Peter Thiel at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland
At least one person speaking at the Republican convention tonight might actually be a match for Donald Trump when it comes to taking things (ahem) over the top. Tech investor Peter Thiel used to be best known for his early bet on Facebook—"the most lucrative angel investment in history"—although recently he's garnered more attention for his controversial positions and personal vendettas. Here are the 12 things you should know about Silicon Valley's most eccentric, (now) openly gay, Trump-loving libertarian billionaire.
Thiel was accused of "demagoguery"—by Condi Rice: As a student at Stanford University, Thiel founded the Stanford Review, a highbrow version of the notoriously conservative Dartmouth Review. A few years later, he and another former Stanford Review editor wrote a book titled The Diversity Myth: Multiculturalism and the Politics of Intolerance at Stanford, which criticized political correctness in higher education. Then-Stanford provost Condoleezza Rice (later George W. Bush's national security adviser) accused the pair of concocting "a cartoon, not a description of our freshman curriculum," and added that the book was "demagoguery, pure and simple."
Thiel is known around the Valley as "Don of the PayPal Mafia": In 1998, Thiel co-founded the online payments company that would later become PayPal. He hired many Stanford Review alums, who, in the company's early days, were known to keep Bibles in their cubes and hold workplace prayer sessions. Former PayPal counsel Rod Martin later tried to start a conservative version of MoveOn.org, and former VP Eric Jackson founded the book-publishing arm of the conservative WorldNetDaily, which famously released the children's tale Help! Mom! There Are Liberals Under My Bed. (Two other members of the PayPal Mafia, Elon Musk and Keith Rabois, also went on to become billionaires.) Thiel later wrote that he'd wanted to create "a new world currency, free from all government control and dilution—the end of monetary sovereignty, as it were."
Thiel is a self-described "conservative libertarian." He supported the presidential bids of Ron Paul, donating more than $2.6 million to a Paul super-PAC in 2012. "I think we are just trying to build a libertarian base for the next cycle," Thiel said at the time. But that was before Trump arrived on the scene in a substantial way.
Thiel launched one company that is extremely non-libertarian. In 2004, he co-founded Palantir Technologies with a $30 million investment. The company's other major investor is In-Q-Tel, the venture capital arm of the CIA. The FBI and the NSA employ Palantir's data-mining and surveillance technology to monitor domestic and foreign terrorism suspects. Thiel has said civil liberties advocates should welcome Palantir. "We cannot afford to have another 9/11 event in the US or anything bigger than that," he told Bloomberg. "That day opened the doors to all sorts of crazy abuses and draconian policies."
Thiel blames women and welfare for destroying democracy. "I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible," Thiel wrote in 2009 on the blog of the libertarian Cato Institute. "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."
Thiel was the inspiration for Peter Gregory, the Aspergers-y billionaire venture capitalist on HBO's Silicon Valley. In the following clip, Mike Judge's arch comedy lampoons the Thiel Fellowship, which each year offers 20 "uniquely talented" teenagers $100,000 scholarships to forego college and pursue "radical innovation that will benefit society."
Thiel is a climate skeptic. The idea that human activity alters the climate is "more pseudoscience" than science, he told Glenn Beck in 2014. Thiel is also somewhat uncertain about the veracity of Darwinian evolution.
Thiel bankrolled Hulk Hogan's lawsuit against Gawker. He spent $10 million on the Hogan lawsuit to get back at Gawker for outing him as gay (an open secret at the time) in 2007, and for writing negative articles about his friends. "It's less about revenge and more about specific deterrence," he told the New York Times.
Thiel recently invested in a marijuana company. His Founders Fund last year sank an undisclosed sum into Privateer Holdings, a Seattle-based company that, among other things, grows pot in Canada and owns "the official Bob Marley cannabis brand."
Thiel wants to create sovereign micronations on the high seas. He is a major funder of the Seasteading Institute, a think tank that envisions floating city-states as incubators for alternative models of governance. (On Silicon Valley, the Peter Gregory character has an offshore haven populated by autonomous machines.)
Thiel wants to cheat death. He has signed up with a cryogenics company to be deep-frozen upon his death in the hope that he will later be revived by future medical advances. And his foundation has supported anti-aging research.
Thiel's support for Trump is an oddity in Silicon Valley. Trump's stance on everything from immigration to mass surveillance is anathema to Valley techies. "In the Obama years, much of Silicon Valley has become very close to Democrats," notes the New York Times' Farhad Manjoo. "This year there was an opportunity for a Republican to make overtures to tech—but with Mr. Trump, that chance seems to have passed."
The Vermont senator is trying to lay the groundwork for an enduring movement.
Josh HarkinsonJun. 16, 2016 10:40 PM
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders on Thursday night shifted the focus of his presidential campaign, re-framing it as a long-term movement and pledging to fight for change at the Democratic National Convention and beyond.
"Defeating Donald Trump cannot be our only goal," Sanders said in an online address watched by some 100,000 people. "We must continue our grassroots effort to create the America that we know we can become. And we must take that energy into the Democratic National Convention."
Noting that he had recently met with his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, Sanders made clear that he would not drop out of the presidential race anytime soon. "I look forward in coming weeks to continued discussion between the two campaigns," he said, adding that he wanted to make certain that the Democratic Party passes the most progressive platform in its history and becomes "a party of working people and young people and not just wealthy campaign contributors."
Sanders did not indicate which of his campaign's core issues might be priorities in his negotiations with Clinton; instead, he rattled off more than a dozen talking points, from raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and winning pay equity for women to implementing a carbon tax and ending "perpetual wars."
The speech seemed aimed at shifting the focus of Berners from the presidential election to longer-term progressive goals, while still maintaining their interest and enthusiasm. The campaign's latest slogan—"the political revolution continues"—repeatedly surfaced as a theme.
"We have begun the long and arduous process of transforming America, a fight that will continue tomorrow, next week, next year, and into the future," Sanders said. He urged his young supporters—"the people who are determining the shape and future of our country"— to run for state and local office. "We need new blood in the political process, and you are that blood," he said.
Aside from referring interested candidates to his website, Sanders did not say how he might support their efforts. Still, the focus on movement-building appeared to resonate with many of his supporters on Twitter:
@JoshHarkinson I was apprehensive that it'd be a closure, but was an opening: to local and grassroots participation. Democracy at its best.
Attempting to capitalize on the early idealism of his campaign, Sanders stressed that his race could still turn out to be an historic turning point for progressives—if his supporters carry out his vision. "My hope is that when future historians look back and describe how our country moved forward into reversing the drift toward oligarchy," he said, "...that they will note that to a significant degree that effort began with the political revolution of 2016."
The company behind the "Black Mamba" rifle used in the massacre has been a backdrop for Trump's campaign.
Josh HarkinsonJun. 15, 2016 11:30 AM
Donald Trump Jr. holding a Sig Sauer MCX at the company's New Hampshire factory. (His brother, Eric, is second from right.)
In his many public remarks since a gunman carried out the deadliest mass shooting in US history, Donald Trump has not specifically mentioned the weapon used in Orlando: a military-style "Black Mamba" MCX. But Trump is quite familiar with the manufacturer of the rifle, Sig Sauer—he and his sons have used the gunmaker as a backdrop for Trump's presidential campaign.
Last May, as Trump was poised to launch his presidential bid, he personally toured the Sig Sauer factory in New Hampshire, where the company makes most of its 74,000 semi-automatic rifles sold in the US market. This February, his sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric toured the factory, posing for a photo with MCX rifles. And early this year Trump addressed a crowd at the National Shooting Sports Foundation's annual trade show in Las Vegas, where his sons also posed for photos with Sig Sauer representatives.
Why the relationship with Sig Sauer? As the fifth largest supplier of firearms in America, Sig Sauer employs roughly 900 people in New Hampshire, a crucial early primary state. Visiting a gun factory, especially in a state known for its libertarian streak, is an easy way for politicians to demonstrate to voters that they're not soft on guns. Such optics may have been important in the early going for Trump, who back in 2000 said he supported a longer waiting period for gun buyers and a ban on assault weapons.
In a statement to Mother Jones, Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks said: "Hillary Clinton has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from gun and ammo manufacturers, including the maker of the assault rifle. What's worse: knowing the manufacturer, or taking money from them?"
Hicks did not provide any evidence supporting her claims, and she did not respond to specific questions about Trump's relationship with Sig Sauer. The company did not respond to a request for comment.
"We have not taken any donations from gun manufacturers," said Clinton campaign spokesman Josh Schwerin. "The latest false accusation from the Trump campaign is just another in a long line of outlandish claims from a campaign that has a well-documented aversion to the truth. This is just another attempt to distract from Trump's dangerous and divisive agenda and his complete rejection of common sense gun reforms supported by the vast majority of Americans."
A search of campaign records by the watchdog group Open Secrets did not turn up any donations from gun manufacturers to Clinton or her super PAC.* Clinton has received $34,913 from "gun control interests" and Trump has received $10,036 from "gun rights interests," according to the group.
Trump isn't the only candidate who has forged ties with Sig Sauer. Last December, then GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz joined Sig Sauer representatives for a shooting demonstration at an Iowa gun range. The company has donated up to $50,000 to the National Rifle Association and sponsors the NRA News series "Defending Our America." For more on Sig Sauer, read Mother Jones' investigation into America's 10 biggest gunmakers.
Correction: Citing a report from Open Secrets, this story originally stated that Hillary Clinton had received $10,100 from "gun rights interests." But an Open Secrets spokesman says the figure was "an error on our part" resulting from "poorly identified individual matches."
Four leaders from top progressive groups discuss how Sanders could turn a phenomenal campaign into a lasting legacy.
Josh HarkinsonJun. 11, 2016 6:00 AM
On the eve of the presidential primary in Washington, DC—the final vote of the campaign—Bernie Sanders stood before a massive crowd of placard-waving supporters and reflected on a run that defied all expectations. "What the punditry thought was that this campaign would not go very far," he said. "Well, here we are in mid-June and we are still standing."
Sanders has pledged to take his nomination fight all the way to the floor of the Democratic National Convention, pushing platform and rules changes that would empower progressives. But if he wants to create a lasting legacy in the months and years to come, he must figure out how to parlay the momentum of his campaign into an enduring progressive movement.
Others have tried this before. After winning 11 states in the 1988 Democratic presidential primary, Jesse Jackson channeled his campaign's progressive energy into the Rainbow Push Coalition, an activist group dedicated to racial justice. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean lost an insurgent presidential bid in 2004 but used his formidable email list to create Democracy for America, a group dedicated to electing progressives. But such efforts have fallen far short of political revolution.
So what should Sanders do next? Mother Jones asked four leaders from the country's top progressive political groups: Neil Sroka of Democracy for America, Ben Wikler of MoveOn.org, Adam Green of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, and Dan Cantor of the Working Families Party. Here's how they mapped the road ahead for Sanders:
Neil Sroka: After you are unsuccessful, one of the most important things is to prove that you can be successful. After the 2004 election was over, the very next thing Democracy for America did was launch a campaign to make Howard Dean the chair of the Democratic National Committee. That was a quick win, a show of power within the Democratic Party, and it fundamentally changed things in some really important ways. For Sanders, there are some obvious wins that can be made at the Democratic National Convention to show some real power. In terms of rules changes, he should be calling for the elimination of closed primaries going forward and also the elimination of superdelegates, or curtailing them so they only vote if the presumptive nominee is incapacitated or indicted.
"Clinton has won the Democratic nomination by making serious promises to the left. Sanders' job is to push to make sure that those promises are kept, and if they are not, raising holy hell that they haven't been."
Mother Jones: And that would benefit progressives?
Sroka: Yes. At the end of the day, this is about people having a greater say in these nominating contests, instead of them being decided by party insiders.
Ben Wikler: The criteria for organizers is: How can you fight such that your movement will be stronger whether you win or lose at the end? And where you win enough times that you are demonstrably growing in power? I think changing the Democratic Party platform [at the convention] is a great place to start. It should include expanding Social Security, a $15 minimum wage, and breaking up too-big-to-fail banks on Wall Street—among other Sanders priorities.
MJ: But people say that nobody pays attention to party platforms.
Sroka: Typically the platform is ignored, but if millions of people make the platform fight important, it is hard to ignore. And it would be a crucial document for making the nominee accountable after they are elected. A decision to make it valuable will make it valuable.
MJ: How much weight should Sanders put on getting Clinton to pick a really progressive vice president?
Dan Cantor: Everything is negotiable. I don’t know that I would make that a fault line.
MJ: But this person could be the next president.
Cantor: Maybe he really is strong enough to fight for somebody who is unexpectedly terrific. But I wouldn't put all of my eggs in the V.P. basket. I think it's also about elevating issues that people will be excited to work on in their cities and states going into the future.
MJ: Should Sanders be worried that asking for too much will divide the Democratic Party?
Adam Green: There's really two ways to look at Democratic Party unity. One approach would be functionally telling Sanders supporters to get in line to defeat Donald Trump. Saying, "Nothing else matters." The other approach is to genuinely unite millions of Clinton and Sanders supporters around big, bold, progressive ideas that both candidates campaigned on in the primary. Ideas like debt-free college, expanded Social Security benefits, breaking up too-big-to-fail banks. So it's actually essential for Hillary Clinton as she aims to bring Sanders supporters into the fold, but also as she fends off Donald Trump's fake economic populism on issues like Social Security and trade, for her to go big on these progressive issues.
MJ: Assuming it's enough to get Sanders supporters to vote for her in the fall.
Wikler: Bernie or bust actually reduces the leverage for Bernie to claim victory. It's not only important for [Sanders supporters] to show up [to vote for Clinton], it's important for them to show up as a movement, so it is clear where these victories are coming from in November. That they are coming not from persuaded Republican swing voters but rather from a fired-up progressive movement that is carrying forward regardless of what happens in the primary.
Sroka: There's a view that all Clinton needs to do is reach out to Republicans who hate Donald Trump, and they can get their winning majority from that. Well, I have real doubts about that, but if that is your path to victory, then it is a recipe for disaster when you are in the White House because the Republicans in Congress have proven to be incredibly intransigent to even the middling progressive agenda that President Obama has put forward…Clinton has won the Democratic nomination by making serious promises to the left. Sanders' job is to push to make sure that those promises are kept, and if they are not, raising holy hell that they haven't been.
"Closing up shop would be the biggest mistake. Having an email list that falls off the back of a truck and gets scooped up by a million and one political vultures would be the second-biggest mistake."
MJ: How could Sanders do that?
Wikler: There is a question as to whether these rallies are going to stop in the fall. I think they should continue. They are a tremendous display of energy but also a source of energy, because people come out of them ready to fight.
When Sanders was challenged about how he would pass his visionary ideas after he became president, he talked about if lawmakers look out the window and they see a million people marching, it changes their calculus. Well, here's an opportunity to continue working to organize these million people even if he is not the one in office.
MJ: So pick a legislative fight, do a barnstorming tour, and get people in the streets. That's the model?
Wikler: Yeah, exactly. One after another.
MJ: That idea kind of reminds me of the approach of Jesse Jackson, another guy who ran an insurgent presidential campaign. He jets into different places and lends his star power to things. Sometimes it has an impact, sometimes it doesn't.
Wikler: Yeah, it's a lot about choosing your battles. Elizabeth Warren is, I think, a great demonstration of the kind of movement-oriented model-wielding power from within the Senate. Over and over, she's rallied tons of people to battles that they don't normally get involved in. I think Sanders is going to have the world's biggest stage to be able to do that.
Sroka: One of the most exciting things about Bernie Sanders right now is imagining him in the Democratically controlled Senate as chairman of the Budget Committee, with a grassroots army of 8 million plus people behind him. That's something that we've never seen before.
MJ: Done right, that could really change politics.
Wikler: We've just gone through this period of years where the players in the game were at least written about as being a Democratic administration, establishment Republicans, and then the rabble-rousing radicals of the tea party. And it was like a three-way negotiation between them. But we are going to enter an era where there's a physical, powerful, vibrant progressive movement that will, I think, be able to exercise power in the same way as the right-wing and the right does.
MJ: So basically a tea party for the left, but maybe one that's not as…
Wikler: Not as monolithic.
MJ: But the tea party owes its existence to people like the Koch brothers. These things don't just pop out of thin air.
Wikler: The most important thing will be building a bench of powerhouse progressives in elected office and in the next administration. Sanders has an enormous spotlight that he can shine on champions that are following the Sanders path of really building from the left. What he does next will really determine whether he is blazing a trail that others can follow into office, or whether he is an exception to the rule.
Green: We’ve already seen early evidence of Bernie Sanders leveraging his millions of grassroots supporters to help congressional and other down-ballot progressive candidates. Lucy Flores is on the ballot next week in Nevada, and Sanders' email for three candidates, of which one was her, raised her over $300,000. Which was a game changer. It led her to have the resources to compete. She has bought TV ads and direct mail about these progressive ideas like expanding Social Security benefits and debt-free college. It really is an extension of the big populist ideas that Bernie has been talking about all along, but played out on a local campaign trail.
Cantor: The bigger focus is the Senate, though. I am sure the Sanders people are already mapping this out. It is very important for the progressive movement that the Democrats take the Senate, partly so Bernie has a bigger megaphone. If Democrats are again in the majority, he will be a very important chair from one of the most important committees, and from that perch he can put forth concrete proposals. Republicans can try to obstruct, but the rest of us who mobilize in the field can overcome it. My view is that if we do this well, Republican senators will recognize that standing against free public higher education is something you do at your own peril because you are up for election in 2018.
MJ: But would a focus on winning the Senate risk diluting Sanders' brand? What would happen if he backed a Blue Dog Democrat?
"Because of the youthful age of his base, it means that for 40 years you will have a generation whose idea of politics was formed by the Bernie Sanders campaign."
Green: The way to keep the energy high among his lists is to continue to be perceived as an outside force that is pushing the Democratic Party to be even better on economic populism issues. And when he puts his seal of approval on a candidate, that means that they are a couple of steps ahead of the Democratic Party in terms of the ideas they are campaigning on.
MJ: Do you think he should start his own organization?
Sroka: We know that nothing inspires people like a presidential campaign. That would be a strong organization, one we would want to work with. He could also have a smaller organization and work closely with others who are already doing this work.
Wikler: Sanders and the group of organizers around him are probably thinking this through at this exact moment. An organization is great if you have a clear vision to be able to make it powerful. If you don't, an organization can kind of sap energy that could go elsewhere. Closing up shop would be the biggest mistake. Having an email list that falls off the back of a truck and gets scooped up by a million and one political vultures would be the second-biggest mistake.
MJ: Is there a risk that Sanders could start to be perceived like Howard Dean—a onetime insurgent who has been subsumed into the political establishment?
Sroka: If Sanders becomes a part of the political establishment, I would say we did a good job. Because the only way that will happen is if the establishment changes in major ways.
MJ: How optimistic are you about that actually happening?
Cantor: It is very important that people feel incredibly proud and happy about what they have accomplished. Because they need to do it again. And they need to do it again after that. It is not as if the right ever gives up. And this is what is exciting about Berne Sanders. Because of the youthful age of his base, it means that for 40 years you will have a generation whose idea of politics was formed by the Bernie Sanders campaign.
MJ: But they said that about George McGovern in 1972, and then in the 1980s we got Ronald Reagan.
Cantor: McGovern totally changed the culture: the role of women in society, the role of blacks in society, the role of gay people—all of this comes out of the template of the civil rights movement, the New Left. We won the culture war, but we didn’t win the economic and political war. Now we have a chance to do that.
The campaign's last dance (or is it?) in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Josh HarkinsonJun. 6, 2016 7:35 PM
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders and his wife Jane Sanders arrive at a campaign rally in San Francisco.
My parents' first date was a George McGovern political rally. And if that strikes you as strange, well, you probably are not a Bernie Sanders supporter.
In San Francisco this evening, thousands of young Berners are gathering on a grassy field next to the Golden Gate bridge for a political love fest featuring acts such as Fishbone, Fantastic Negrito, and the Dave Matthews Band—not to mention Hollywood celebrities, lefty intellectuals, and one wild-haired democratic socialist. Officially, it's the Sanders campaign's A Future To Believe In GOTV Concert. Unofficially, it could be an epic last hurrah, the sort of thing that gets mentioned to the kids decades later—like Woodstock!—to prove you actually did something in your 20s besides sit on your ass and smoke pot.
Not that there won't be joints and vape pens—maybe oil rigs. But you get the point: This isn't a regular political campaign, it's a "revolution," and revolutions come with their own culture. Like Feeling the Bern. Or wading through the Bernie Sanders Dank Meme Stash. Or wearing an adult-sized Bernie onesie. Or joining the Bernie Love Wave. There has not been a campaign like this in America, since, well, Matt Gonzales ran for mayor of San Francisco. And I mean that in the best possible way. A Bernie Sanders get-out-the-vote concert in this town is not something you want to miss.
And you don't have to, because we'll be live-tweeting the event and posting updates here for as long as our batteries last. So check back regularly to get your Bern on from the comfort of your living room sofa—which is probably filled with nasty flame retardants. (Now if Bernie were president...)
Heading to the Bernie Sanders rally in SF featuring Dave Matthews, Fishbone, Danny Glover, Cornell West, and @SenSanders. Should be epic!