The immigrant owner of a grocery chain in Minneapolis has spoken out against cancel culture after his business was attacked last summer over racist tweets his daughter made as a teenager.
Majdi Wadi, the founder and CEO of Holy Land brands, had to lay off 69 longtime employees last summer after furious social media backlash over his daughter Lianne’s tweets from 2012, he revealed on Bari Weiss’ new podcast.
Weiss, the former New York Times op-ed editor who quit the paper last year citing woke bullying, dubbed the incident a prime example of ‘America’s cultural revolution’ on the first episode of her podcast series Honestly.
Lianne Wadi, who was then working for Holy Land as a catering director, apologized profusely for her old tweets and was fired by her dad, but it did nothing to stem the mob outrage at the family business, leading vendors to cancel $5 million in contracts and the landlord at one location to revoke the lease.
‘This mob, they were very powerful in a way. For example, I remember a guy writing a tweet defending Holy Land, and saying, no Holy Land is a good family,’ Majdi said.
‘They attacked him and they cancelled him…this is what scared me the most. This is not what America’s about,’ he added.
Majdi Wadi (center), the founder and CEO of Holy Land brands in Minneapolis, fired his daughter Lianne (right) over her racist teenage tweets, but still lost millions over protests
Bari Weiss, the former New York Times op-ed editor who quit the paper last year, did an in-depth interview with Majdi for the first episode of her new podcast, Honestly
In the interview, Majdi told how he was born in Kuwait as a stateless Palestinian refugee, before immigrating to America in 1992 and building his business from scratch.
A multi-enterprise business, Holy Land runs several specialty grocery stores, a restaurant, bakery and catering service, and produces a popular brand of hummus that was sold by major retailers.
The saga with Majdi’s daughter Lianne unfolded in the early days of June last year, when Minneapolis and the nation were roiled by video of George Floyd’s murder by a police officer.
The Wadi family, like many others, was shocked by the footage, and responded by hanging BLM banners from their stores and donating food to demonstrators.
Lianne also joined Black Lives Matter protesters on the streets of Minneapolis to express outrage over Floyd’s death — but as she marched, her already-deleted tweets as a teenager mysteriously resurfaced.
The tweets expressed a noxious range of racist, anti-Jewish and anti-gay sentiments.
In one, she wrote, ‘#HighSchoolTaughtMe If your Somalian your automatically hated<3.’
She also said that a fake Hitler account ‘reads my mind.’ The original tweet said ‘Top 3 races you wish to eliminate. Ready, go! Jews, blacks, and the fats.’
Holy Land was a popular multi-business brand in Minneapolis, and celebrity chef Guy Fiere even stopped by the family restaurant on his show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives
Last June, someone dug up Lianne’s tweets from 2016, which she had already deleted, spurring furious protests targeting her family’s business
With emotions already running high over Floyd’s murder, BLM demonstrators channeled some of their fury against Holy Land, bombarding the company with nasty social media messages and phone calls, and even harassing customers and employees in the parking lot of the stores.
Lianne issued a groveling televised apology, telling WCCO-TV: ‘I want to apologize from the bottom of my heart.’
‘They were such, like, horrible and vile things, and that’s not who I am. It’s not what I believe in,’ she said.
Still the outrage mounted, and Majdi responded by firing his daughter.
‘I was facing a tough decision as a dad and as a CEO. As a dad I know who my daughter has become, but as a CEO for this company I have 189 families that live off my business, and if this demand from the people that they’re sending us messages and calling, I give it to them although I feel it’s not fair for my daughter,’ Majdi recalled in the new interview.
‘Hopefully this will calm the anger down, but still it did not,’ he said. ‘They have my home address in the social media… People asking other people to come attack where I live. I had to evacuate the home for 10 days, live in the secret place where nobody knows where my family is.’
Major vendors including Costco, Target, Sam’s Club, Super Value dropped Holy Land products from their stores, costing the company $5 million in contracts, Wadi said.
The landlord at the chain’s flagship location in Minneapolis’ Midtown Global Market even revoked the company’s lease, caving to fears that the building would be attacked.
The landlord at the chain’s flagship location in Minneapolis’ Midtown Global Market even revoked the company’s lease
In the end Majdi had to lay off about a third of his employees, many of whom had been working for the company for 15 to 20 years.
Majdi said that the ordeal has taken a toll on his daughter, who found another job at a restaurant but was quickly hounded out when protesters discovered where she was working.
Now, Lianne is planning to move overseas to start a new life, he said. Majdi said he offered to hire her back at the family business, but she refused, fearing that Holy Land would suffer further fallout.
‘She said, ‘no I’m not going to come back.’ She’s beating herself up,’ he said. ‘She still believes that she’s responsible for all the people who lost their job.’
‘Honestly I’m so worried and concerned about her,’ Majdi said of his daughter.
Majdi said he is speaking out because he is worried about the direction the country is going in.
‘I say I am not here to defend these tweets, they are horrible, they do not represent who she is or who we are as a family,’ he said.
But he said that his daughter and the family business do not deserve a ‘life sentence’ for the racist tweets she sent when she was 16 years old.
Majdi said he is speaking out because he is worried about the direction the country is going in
‘If the police stop somebody for speeding, they cannot shoot him in the head. They cannot give him life sentence. It’s a speeding ticket,’ he said.
‘Guys wake up please, the whole world is changing. And we have to stay united and to get together. Let’s disagree, we have to disagree with each other from here to tomorrow, it’s healthy,’ said Majdi.
‘America for me is not a place to collect money only. This is home. This is home, I’m gonna defend my home, I would give my life to defend my home,’ he added.
In a commentary, Weiss stressed that she does not like the term cancel culture, saying it is overused, but expressed fear that the phenomenon of mob shaming on social media is having a profound chilling effect on America.
‘The main goal is to send a message to everyone else: step out of line, and you’re next,’ said Weiss.
‘Normal people who watch others attacked or expelled or demonized, they have a perfectly human response. They stay quiet,’ she added.
‘The threat of public shaming has been massively, enormously amazingly effective. It has led to an epidemic of self-silencing and fear,’ she said. ‘It’s time to come out. It’s time to speak honestly.’