Starbucks founder and chairman Howard Schultz has said the events surrounding a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend have put the “moral fibre” of the US in question.
Mr Schultz, speaking at an employee forum in Seattle on Tuesday, said he has “profound concern about the lack of character, morality, humanity” displayed at the rally, according to a recap of the meeting posted on Starbucks’ website.
“The moral fibre, the values, and what we as a country have stood for is literally hanging in the abyss,” Mr Schultz told employees.
“We are at a critical juncture in American history. That is not an exaggeration. We are at and facing a crucible in which our daily life is being challenged and being questioned about what is right and what is wrong.”
A throng of hundreds, mostly white men and many carrying guns, converged on the college town on Saturday yelling anti-Semitic and racist slurs and carrying Confederate flags and neo-Nazi and KKK signs.
A street fight broke out between them and counter-protesters, and a woman was killed and others injured when a man drove a car into people marching against the rally.
After the violence, President Donald Trump was criticised for putting the blame on both sides and saying both sides included “very fine people”.
Mr Schultz was not a member of either of Mr Trump’s two panels of business leaders that were dissolved on Wednesday after several chief executives stepped down in protest over Mr Trump’s comments.
He told his employees he would let the actions and words of the president speak for themselves.
“What we witnessed this past weekend … is against every sense of what is right,” he said.
“My fear is not only that this behaviour is being given permission and licence, but its conduct is being normalised to the point where people are no longer hiding their face.”
Telling employees he was speaking to them “as an American, as a Jew, as a parent, as a grandparent”, Mr Schultz said it is hard to remain optimistic about the country’s future “in the midst of such a storm”, but he still is.
Starbucks and Mr Schultz have been outspoken on social issues.