Four years ago, billionaire venture capitalist and Facebook board member Peter Thiel made one of his biggest bets: He went all in on Donald Trump. The normally tight-lipped and enigmatic Thiel gave a very public imprimatur as a prominent speaker at the Republican convention, tying his reputation as one of the most successful figures in modern tech to a presidential candidate despised throughout Silicon Valley.
“Tonight,” he said in a nationally televised address at the convention, “I urge all of my fellow Americans to stand up and vote for Donald Trump.” He made history as the convention's first speaker to declare himself "proud to be gay" and he extolled Trump not as “a return to the past” but rather a return to “that bright future.”
Thiel was used to making risky bets. He was a startup veteran, a PayPal cofounder who wrote Facebook a check for $500,000 months after it launched. But Trump was different. Few in Silicon Valley wanted in on that round. Still, just a week after the Access Hollywood tape leaked of Trump boasting about sexually assaulting women — a clip that sent other prominent Republicans fleeing — Thiel ponied up $1.25 million.
The donation was well known. But what has not been previously reported is just how much Thiel was willing to gamble on Trump’s MAGA movement during the 2016 election. His bet went far beyond money, speeches, or even mainstream Republican politics. Even as Thiel staked his reputation on the candidate in public, he met in private with the racist fringe that felt emboldened by Trump’s rise to power.
BuzzFeed News can reveal that in at least one instance during the summer of 2016, Thiel hosted a dinner with one of the most influential and vocal white nationalists in modern-day America — a man who has called for the creation of a white ethnostate and played a key role in an effort to mainstream white nationalism as the “alt-right.” And then Thiel emailed the next day to say how much he’d enjoyed his company.
Among those on the racist right, Thiel’s outreach raised hopes that his financial bet on Trump would extend into the ascendant alt-right movement, which despite its prominence was a collection of small and often cash-strapped organizations. One avowed white nationalist privately speculated that Thiel’s money and influence could have made him “our George Soros.”
Thiel’s wager on Trump paid off, at least at first, and the Republican candidate’s victory ushered him into a new echelon of political power. Thiel seeded allies throughout the new administration and won a direct line of communication with the White House.
Palantir, the data analytics company he cofounded, is flush with government contracts and rushing to go public ahead of the November election. Facebook, where he is a board member, counts the Trump campaign as one of its largest political advertisers, and partly avoided the ire that peers such as Google and Twitter have faced from the administration. The people Thiel helped elevate in government now oversee billion-dollar budgets and national security decisions.
But while Thiel’s associates still remain in positions of power in the administration and he’s maintained fleeting contact with Trump officials, the Silicon Valley magnate has distanced himself from the president and his 2020 campaign, according to sources who spoke with BuzzFeed News. He has made no media appearances or penned any opinion pieces in support of Trump, as he did in 2016. More tellingly, he’s given no money so far to the president’s effort to retain the White House.
Although Thiel has been moving away from Trump for years now, his write-down on a presidential investment during an election year is due in part to the administration’s disastrous response to the coronavirus. As the economy tanked and millions got sick, Thiel became furious, as first reported by the Daily Beast. Two people close to Thiel have confirmed that the pandemic was a breaking point for the technocrat, who once hoped electing a political outsider would disrupt bureaucracy and bring about radical change and innovation in government.
Asked about Thiel’s lack of involvement, a senior White House official said, “It’s no secret that Peter Thiel has been a long and dedicated supporter of the president and the many policy achievements the Trump administration has made on behalf of the American people.”
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Thiel’s personal victories over the last four years came with risks that are only now becoming apparent. He was able to get in early on a rising political power, but his efforts also brought him into contact with the darkest elements of that power, and to an administration whose competence he doubts. Thiel’s bet worked until it didn’t. He has now decamped from Silicon Valley, where he was no longer welcome in some tech circles, for Los Angeles, where he lives with his family.
BuzzFeed News sent a detailed request for comment this week to a representative for Thiel. Thiel did not respond.
Facebook and Palantir both declined to comment on Thiel’s interactions with the white nationalist far right.
Thiel’s friends say the famed venture capitalist viewed the Trump campaign as he would a Silicon Valley startup: It was an investment, two people told BuzzFeed News.
By the spring of 2016, Thiel considered Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton presidential nonstarters, both because of their politics and their already-established networks of power. But over on the Republican side, Trump was showing a surprising durability among voters, even as the party establishment made an all-out effort to stop him. Trump was an opportunity for Thiel “to get in on the ground floor,” a friend of Thiel’s previously told BuzzFeed News.
A longtime libertarian who dabbled in eccentric ideas like seasteading — artificial island communities in international waters far from governmental jurisdiction — and life extension, Thiel had made occasional forays into mainstream politics.
Thiel had given millions to presidential longshots like Carly Fiorina and Ron Paul. He was also an early supporter of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, donating to his campaign for state attorney general in 2009 and in support of his successful 2012 Senate race. In Missouri Republican Josh Hawley, whom he supported for state attorney general before he became senator, Thiel found a fellow enemy of Google.
But Trump was different. By the spring of 2016, Thiel was telling those in his close circles that he thought the reality television star had a better shot of winning than people thought, a belief that was fortified when Thiel’s former favorite, Cruz, dropped out in May. The investor was named a California RNC delegate for Trump and met the candidate and his family for the first time in person in Cleveland ahead of the convention in July.
On paper, there was little in common between the candidate and Thiel beyond their places on the Forbes Billionaires list. But Thiel was intrigued by Trump’s outsider appeal, his supposed non-establishment quality that might shake up what the investor saw as a staid and bloated bureaucracy. And there were personal motivations, said one person who was close to Thiel at the time.
That person said the billionaire saw his support of Trump as a potential way to sell his assets while avoiding scrutiny. Because he owned chunks of Facebook and the still-private Palantir, Thiel’s stock sales could trigger concerns from the market that all was not well with the companies. A Trump win and a potential administration appointment for Thiel, the thinking went, could allow him to sell his stakes and possibly avoid capital gains taxes without damaging the reputation of the companies and triggering a follow-along sell-off from other investors.
If Thiel had doubts, they didn’t prevent him from going fully in on Trump and the movement for which the New York real estate mogul was a figurehead. This included meeting with figures in fringe and alt-right circles whose influence had grown during the election cycle.
The people he met or had had plans with are unfamiliar to the vast majority of Americans, but they were for a time key figures pushing racist ideology and white nationalism toward a place of greater acceptability within the hard-right world of Trumpism. This laundering of white nationalist ideas into wider conservative circles was the alt-right’s raison d'être.
A handful of events Thiel attended with some of the most influential voices in the far-right and white nationalist movements in 2016 and 2017 provided a venue for those connections.
In May 2016, after he turned down an offer to appear on Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos’s podcast, Thiel invited the provocateur to have dinner at his home in Hollywood Hills the following month.
Yiannopoulos has largely been shunned from the right since BuzzFeed News published footage of him performing a Nazi salute and a conservative news outlet posted video of him appearing to endorse pedophilia. But correspondence during the height of Yiannopoulos’s popularity previously obtained by BuzzFeed News suggests Thiel’s libertarianism might be something darker.
“He’s fully enlightened, just plays it very carefully,” Curtis Yarvin, better known as far-right blogger Mencius Moldbug, wrote about Thiel in an email to Yiannopoulous in late 2016, as BuzzFeed News previously reported.
Yarvin, a software developer who counts Thiel as an investor in his former company Tlon, used his writings to advance an anti-democratic worldview that helped form the basis of the “Dark Enlightenment” movement, which posits that democracy has outlived its usefulness and that governments should instead be led by authoritarian figures.
Newly uncovered emails seen by BuzzFeed News show white nationalist leaders were chattering about plans with Thiel in the summer of 2016.
On July 2, Peter Brimelow, the founder of leading white supremacist website VDare, emailed his star writer Kevin DeAnna to chastise him for freelancing for other outlets. Brimelow, who later asserted that “Hispanics do specialize in rape, particularly of children,” also wanted to know: Why hadn’t his writer kept him updated on an upcoming meeting with Thiel?
Sent: July 3, 2016 To: Peter Brimelow, Lydia Brimelow
1. JT sent me some links and said you can write this up for us real quick. It took about two hours. Originally, it was just going to be on that teacher but then I found some stuff about BAMN.
I didn’t look too much into what actually happened at the protest because I still don’t know what happened and don’t think I’ll ever know. I just don’t believe what TWP is putting out (that the skinheads weren’t armed.)
My point is I didn’t plan this out and then write it. JT just said you can do this real quick and I said yes and then did it. But obviously first refusal from now on.
2. Not sure why I’m getting in trouble for the Thiel thing. I told Lydia about it one day after Greg told me about it. And she’s the only person I’ve told as it is totally secret. I thought you’d be happy about that.
I’ll blog more, let you know what I’m planning on writing with first refusal, and do a better job of talking on the phone.
Will write on the GOP stab in the back against Trump on Tuesday.
Trying to figure out who the cop is, no luck yet.
“I am fed up with being surprised about e.g. this meeting with the Right Stuff, Ann Coulter, Thiel etc.,” Brimelow wrote, with his wife, Lydia Brimelow, copied on the message. “You are being paid in part to keep me abreast of Alt Right developments and you’re not doing it.” The Right Stuff is a white nationalist website and message board founded by the activist Mike “Enoch” Peinovich, which hosts podcasts named Daily Shoah and Fash the Nation — references to the Holocaust and fascism, respectively.
DeAnna, an influential white nationalist who pens pieces for VDare and has written many pieces for other prominent publications in the movement like American Renaissance and Counter-Currents, under the pseudonyms “James Kirkpatrick” and “Gregory Hood,” wrote back the next day defending himself.
“Not sure why I’m getting in trouble for the Thiel thing,” he wrote, adding that he had told Lydia Brimelow about the event, which he had heard about from an individual named “Greg.” “And she’s the only person I’ve told as it is totally secret. I thought you’d be happy about that.”
Coulter — a longtime friend of Thiel’s and conservative hardliner — Peinovich, and Brimelow did not respond to requests for comment.
On July 30, 2016, Thiel opened up his email to exchange pleasantries with guests from his dinner party the previous night. As a renowned business leader, he was accustomed to hosting salon-style meals that brought together executives, intellectuals, and just about anyone else he found interesting.
The dinner that Friday night was a little different. Termed the “Right Wing Dinner Squad, III” in an email sent by one attendee, the event featured an individual that the billionaire, despite his flair for controversy, has never associated with publicly.
That guest was DeAnna.
Sent: July 30, 2016
To: Kevin DeAnna
Subject: Right Wing Dinner Squad, III
Kevin – really enjoyed meeting you last night. I may be in DC towards the end of September, and let me know [if you] make it to SF anytime!
From: Brendan Kissam
Sent: Saturday, July 30, 2016 11:52 AM
To: Peter Thiel
Subject: Right Wing Dinner Squad, III
Howdy Peter and Kevin,
I’d been looking forward to you guys getting to meet, and last night proved fantastic! I’m sure you two will have plenty strategy to bounce back and forth, and I look forward to hearing about it.
“Kevin — really enjoyed meeting you last night,” Thiel wrote from an email address associated with his personal investment fund, Thiel Capital. “I may be in DC towards the end of September, and let me know [if you] make it to SF anytime!”
DeAnna, though not a household name, had by that time been involved in far-right politics for close to 10 years, and had played a key role in channeling white nationalist ideology into the emerging alt-right. After graduating from the College of William and Mary in Virginia, DeAnna joined the conservative Leadership Institute, and founded Youth for Western Civilization in 2006.
The group, designed to be a more radical version of established conservative campus groups, was a launching pad for a new generation of white power activists. YWC boosted the profile of Richard Spencer, the white nationalist leader, by inviting him to speak on two campuses in 2010 and 2011. In 2013, DeAnna dubbed the creation of an ethnostate “the great dream of the White Republic.”
DeAnna did not respond to questions from BuzzFeed News.
DeAnna also served as a Trump evangelist in his community. He was among the voices on the fringe who exhorted their peers to get on board with Trump and work within the system instead of marginalizing themselves outside it. For Spencer’s website Radix Journal, DeAnna wrote in 2015 urging support for Trump, even though some in the movement were wary of conventional politics.
“Ultimately, of course, this is a sideshow,” DeAnna wrote. “Real change will occur by building our own institutions, markets, and tribes, and fomenting revolutionary consciousness among the forgotten men of our Hollow Empire. But electoral politics will affect us, even if we try our best to ignore it and remain independent of it.”
DeAnna’s email with Thiel was prompted by Brendan Kissam, a former Tea Party activist from Philadelphia. Kissam met Thiel in 2010 when he volunteered to help organize a fundraiser at Thiel’s New York City apartment for the gay Republican group GOProud. According to a source who had spoken with Kissam, the activist and Thiel kept in touch after the fundraiser; in January 2011, a user identifying themselves as “Brendan Kissam” commented on a critical post about Thiel on LGBTQ website Queerty, defending the article’s subject and referring to him as “Peter.” Kissam was quoted in a June 2016 Philadelphia Inquirer story about gay Republicans voting for Trump, identified by the paper as a supporter of the candidate.
In 2018 and 2019, Kissam appeared in videos for VDare under the pseudonym Wilson Hewlett, two sources familiar said; photographs and videos of Kissam identifying him under his own name appear to show the same person presented as Hewlett on VDare’s videos.
Kissam did not respond to requests for comment.
On the morning of July 30, 2016, Kissam wrote to Thiel and DeAnna in the email with subject line “Right Wing Dinner Squad III”: “Howdy Peter and Kevin, I’d been looking forward to you guys getting to meet, and last night proved fantastic! I’m sure you two will [have] plenty strategy to bounce back and forth, and I look forward to hearing about it.”
Thiel wrote to DeAnna later that day, and DeAnna responded the following day: “It was a real honor meeting you and thanks for hosting all of us (and putting up with all of us staying so late).” It is unclear who else DeAnna was referring to by mentioning “all of us.”
What Thiel and his guests discussed at their July 2016 dinner also remains a mystery. But Thiel’s dinner coincided with the apex of the alt-right movement’s influence in mainstream political discourse.
That summer, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton gave an entire speech about the alt-right, elevating the movement into a central issue in the last months of the campaign and linking them to her opponent through Steve Bannon, Trump’s then–campaign CEO and former chair of Breitbart News.
Days earlier, the Republican convention to formally nominate Trump in July had provided an opportunity for emboldened white nationalists to demonstrate their influence, and they converged on Cleveland. Spencer came to town, as did Brimelow and notorious far-right troll Charles C. “Chuck” Johnson, who was spotted in the convention hall. Johnson has stated that he doesn’t believe that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust and claimed that the Nazi gas chambers were not real.
“It’s amazing,” Spencer said on the night of a “Gays for Trump” party thrown near the Quicken Loans Arena the night before Thiel spoke. “We’ve taken over the right.”
The party’s attendees reportedly also included Thiel’s associate Jeff Giesea, a fellow Stanford graduate and former employee at Thiel’s hedge fund Thiel Capital Management who was becoming increasingly connected in far-right circles. Giesea reportedly gave $5,000 to Spencer’s organization and published a pseudonymous guide to donating to alt-right groups. (Giesea previously told HuffPost that he did not write the guide.)
Giesea declined to comment for this story.
Thiel cemented his backing of Trump with a $1.25 million donation in October and a speech that month at Washington, DC’s National Press Club. In that talk, he defended his choice to back the nominee even in spite of the recent release of the explosive Access Hollywood tape.
“No matter what happens in this election, what Trump represents isn’t crazy and it’s not going away,” he said.
Although Thiel was denounced by large swaths of Silicon Valley for his support of Trump, he still found sympathetic ears in its executive suites and boardrooms. At Facebook, employees raised concerns that their board member was campaigning for an openly racist candidate who had glorified grabbing women’s genitals. In response, CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted a note to employees the month before the election saying that “there are many reasons a person might support Trump that do not involve racism, sexism, xenophobia, or accepting sexual assault.”
“We can’t create a culture that says it cares about diversity and then excludes almost half the country because they back a political candidate,” Zuckerberg wrote. Later that month, however, Facebook employees raised more concerns about Thiel after news reports resurfaced comments on race and sexual assault from a book he coauthored in 1995.
While Thiel went on to apologize for calling some rapes “seductions that are later regretted” — after pressure from Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, according to two sources — he remained on the board.
“Mark is very loyal to folks,” said one former Facebook executive. “Peter Thiel has made it clear that he’s invested in the company from the beginning and he’s been on the board a very long time.”
Facebook spokesperson Liz Bourgeois declined to comment.
Trump’s surprise electoral victory would make Thiel even more indispensable to Facebook and Zuckerberg, giving the social network a line into the White House. It also proved another notch in Thiel’s belt, boosting his contrarian credentials and elevating him into the mainstream consciousness.
That January, Thiel joined Trump’s executive transition team, helping to vet and appoint members for the incoming administration, while aided by associates from Palantir and his family office Thiel Capital. In that position — where he was dubbed the “shadow president” by his employees — Thiel worked to place his own allies in positions on the National Security Council, the Department of Defense, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, where his former chief of staff Michael Kratsios now serves as US chief technology officer.
Another associate, Jim O’Neill, who served as managing director at Thiel’s venture capital firm Mithril Capital Management, was also a final candidate to run the Food and Drug Administration despite having no medical degree. While O’Neill’s quest for the job ultimately failed, Forbes reported that Chuck Johnson had helped to arrange meetings for him with conservative influencers and political groups in an attempt to build interest in his nomination. Johnson recommended a dozen other names to Thiel for other government positions, according to Forbes, including Ajit Pai, the current chair of the Federal Communications Commission.
"Chairman Pai has no relationship with Mr. Johnson whatsoever and is not aware that they have ever met or spoken," FCC spokesperson Brian Hart said in a statement to BuzzFeed News.
Chuck Johnson and O’Neill did not respond to requests for comment.
Thiel also met with government bureaucrats, including those who had the potential to benefit Palantir and Facebook.
In January 2017, he met with Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, who was appointed by Barack Obama in 2009 and ultimately continued his role under Trump. Their conversation, according to emails obtained by student researcher Andrew Granato and shared with BuzzFeed News, showed they talked about ways to “liberate” young scientists from training in postdoc programs and philanthropic-funded research. They also discussed Palantir, a company in which Thiel is the largest individual shareholder and serves as chairman.
“I am looking forward to learning more about Palantir’s current areas of interest,” Collins wrote on Jan. 12 in an email thanking Thiel for the meeting. In September 2018, NIH signed a $7 million contract with the Thiel-chaired big data company, and recently used its software to aid in its response to the coronavirus pandemic. According to a recently filed business prospectus, the majority of Palantir’s revenue for the first six months of this year came from government contracts.
An NIH spokesperson did not return an emailed request for comment.
By the inauguration, Thiel’s standing with the new administration was undeniable. Weeks before he took office, Trump called Thiel a “very special guy” while grasping his hand during a media op at Manhattan’s Trump Tower that also featured executives from Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Google. They had all been summoned by the transition team and Thiel, Trump’s link to the nation’s new center of industry.
“He got just about the biggest applause at the Republican National Convention,” Trump said of Thiel. “He’s ahead of the curve, and I want to thank him.”
Those weeks of political victory for Thiel coincided with a public reckoning for the alt-right, which had sought to portray itself as a gentler, more mainstream-friendly iteration of white nationalism. Richard Spencer was caught in November shouting “Heil Trump” while others performed Nazi salutes at an event hosted by Spencer’s think tank. The incident caused a bitter row in alt-right circles and drew unwanted attention to the dark underbelly of the movement.
As the alt-right splintered at the start of Trump’s presidency, Thiel appeared at the DeploraBall, a party at the National Press Club in Washington that was organized by Giesea and right-wing blogger Mike Cernovich. Timed with Trump’s inauguration, the event, which banned Spencer, was seen as a coming-out party for the nationalist far right.
Spencer’s banishment and Thiel’s presence indicated a new mainstream taking shape on the right. While the more radical elements of the movement became marginalized, the DeploraBall crowd was still able to attract a high profile Trump donor like Thiel.
Thiel again met with people adjacent to the white nationalist fringe in the first year of the Trump presidency, according to two sources with knowledge of the event. In 2017, he attended a dinner organized by Giesea at a restaurant in downtown Washington, DC, with a number of figures from right-wing circles, among them Scott Greer, a now-former Daily Caller writer who wrote under a pseudonym for Spencer’s Radix Journal, and Darren Beattie, a former White House speechwriter who in 2016 spoke at the H.L. Mencken Club, a conference that has often provided a forum for white nationalists.
Greer and Beattie did not respond to requests for comment.
Facebook, Palantir, and the White House
Through the first months of the Trump presidency, Thiel, who did not take any administration position, continued to make himself available to the White House. He appeared at a June meeting for the newly formed American Technology Council that was attended by Apple CEO Tim Cook, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, and Oracle co-CEO Safra Catz. That month, he was also approached for a role as chair of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, an influential oversight position in the intelligence community, but turned it down.
The bridge Thiel built to corporate America, however, was shattered by Trump’s defense of white nationalists following the events in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017. After the president blamed violence on “both sides” following the killing of a 32-year-old counterprotester, tech giants including Apple, IBM, and Microsoft distanced themselves from the council, which was ultimately disbanded in embarrassment by the administration.
Meanwhile, Thiel sought to extend his influence in more traditional conservative circles. As BuzzFeed News previously reported, he explored the possibility of building a media outlet in 2017 with Roger Ailes, the late, disgraced godfather of Fox News, and, separately, with the billionaire Mercer Family, the former patrons of Breitbart News. And though that never came to fruition, the man who bankrupted Gawker Media via a series of clandestinely bankrolled lawsuits continued his interest in media.
Facebook also benefited from Thiel’s links to the Trump administration. As the social network fought off unfounded allegations of bias against conservatives, Thiel became the ultimate buffer: a conservative bulwark on the board who was trotted out to make amends every time right-wing personalities complained about alleged censorship. And while Thiel had sold off the bulk of Facebook shares and has wanted to leave the board, according to two sources, he has remained, in part due to his loyalty to Zuckerberg.
That’s proved useful to both the White House and Facebook. Thiel accompanied Zuckerberg at a secret dinner at the White House with Trump and Jared Kushner last October, one stop in their tour of Washington, DC, to stave off scrutiny and the possibility of antitrust regulation. Thiel was also one of the biggest internal opponents of fact-checking political ads on Facebook, according to the Wall Street Journal, a controversial policy that has allowed politicians like Trump, one of Facebook’s largest customers, to present outright falsehoods on the social network as long as they’re paid for.
Palantir, Thiel’s main financial holding, has thrived during Trump’s three and a half years in office, with revenue growing by 49% in the first six months of 2020 to more than $480 million compared to the same period last year. Led by CEO Alex Karp, who once said “it would be hard to make up someone I find less appealing” than Trump, the big data company has signed contracts with federal agencies whose ranks were staffed with people vetted by Thiel and his associates during the transition. In 2019, it won a Pentagon contract worth up to $800 million, while also providing software to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Those deals have bolstered the firm’s bottom line as it heads toward going public at the end of 2020.
Those close to Thiel said he believes this is the window for the company, which has never had an annual profit, to hit the market. A Biden presidency could change the company’s momentum, and with Trump in office, Palantir has become a formidable DC contractor, said two sources familiar with the billionaire’s thinking.
Palantir spokesperson Lisa Gordon declined to comment for this story citing the Security and Exchange Commission’s mandated quiet period ahead of the company’s public market debut.
A Fraying Relationship
The past few years have also seen Thiel retreat from the hothouse of Silicon Valley. Calling the region’s liberalism too intolerant, he loudly disassociated himself from the nation’s tech capital. He ceded some management duties of his famed venture capital outfit Founders Fund to a lieutenant and relocated permanently to his multimillion-dollar home in the Hollywood Hills. (Palantir has also said it’s moving from Palo Alto to Denver.)
Thiel also started a family. After marrying longtime boyfriend Matt Danzeisen in an elaborate ceremony in Austria in 2017, the two had a baby daughter, according to those close to the couple.
The changes in his life, however, haven’t distracted him from politics. People connected to him still remain in positions of power, among them Kratsios, who in July was appointed to a Department of Defense job where he’ll oversee a $60 billion Pentagon budget.
Thiel’s ideas continue to find their way into policies. He pushed for the Trump administration to ramp up its trade war with China and, according to the Wall Street Journal, accompanied Zuckerberg to a White House dinner with Trump and Jared Kushner, where the Facebook CEO raised concerns about rival TikTok. (Zuckerberg has since told employees that he doesn’t think TikTok came up as a discussion topic at the meal.)
Thiel’s line of thinking that American companies doing business in China amounts to providing technology to the Chinese Communist Party has also been parroted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. This January, ahead of a speech at Stanford University in which Pompeo railed on China for its human rights abuses, he met privately with Thiel, according to two people familiar with the event.
The State Department did not respond to a request for comment about the meeting.
Yet Thiel has been noticeably quiet on Trump as the election approaches, even as he has supported other candidates. Thiel put close to a million dollars behind hard-right anti-immigration advocate Kris Kobach in the Republican primary for Kansas’s open Senate seat, which he lost. Blake Masters, the chief operating officer of the billionaire’s family office Thiel Capital, also flirted with the idea of running to unseat Republican Sen. Martha McSally, but ultimately decided against the move, according to the Arizona Republic.
Masters did not respond to requests for comment.
Beyond the Kansas race, in which he gave $850,000 to a super PAC supporting Kobach, Thiel hasn’t publicly thrown his money behind any other candidate this cycle — Trump included. Those close to Thiel say he is upset with how the administration handled the response to the coronavirus pandemic and that his relationship with the president is fraying.
Two months before Election Day, Thiel still shows no signs of getting involved. Instead, he’s focusing on Palantir, which unveiled its S-1 financial statement — one of the first steps in going public — late last month. While Thiel has said very little about Palantir, the company’s CEO, Alex Karp, attacked Silicon Valley’s “engineering elite” and issued a vehement defense of Palantir’s work with government agencies in the document.
“The engineering elite of Silicon Valley may know more than most about building software. But they do not know more about how society should be organized or what justice requires,” Karp wrote in the business filing. “Our company was founded in Silicon Valley. But we seem to share fewer and fewer of the technology sector’s values and commitments.”
Thiel and his company’s distancing from the tech establishment mirrors his step back from the Trump campaign. And in the end, he never did emerge as the benefactor the alt-right movement hoped-for.
In an email from this April viewed by BuzzFeed News, Greg Johnson, the publisher of white nationalist website Counter-Currents and author of The White Nationalist Manifesto, was still fuming over the “Heilgate” incident and blamed Richard Spencer and others for making the movement too toxic for big donors like Thiel. Johnson, who said he never met Thiel, didn’t deny the email’s accuracy to BuzzFeed News, but said he was just speaking of Thiel in a general sense of “serious” people with “big money.”
Spencer and his think tank National Policy Institute were “being eyed for larger donations, but he blew it. A lot was possible in 2016, before Hailgate,” Johnson wrote to other alt-right leaders.
“I don't think Peter Thiel is going to become our George Soros after all this,” Johnson continued. “There is simply no calculating the setbacks caused by these kooky and treasonous people.” ●
Joe Bernstein contributed reporting to this story.
Correction: Peter Thiel was the first openly gay speaker at the Republican National Convention since Rep. Jim Kolbe in 2000. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Thiel was the first openly gay speaker at a Republican National Convention. Ted Cruz ran for Texas Attorney General in 2009 before withdrawing. An earlier version of this story misstated the outcome of that campaign.