear of being ‘targeted’ by boycott threats”

    Employees breathed a sigh of relief yesterday when Target’s board of directors changed company logo from the iconic Target roundel to the internationally recognized Red Cross symbol. Company manager Rod Steiner said that since boycotts have become the new terrorism, it necessitated the use of a Protective Sign that is recognized as being a non-combatant status similar to what is used for the Red Cross, cultural heritage sites, or hospitals. That way terrorists, formerly known as “citizens who intend to not make purchases from Target” will avoid attacking employees with violence (speech).

    Free speech terrorists will now be on notice that they could face prosecution for war crimes at The Hague since their boycott campaign might be attacking a structure/person displaying a Protective Sign and not a Target.

    1. Darren, is this post meant to be facetious?

      As the moderator, you seem to also be conflating boycotts and threats of violence. Is that a distinction the good professor things has no value?

      1. you seem to also be conflating boycotts and threats of violence.

        Conflating the two is the Professor. It is what generated this post.

  11. Anonymnous – I took your advice and watched the MSNBC panel discussion up to Prof. Wolfer’s reamarks in controversy. It is noteworthy that this “distinguished” panel of looney journalists discusses the posssiblity of violence without ever presenting a single case of a violent act or even threat. Then, why are they talking about violence? To gin up their audience probably. It is they who should go to the primary sources. As to Wolfers, he says IF there are violent threats against Target employees, and IF Target changes its marketing strategies to satisfy the boycotters, that would be “economic terrorism” which he then says is “literally” terrorism. In the absence of violence, there is no “terrorisim”. Target may have a “concern” for the safety of employees” and it may even change its product line because of threats, but if it does so, it is not responding to “terror”.

    1. Edward, I am no fan of MSNBC, but I also don’t think it is fair to take Wolfers quote out of context and twist it to mean something entirely different. The “IFs” cannot be ignored. They are talking about threats of violence because the company said there was concern for the safety and well-being of employees.

      You can reasonably take issue with the value of qualifying a statement with conditional phrases. That’s fine. My issue here is more with Turley’s failure to appropriately provide context. After watching the interview, it is clear that this statement was not simply about boycotting. It’s all about the violent threats that Target claims have been made.

      I do appreciate that you watched the interview and picked up on the context.

      1. IF my door bell rings at 2AM, and IF the person is concealing their identity under a hoodie, that becomes an ACTUAL assualt on my life, and I can shoot first and ask questions later.

        I cannot ignore the IFS

    2. Edwardmahl,
      I watched it.
      You are correct. They talk about violence without presenting a single, credible, report. They mention some report about someone trashing a pride display, yet there is no reporting, video, provided.
      They make a bunch of suggestions that someone carrying a CCW may get upset and shoot up the place? And then that anchor, bobbing her head like a trained seal, says, “If you dont like it, dont buy it!”
      Yah! No kidding! It is called a BOYCOTT!
      The one guy claims it is a coordinated, targeted attack against companies and then cites an Instragram ad? Want to take a guess at who does NOT use Instagram? The people boycotting Target and Bud Light!
      Now I understand why people who watch MSNBC are so dumb!

      As Mespo point out and provided a link, there were reports of bomb threats to Target stores. And it came from a LBGT+ activist!

      1. UpstateFarmer,

        Perhaps, we should start with basics. Do you think a “boycott” involves violence?

        If it doesn’t, then why would you think the anchor is wrong for wanting to distinguish actions involving violence from merely choosing with your pocketbook?

        Boycotts are not violent.

        1. Boycotts are not violent.

          But violence is called for if your heart is pure. As our VP encouraged the violence to continue and paid to post bail for those
          e arrested for crimes.
          The left created the rules of engagement during the summer of love.

  12. “[Wolfers] insists that “it’s the (possibility) of threats of violence that I describe as terrorism (ie the use of terror), not the boycott.” He added:

    “It’s false to say (as you do) that “Wolfers now claims that boycotts are “literal terrorism” because they are “forcing the corporations to sell the things you want, not sell the things you don’t.””. I distinguish between consumers boycotting, and folks like DeSantis who use the machinery of the state to bully corporations, as the latter concerns me more. (This used to be a standard conservative position.)”
    Careful there Professor Wolfers! Any more backsliding and we’ll have to get you “I Got Gatored” t-shirt. Oh and you know damn well the “threats” were just another LGBTABCEASYAS123 hoax phoned in by a false flagger (yes, I said “flagger.”)


  13. Wolfers, under scrutiny for objectivity, reshaped his “literal terrorism” comment into a speculative grievance about the “possibility” of death threats being sent to Target employees. Speculations are one thing, and they are definitely not “literal” in any sense.

    I would like to see hundreds convicted for issuing veiled death threats anonymously for a few months. That will better define a red line roping off intimidating forms of speech which are illegal.

    1. Did you watch the interview?

      His entire comment was speculative. The quote was taken out of context by Turley. Watch the interview and see for yourself.

      He clarifies that he doesn’t know whether Targets claim of real threats to the well being of it’s employees is legitimate, but that if they are, they would constitute economic terrorism.

      1. “economic terrorism…” If you don’t like how a company operates, you don’t have to spend your money there, .That’s the American way. It’s not terrorism. It’s called supporting those with whom you agree and not supporting those with whom you do not agree. It’s actually quite simple really.

        1. Derek Tombrello,
          Quite simple indeed.
          Will this boycott have the legs the Bud Light one appears to have?
          What I find interesting is exactly how many Americans are participating in the boycott that it affects these corporations bottom line to such a severe degree.
          Then there is the flip side: Where are all the leftists and why are they not flocking to Target, spending gobs of money to show their support?

        2. This post indicates that you did not watch the interview.

          No one has said that consumer should refrain from choosing Walmart over Target.

          His use of the term economic terrorism referred to the violent threats made to employees.

          Do you think violent threats to retail employees are “the American Way”?

          1. I watched it.
            Where are the violent threats? Who committed them? Video? Police report?
            There were some bomb threats. Made by some LBGT activist for Target taking down products. Was that a credible threat against Target employees?

            1. It sounds like you didn’t watch it (or didn’t understand it if you did.)

              Are you aware of the meaning of “IF”?

              Let me refresh your recollection. It is a conditional statement. Wolfers did not say there were actual violent threats. The preceding discussion before “economic terrorism” quote QUALIFIED the statement by making it conditional upon the existence of real threats.

              So, why are you asking where the violent threats are? That is IRRELEVANT to understanding the point of Wolfers’ argument.

              Does that make sense?

              1. I watched it as it was obvious to the references I made to the video in my post.
                It was absolute crap.
                Wolfer’s argument was stupid.
                What IF Biden gets us into a nuclear war?
                What IF the sun ejects a Carrington Event level CME?
                What IF a cat 5 hurricane hits New Orleans again?
                What IF the Target boycott has legs and the company looses another $10billion?
                We can What IF, all day long.
                Wolfers What IF argument is IRRELEVANT as it does not reflect what has actually happened.

                1. You can critique the value of his conditional statement, sure.

                  But, that normative judgment must be separate from understanding the substance of the position itself.

                  You are conflating the two.

                  Turley took the position out of context, which actually changes the substance of what he argued. My issue is with this.

                  If Turley had argued, “Economics professor makes attenuated argument based on conditional statements, which has little real value,” then, though I may disagree on the normative judgment, I would have no fundamental problem with that take.

                  Do you understand the difference?

              2. I will repeat what I said earlier.

                You can call terrorism whatever you wish, for an unstable mind can create terrorism where non exists.

                Add hypocrisy to the equation, and you have ATS. Anything he wishes to argue against is terrorism, yet anything he favors, whether bombing or arson, is a peaceful demonstration.

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