On Friday evening, a little more than 24 hours after the revelation that boy wonder and Oculus founder Palmer Luckey was the moneyman behind a strange scheme to bring down Hillary Clinton using the power of memes, the 24-year-old near-billionaire posted an apology to Facebook.
Luckey had, he explained, given $10,000 to a pro-Trump, nonprofit organization called Nimble America because it had “fresh ideas” for how to communicate with young voters. But he asked people to stop renouncing their support for Oculus, as his views don't represent that of the virtual reality headset company he sold to Facebook in 2014 for $2 billion. He also said that he doesn't actually plan to vote for Trump.
“I am a libertarian who has publicly supported Ron Paul and Gary Johnson in the past, and I plan on voting for Gary in this election as well,” he said, concluding, “I'm sorry for the impact my actions are having on the community."
Luckey's support for the group was especially shocking, and the backlash fierce, because it contrasted so drastically with our views of the many cherub-cheeked millennial power brokers of Silicon Valley. But as Luckey points out, if his views were hidden, they were hiding in plain sight. On social media and in interviews with the press, Luckey has never shied from disclosing his political perspective.
On Twitter, Luckey did not directly post anything concerning Trump or the alt-right, but he has,as Motherboard pointed out, liberally “liked” many alt-right memes and pro-Trump tweets.
A VentureBeat reporter who is friends with Luckey on Facebook noted that when he shared a story on the network that argued police deaths are more rare under President Barack Obama, Luckey responded with a sentiment instantly recognizable as a doctrine of the far right. Obama’s criticism of the criminal justice system and support of Black Lives Matter, Luckey argued, encouraged anti-police violence. Luckey also, the reporter said, used phrases and writing conventions popular on the right-leaning 4Chan message board Politically Incorrect (/pol).
Similarly, Wagner James Au, who profiled Luckey last February for Wired, said the exposure of Luckey's political affiliations cast some of his comments during their interview in a new light. He had, for example, suggested that the world's poor might wind up early adopters of virtual reality because they have a "greater incentive to escape the real world.”
"At the time, this struck me as Silicon Valley utopianism," Au wrote. "But now factoring in the Trump support, Luckey's thoughts take on a different cast. Because if you desire a world with walls keeping out refugees and the destitute while the wealthy pay even less taxes than they already are now, wouldn't you want a way to effectively keep the roiling masses tranquilized?"
Still, he said he was not all that surprised by the news.
"I've often seen Luckey write or Tweet things which seemed supportive of Gamergate and/or Trump," he wrote.
Luckey has taken few measures, if any, to shield his political point of view from the world. He is openly in a long-term relationship with a woman who has very vocally supported Trump and the GamerGate movement on social media. (She deleted her Twitter account amid the backlash.) On social media, he has disdained government meddling and supported Libertarian, supply-side economics. In April, he even gave an interview outside of a Trump rally in conservative Orange County, California, where he now lives.
The assumption—or perhaps the expectation—that the great innovators of Silicon Valley are all liberal-leaning utopians is a misguided one. If Mozilla founder Brenden Eich didn't make that clear when he cast his support for the anti-gay Proposition 8 in California, then surely Peter Thiel did when he threw his support behind Trump and then tried to sue Gawker Media out of existence. Silicon Valley liberalism is a myth, a folkloric invention on par with the genius college dropout in a hoodie.
And really, it shouldn't surprise us that there are big business-loving conservatives in Silicon Valley.
"America’s long dream of electing a business leader as president (Perot, Romney, Trump, etc.) dovetails so well with Silicon Valley’s belief in entrepreneurial success as the ultimate sign of prowess and competence," wrote Ian Bogost in The Atlantic. "It’s more surprising that everyone in the Valley doesn’t support Trump than that Thiel and Luckey do."
From Luckey's point of view, the political establishment that Hillary Clinton represents is just another institution in need of disruption. Is it really so surprising that he would turn to a Reddit-borne meme-machine to do it?
“The American Revolution was funded by wealthy individuals," NimbleRichMan, the pseudonym that represented the group on Reddit wrote. (The Daily Beast originally reported that Luckey said he'd used the pseudonym. Luckey now denies it. though screenshots of e-mails to the publication suggest otherwise.) "You can't fight the American elite without serious firepower.”
(It's worth noting, by the way, that Valley elite who have thrown their weight behind Trump appear to have done it mainly in name. According to data from Crowdpac, the technology industry has donated all of $225,000 to the Trump campaign. Even Peter Theil—ever the contrarian!—has still not donated a cent to the campaign.)
In person, Luckey isn't as adamant about his political views. I spoke with a few of his former colleagues who all told me they were unfamiliar with his political points of view because all Luckey ever really talked about was VR.
Luckey is a 24-year-old genius from suburban Long Beach, California who until recently spent the vast majority of his money and energy on making virtual reality real. He's also a conservative. It seems most of us just never bothered to notice.
On August 2, Luckey sent out a tweet that now seems all too prescient.
The public spotlight eventually grows harsh, and you can't always escape it, even with an Oculus Rift.