The news Monday that billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel will run as a super delegate for Donald Trump in California left some in Silicon Valley scratching their heads. How could this be possible in the tech-utopian enclave which is currently fighting accusations of left-leaning bias? But for Thiel to be publicly supporting Trump is not weird, or out of character in any way; it is of a piece with his political views that have been on record for years.
Politically, Peter Thiel is an extreme libertarian, views for which he’s almost as famous as his fortune. He advocates for deregulated markets, stemming immigration, lowering taxes, backing disruptive technologies and having as little government interference in people’s lives as possible. Thiel has pushed for and sunk a lot of money into his dream of sea-steading—floating islands in international waters where all kinds of experimental research will be permitted free of government regulation, and presumably taxes. Thiel, as you might expect, is a big fan of Ayn Rand.
Thiel's rather extreme views might best be captured in an essay he wrote for Cato Unbound in which he described his dismay at women having been given the vote and his hatred of welfare:
'The 1920s were the last decade in American history during which one could be genuinely optimistic about politics. Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of “capitalist democracy” into an oxymoron.'
For holding these views, Thiel has become a celebrated figure of the alt-right neoreactionary (NRx) subculture, made up largely of maladjusted young men who believe that democracy should be replaced with a free market monarchy to stop us from sliding into Armageddon. That Armageddon typically takes the form of financially autonomous women who have upended outdated gender roles with their independence. To neoreactionaries, the rise of women's tertiary education and earning powers is threatening the traditional role of men, and they are very, very confused as a result.
Neoreactionaries want to see a captain of industry installed as a de facto king of America, often identifying Thiel or Elon Musk as that most appropriate person. Recently they have also taken to voicing support for Presidential candidate Donald Trump. Trump’s hardline on immigration has attracted the white-nationalist, racist element of the neoreactionaires, which is where he appears to share common ground with Peter Thiel, who has donated $1 million to the anti-immigration advocacy group NumbersUSA (which has ties, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, to the founder of a racist hate group).
Thiel has not yet said publicly why he has decided to back Trump. He previously donated $2 million to Carly Fiorina's PAC, before she dropped out of the Republican race for the candidacy. The last time he made public comments about the Presidential race, in April, he said the thought of politics made him want to blow his brains out:
“I’m just trying to stay out of it. Politics always seems very important and counterproductive. It’s just a way to get people really angry and polarized. If I was involved now, I’d just blow my brains out. The Trump/Sanders phenomenon suggests voters are angry.”
Clearly something has changed! Thiel, who is openly gay, might take issue with Trump’s aggressive, regressive stance against gay marriage and LGBTQ rights more broadly, but if he does, it’s not enough to stop him from campaigning on Trump’s behalf. They are united on other fronts and, of course, are two incomprehensibly rich white men, giving them much to talk about. They might also talk about what happens when a business venture flails: Trump is a four-times bankrupt businessman and one of Thiel's companies is now having major problems, according to Buzzfeed.
Last week, Buzzfeed's William Alden published an in-depth expose of the internal dealings of Palantir, Thiel’s secretive, data-mining corporation and America’s third highest-valued private company after Uber and Airbnb. Thiel, who first made his fortune in the $1.5 billion sale of PayPal and then with an early investment in Facebook, founded Palantir, which is named for the seeing stones in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, in 2004 with $30 million of his own money and $2 million from In-Q-Tel, the investment firm of the CIA. It’s now worth upwards of $20 billion.
The dealings Buzzfeed revealed were damning: Palantir depends on huge, lucrative contracts with commercial ventures, charging up to $1 million dollars per month. Several of these big clients including Coca Cola, American Express and Nasdaq, have declined to renew those contracts after failing to find the value in insights mined by Palantir’s analysis tools. Alden further reported that upwards of 100 employees had left the company since January this year. Perhaps Trump will have some advice.
With Silicon Valley currently fending off charges of suppressing conservative opinion, from no less than the Republican chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, it's worth remembering that it has historically been home to a strange mix of diametrically opposed political views. Earlier this year Elon Musk, Tim Cook, Larry Page and a host of other billionaires met in secret with top Republicans to strategize ways to defeat Trump within the party by deploying their sphere of well-funded industry influence. Not only did this fail to prevent Trump from almost certainly becoming the nominee, but it had no effect on one of their own, who’s instead coming out swinging for The Donald.
If the world is still around by then, this is going to make next year’s Burning Man very awkward.
Elmo is a writer with Real Future.