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HomeNew GearChicago's Palace Guard Media Shields Pritzker From Ken Griffin's 'Gun Violence' Criticism

Chicago’s Palace Guard Media Shields Pritzker From Ken Griffin’s ‘Gun Violence’ Criticism

J.B. Pritzker coronavirus guns
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

What happens when you dare to criticize a powerful elected official in a state where the major media outlets agree with the big man in charge? You get savaged by the palace guard, that’s what happens. And it doesn’t even matter that their claims of hypocrisy are laughably flimsy. The message to all is still clear: shut up, or we’ll come after you and anyone else who doesn’t keep their head down.

Illinois is basically a one-party state. With a few exceptions — the governor’s chair has changed hands between parties over the years — the state is and has been firmly in control of Democrats since roughly the Big Bang. The current occupant of the top office is J.B. Pritzker, heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune. So far, he’s managed to stay out of jail, unlike a remarkable number of his predecessors.

Ken Griffin, like Pritzker, is also a billionaire. His Chicago-based hedge fund, Citidel, is one of the largest in the country. He’s been a vocal critic of Illinois government and he’s aimed a lot of rhetorical fire directly at Pritzker on the issue of violent crime in the Land o’ Lincoln (Pritzker also signed a bill into law ending cash bail in the state as part of “criminal justice reform”).

Griffin said the governor was too easy on rioters who trashed many parts of downtown Chicago after the George Floyd killing. He also thinks the Governor should get more involved in doing something to quell the daily death toll in Chicago, since the city’s Mayor and criminal justice apparatus seem to have little interest or ability to make that happen.

Griffin contributed millions to Pritzker’s opponent in the last election and is reportedly going opening his wallet again this time around. So, strangely enough, the last few days have seen a series of coordinated media attacks on Griffin because of Citidel’s investments in firearms-related companies.

Chicago’s NPR station published “Chicago billionaire Ken Griffin’s firms have $86 million in companies making guns and ammunition” by Dave McKinney on Friday.

But while Griffin was deriding Pritzker’s response as a “disgrace,” Griffin’s $46 billion hedge fund — Citadel — and its corporate cousin had investments and holdings in gun and ammunition manufacturing companies, federal securities records show.

In fact, Chicago police data analyzed by WBEZ show that nearly one out of every four guns recovered from city homicides in the past five years came off the assembly lines of companies in which Citadel held shares — weapons that have played a role in the same, worsening crime wave that Griffin blames on the governor.

OMG! SCANDAL! HYPOCRISY! How can a man — a veritable MERCHANT OF DEATH — with a $46 billion hedge fund say ANYTHING about gun violence when his firm has $86 million invested in gun companies?!

Fortunately, no math is required here at TTAG, but we did a little anyway. Gun and ammo investments make up roughly .19% of Griffin’s firm’s investments.

It probably doesn’t need to be said that those are legal investments in firms that manufacture and sell legal products to law-abiding customers. But because Chicago’s criminal population is particularly good at illegally accessing some of those guns and using them to shoot and murder people, Griffin should be excluded from commenting on the city’s and state’s response to the problem. At least that’s the implication of the WBEZ story.

A few paragraphs down, McKinney makes it clear what Griffin’s actual offense is, though . . .

Griffin’s activism and bank account are shaping the Illinois Republican Party in this year’s election cycle as the GOP looks for big gains in Springfield. Griffin and his favored gubernatorial candidate, Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, are focusing on crime as a defining issue to deprive the Democratic governor of a second term.

But let’s be serious. Who really pays any attention to NPR any more? The answer: virtually no one, which is why Chicagoans woke up to this today from the Sun-Times . . .

They’ve re-run a slightly edited version of the WBEZ state media piece for maximum local effect.

Pritzker enacted a criminal justice package last year that mandated police body cameras by 2025 and ends cash bail in 2023; beefed up State Police staffing, including along expressways; and deployed the Illinois National Guard at Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s request to respond to civil unrest after George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis.

But Griffin poked at that record, with his criticism reaching a zenith last October when he was the headliner at the Economic Club of Chicago after an eight-year hiatus.

“Since I last spoke in 2013, 25,000 of my fellow Chicagoans have been shot. And it is a disgrace that our governor will not insert himself into the challenge of addressing crime in our city,” Griffin said. “It is a disgrace.”

But you’re apparently not allowed to point any of that out if you own stock in legal firearms industry businesses.

Days before Griffin spoke, his companies held shares in five gun and ammunition makers with a combined value of more than $103 million as of September 2021, a company Securities and Exchange Commission filing showed.

A new SEC filing submitted earlier this month showed Citadel and Citadel Securities held more than $86 million worth of shares in gun and ammunition companies last December.

In that disclosure, Citadel listed nearly $13.7 million in Smith & Wesson Brands Inc. stock and another $21.2 million in Sturm, Ruger & Co. Inc.

Citadel and Citadel Securities had another $51.2 million in ammunition makers Olin Corp., Ammo Inc. and Vista Outdoor, the filing showed.

In case the article’s purpose isn’t abundantly clear . . .

Pfleger by Boch 5
Image by John Boch

“You absolutely cannot be a voice about crime and murder or shootings on our streets when your company is a major investor in gun manufacturers,” said the Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of Faith Community of St. Sabina Church.

McKinney also thinks Griffin is a skin flint when it comes to funding “anti-violence and policing initiatives.”

While some of Griffin’s philanthropy has been immense — he steered $125 million to the Department of Economics at the University of Chicago — Crain’s Chicago Business has reported only a “sliver” of his private giving goes to anti-violence and policing initiatives. One example was his $10 million grant to the University of Chicago Crime Lab.

Ten million dollars tis but a sliver. And McKinney dug up an academic who drew a straight line from lawful investments in gun manufacturers to violent crime on Chicago’s streets.

A Northeastern Illinois University expert on Chicago street gangs and violence said violent crimes are connected to upstream investments in firearms and ammunition manufacturers.

“Until we address those issues, those largest systemic issues, like investments in gun manufacturing, we’re not going to solve this problem on the streets,” said Lance Williams, professor of urban community studies at Northeastern’s Jacob H. Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies.

Pritzker’s current state financial disclosures do not show gun or ammunition holdings.

We could go on, but you get the drift. Note also that other downstate NPR affiliates are running the article, too.

Griffin is being painted as a beyond-the-pale arms merchant who profits from the dead bodies on Chicago’s streets…a world-class hypocrite for having the temerity to criticize the people who run his city and state (and who do it incredibly ineptly).

The local media are more than happy to toe the political line and point out what they want voters to see as a blatant conflict that invalidate anything Griffin may have to say that might discredit Pritzker.

And maybe the best part is, as this laughable hit piece was written by a public radio scribe, some of your tax dollars paid for it.

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