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A series of forums on race offered at Sandia National Laboratories left at least one lab employee miffed enough to send an email blast to the entire staff voicing his displeasure.
And the upset electrical engineer appears to have caught the attention of the White House, which last week in a memo told all federal agencies to stop hosting similar training sessions.
Last month, Casey Petersen, an engineer, sent an “unauthorized” email to all lab employees denying the existence of systemic racism and aspects of white privilege and criticizing recent race-based training seminars at the labs.
About two hours later, Sandia National Laboratories responded with a “Special Announcement” telling its employees the email wasn’t an official communication and not to open or view it.
Several right-leaning news sites and think tanks have covered the conflict. The “Tucker Carlson Tonight” talk show on FOX News devoted several minutes to the topic last week.
Petersen was placed on paid administrative leave shortly after he sent the email. He has since returned to work on an “uncleared” status, which means he doesn’t have access to classified information. And he is the subject of an ethics investigation.
“Unfortunately it was very much picked up by one-sided media,” Petersen said in an interview. “I was hoping to break out of the echo chambers.”
The White House Office of Management and Budget on Sept. 4 issued a memo that referred to some of those press reports. The memo said federal agencies have spent taxpayer money to put on trainings that were “divisive, anti-American propaganda.”
The memo directed agencies to identify and cancel contracts that bring racial sensitivity training that includes teaching critical race theory and white privilege at federal facilities, according to the memo.
“These types of ‘trainings’ not only run counter to the fundamental beliefs for which our Nation has stood since its inception, but they also engender division and resentment within the Federal workforce,” the White House memo states.
Petersen said he attended three trainings offered at Sandia and combed through related materials that Sandia made available to employees. He said the trainings he attended covered talking to children about racism, a panel on communities and police, and a forum on systemic racism.
He said that while 90% to 95% of the trainings were “moderate,” there were elements of critical race theory and “white-male bashing” that he said should be scrubbed from future training at the labs.
Critical race theory is, among other things, a view that laws and institutions are inherently discriminatory against people of color.
Sandia has declined to comment on the matter.
“This is a personnel matter, and Sandia cannot comment on personnel matters,” said labs spokesman Luke Frank, who also declined to describe the type of race-based training the lab has held.
The dispute started when Petersen sent an email to all lab employees Aug. 25.
“Traditionally Sandia has cultivated a culture of seeking out facts and truth, regardless of the conclusions or consequences. Traditionally we have championed diversity of race as well as diversity of thought. Because of my experiences with Sandia HR over the past months I have begun questioning this,” Petersen said in the email, which the Journal obtained. “I am sounding the alarm.”
The email included an hourlong video in which Petersen narrates a PowerPoint presentation, pointing to what he says were problems with some of the training sessions at Sandia. Petersen said Sandia started offering the classes after the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by police in Minneapolis.
Petersen says he tried to point out to lab officials the “blatant lies and deep immorality” in the presentations. He says he tried to teach his own classes to counter the training Sandia offered but was denied.
“This is a video that I did not want to make. But I felt morally obligated to,” he says at the beginning of the video.
Two hours after Petersen sent the email, Sandia sent an email throughout the labs, asking employees not to watch Petersen’s video.
“Many employees brought the email to the attention of senior leadership, Independent Audit and Ethics, Government Relations, Communications, and Inclusion, Diversity, Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action (IDEA), and others, questioning the validity and security of the communication. This action is appreciated,” read the special announcement from the labs.
While the labs haven’t commented on Petersen, he hasn’t been quiet.
On Aug. 30, he joined Twitter. His profile says, “My current mission is to get Critical Race Theory trainings and materials out of our federally funded national laboratories.”
His posts included a follow-up video last week calling on like-minded colleagues to attend any possible future meetings and speak against the curriculum.
“I don’t anticipate I’ll lose my job,” Petersen said. “I may have made it difficult to get promoted.”
Editor’s note: This article clarifies Petersen’s opinions about white privilege.