Sandia National Laboratories employee Casey Petersen sent out a lab-wide email on Aug. 25 that contained a self-made YouTube video titled “Pushing Back on the Narrative of Modern Systemic Racism & White Privilege.” In the two weeks since the racist video was sent out, Petersen has drawn support from conservative commentators while Sandia Labs leadership have yet to publicly condemn the video.
In the hour-long diatribe, Petersen makes a series of claims that anti-racism training doesn’t belong in the workplace and that systemic racism isn’t a major problem in the modern-day United States, among others.
A former Sandia Labs employee — who spoke with the Daily Lobo on the condition of anonymity — said that a few hours after the video was sent out, he received an email from executive leadership saying the video wasn’t authorized to go to the entire workforce of roughly 14,000 people. But the email failed to condemn the content of the video.
The former employee said that although leadership had been proactive in sending out resources and holding training sessions over the past few months, their silence about the video spoke volumes.
“The problem is that (the lack of a response) implicitly endorses this perspective or gives fuel to those who hold these problematic beliefs within the labs,” he said.
Petersen ended the video by encouraging like-minded people to voice their opinions in their own workplaces, saying, “Now is the time to speak up. This is your call to action. It takes courage. It may be uncomfortable. It may be inconvenient. But the consequences for not speaking out are far worse.”
The central target of his video’s ire was trainings that he said started after the police killing of George Floyd. Many of them have reportedly been based on critical race theory, which Petersen calls “un-American.”
Appearing on Fox News on Sept. 1, Christopher Rufo, director of the Center on Wealth, Poverty and Morality at the Seattle-based conservative think tank Discovery Institute, argued that trainings based on critical race theory at federal agencies should be ended immediately, telling host Tucker Carlson that the theory is “being weaponized against the American people.”
Days earlier, Rufo wrote about Petersen’s video in a lengthy Twitter thread, saying there is “a civil war erupting at Sandia Labs.” He wrote that in sending out the video, Petersen was “hoping to spark a rebellion against Sandia executives.”
Rufo went on to say that Petersen’s video “is the first shot in the rebellion against critical race theory in the federal government.”
On Friday, Sept. 4, President Donald Trump ordered federal agencies to end trainings on white privilege and critical race theory, calling them “divisive, anti-American propaganda,” NPR reported. Sandia Labs, being one of three National Nuclear Security Administration research laboratories in the country, will presumably be affected by the new order.
After requesting comment from the Sandia Labs, the Daily Lobo was redirected to the U.S. Department of Energy, which didn’t respond to multiple inquiries and left the question of how the Petersen video and virulent spread of racist sentiment within the labs will be handled.
According to a follow-up video posted on Aug. 26, Petersen was placed on paid administrative leave shortly after he sent out the video.
“I was NOT fired from Sandia National Labs and will be returning to work on an uncleared basis until the ethics investigation is complete,” Petersen wrote on his personal Twitter account on Sept. 4. “Met with investigators yesterday for a nearly two hour interview that went great.”
It’s unclear how Petersen was able to send out a lab-wide email. The former employee who spoke with the Daily Lobo said it’s not an easy task, as most employees don’t have access to large email listservs, which brought him to speculate about Petersen’s true motives behind his push against anti-racism trainings.
“If a person felt so strongly to disseminate this, where do his true beliefs about race and white supremacy lie?” the former employee asked.
Bella Davis is a senior reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @bladvs