Even before rioters supporting President Donald Trump had been fully cleared of the Capitol on Wednesday, industry groups and executives from some of America's largest companies were denouncing the violence and calling for a peaceful transition of power.
Some of the quickest action came from business organizations that had supported many of Trump’s policies.
The Business Roundtable, a group of CEOs from 200 major companies from Walmart to Amazon and Pfizer to PepsiCo, released a statement that called on Trump and his aides to end the discord on Wednesday afternoon.
“The chaos unfolding in the nation’s capital is the result of unlawful efforts to overturn the legitimate results of a democratic election,” the statement read. “The country deserves better.”
The National Association of Manufacturers, the largest manufacturing industry group in the country, went a step further, calling the act “sedition” and saying Vice President Mike Pence should consider invoking the 25th Amendment “to preserve democracy.”
“This is not the vision of America that manufacturers believe in and work so hard to defend,” the statement continued.
For communications executives, the first question they often ask when approaching historic events is whether to comment at all, says Danny Franklin, Bully Pulpit Interactive partner.
“Almost universally, people came to the conclusion that they needed to speak up during this singular moment in history,” Franklin says. “It's been helpful to see corporate leaders and employers express their values and frame the events of the day in a way that acknowledges the stakes and the harm both employees and customers are feeling.”
Franklin, who has worked in Washington, says he was not surprised by the fervor shown by the National Association of Manufacturers and other industry groups.
“The people who work in these organizations have spent time on the Hill, and that building means something,” he says. “It would not surprise me if something that shaped [that statement] was a sense of personal woundedness of heart about a building and what it represents.”
National Nurses United, the largest union of registered nurses in the country, also released a statement calling for punitive action against the president.
“The president has been encouraging sedition. No one is above the law,” NNU executive director Bonnie Castillo said in a statement. “He is responsible for the scenes we have seen today at the Capitol and he should be held accountable.”
Some of the most effective statements Franklin saw on Wednesday were made by individual CEOs, even if they stopped short of calling anyone out by name.
“It's hard for people to understand a company's character,” he says. “It's a lot easier for them to understand a person's character and what that person stands for.”
Chief executives including Google's Sundar Pichai, Citi's Michael Corbat, IBM's Arvind Krishna and Goldman Sachs' David Solomon condemned the acts as shameful and the antithesis of American democracy.
Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman, who had been one of Trump's biggest allies, called the chaos an affront to democratic values.
“The insurrection that followed the president’s remarks today is appalling,” he said in a statement. “I am shocked and horrified by this mob’s attempt to undermine our constitution. As I said in November, the outcome of the election is very clear and there must be a peaceful transition of power.”
Ford chairman Bill Ford and CEO Jim Farley called the events “destructive acts against our shared principles and beliefs” and warned that there will be “more difficult days ahead as our country tries to overcome the things that challenge and divide us.”
“I strongly condemn the violence in our nation’s capital,” Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, said in a statement. “Our elected leaders have a responsibility to call for an end to the violence, accept the results and, as our democracy has for hundreds of years, support the peaceful transition of power.”
It's also important for companies and leaders to look forward and not simply point out what went wrong, according to Franklin.
“There are a number of examples of people trying to look beyond the events of yesterday,” he said. “Not to diminish them in any way, but to show the idea that the employers represent working toward something better for their stakeholders.”
To that end, some executives focused on the peaceful transition of power and welcoming the Biden administration into office in two weeks.
Apple's Tim Cook said in a statement the attacks marked “a sad and shameful chapter” in U.S. history.
“Those responsible for this insurrection should be held to account, and we must complete the transition to President-elect Biden’s administration,” he tweeted.
Energy giant Chevron also focused on a peaceful transition of power in its message. The company called for a seamless transition, tweeting, “The violence in Washington, D.C. tarnishes a two-century tradition of respect for the rule of law.”
GM chairman and CEO Mary Barra stressed the importance of coming together as a country.
“The peaceful transition of power is a cornerstone of American democracy, and regardless of politics the violence at the U.S. Capitol does not reflect who we are as a nation,” Barra tweeted.
While most observers welcomed the corporate statements, the true test of brands and companies in living up to their values will be in the future.
“If anyone looked at a statement yesterday as the last thing they needed to say on this or do about this, that was a misstep,” Franklin says. In addition to COVID-19 and the civil rights protests of the past year, the events Wednesday are a sign of significant political crisis, he adds.
“Everyone, whether it's a consumer or a congressman, wants something to change and they're going to look at companies and ask: to what degree did you contribute to the problems? To what degree did you stand by and let them happen?” he said.