Facebook board member Peter Thiel is facing a firestorm of criticism in the aftermath of revelations that he secretly financed a legal vendetta against Gawker Media. The case has raised a number of corporate social responsibility (CSR) issues, and the intense media scrutiny is beginning to undercut Thiel’s carefully-crafted image as a venture capital wizard with a golden touch.
The Gawker case also resulted in a burst of interest in Thiel’s attachment to libertarian principles. That includes his position as a key financial backer of Ron Paul’s failed bid for the presidential nomination in 2012, his current iteration as a designated delegate for presidential candidate Donald Trump and, most recently, a revelation about his association with a libertarian group connected to the white nationalist movement.
Peter Thiel and the Gawker case
Those of you new to the topic can check the TriplePundit archive for a brief recap of the Gawker case. The backstory is that Thiel has portrayed himself as a white knight, acting in support of privacy rights for people without the means to fight back against media bullies.
As this storyline goes, Thiel is a victim who happens to be wealthy enough to strike back, and his pursuit of Gawker is a philanthropic effort to help deter other media bullies from stepping over the line.
However, more recently the media has focused its attention on evidence that Thiel orchestrated a network of lawsuits aimed at shutting down Gawker not over privacy invasion issues, but because insider reporting by Gawker’s Valleywag site was undercutting his selling points as a venture capitalist.
Thiel’s efforts came to a successful conclusion in March, and last week, Gawker announced that it would file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
However, plenty of other media outlets survived to pick up the story, and the public is now being treated to a regular drum-roll of reasons why Thiel should not have a seat on Facebook’s board of directors.
Peter Thiel and white nationalists
In the latest development, on June 9 the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) put out a press release under the title, “PayPal Co-Founder Peter Thiel to Address White Nationalist-Friendly ‘Property and Freedom Society’ Conference in September.”
Thiel will share the platform with Hans-Hermann Hoppe, who founded the Society in 2006. SPLC cites this example of Hoppe’s writings on the topic of immigration, in which he wishes for a pre-modern approach to border management:
“… to post signs regarding entrance requirements to the town, and once in town for entering specific pieces of property (no beggars or bums or homeless, but also no Moslems, Hindus, Jews, Catholics, etc.); to kick out those who do not fulfill these requirements as trespassers …”
Also attending the conference (to be held in Bodrum, Turkey) is the head of the U.K.’s Libertarian Alliance, Sean Gabb. Here’s the SPLC take on Gabb:
“Gabb has spoken at far-right gatherings in the U.K., such as the Traditional Britain Group and at the H.L. Mencken Club. He often writes for the white nationalist website VDARE, run by English white nationalist Peter Brimelow, who is himself a regular at the Property and Freedom annual gatherings.”
SPLC notes that one guest at the Society’s 2013 conference was New Century Foundation head Jared Taylor. Here is SPLC’s rundown on Taylor:
“Taylor once wrote: ‘Blacks and whites are different. When blacks are left entirely to their own devices, Western civilization — any kind of civilization — disappears.'”
According to SPLC, featured speakers at the inaugural meeting of the Society included these guys:
“… Paul Gottfried, the American white nationalist who founded the H.L. Mencken Club, along with Tom Sunic, another white nationalist and an ex-Croatian diplomat who spends his time speaking at racist gatherings on both sides of the Atlantic.”
Sunic is also the head of the white nationalist American Freedom Party.
With heroes like these …
Thiel’s association with the international white nationalist movement might come as a shock to the general public, but SPLC points out that his penchant for anti-immigrant talk can be traced straight back from his college days, through to his funding of conservative filmmaker James O’Keefe and on up to the Gawker affair.
Thiel’s support for noted libertarian Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential nomination bid also raised some eyebrows. Paul’s perspective, which associates have called racist, gained him many friends among a web of hate groups, and he is a frequent topic of SPLC coverage.
What should be sending eyebrows through the roof, though, is Thiel’s position as a designated delegate to the Republican National Convention for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
Trump has made attacks on the media part and parcel of his over-the-top campaign. His candidacy has also occasioned a flurry of excitement in the international white nationalist movement, as chronicled in an expansive article published by the American Freedom Party.
Here is the snippet focusing on Sinic, in which he sums up many of the other comments included in the article:
“Tom Sinic, who said that he knows [American white nationalist and former Klansman] David Duke ‘very well’ and respects ‘many things he has to say,’ said the term ‘white supremacist’ is simply used to discredit opponents. Instead, he calls himself a ‘cultural pessimist.’ He’s confident that a Trump presidency would lead to people currently scared of being labelled fascists for their views to speak more freely.”
Mainstream white nationalists aren’t the only ones who are excited by Trump’s candidacy. SPLC also draws attention to the emerging alt-right movement. Though difficult to define, the movement revolves around white identification issues. SPLC cites this example:
“Many white nationalists who consider themselves part of the Alt-Right are big fans of Thiel and his attack on Gawker, which white nationalists see as part of the ‘cucked’ mainstream media. On May 31, Milo Yiannopoulos, an editor for Breitbart News, which in the past year has functioned as the media arm of the Alt-Right movement, praised Thiel calling him ‘the hero Silicon Valley needed.’”
… Who needs villains?
In the meantime, Facebook certainly isn’t doing itself any favors. At the Recode conference earlier this month in California, company COO Sheryl Sandberg strongly endorsed Thiel’s right to “think differently than other people” in a June 1 article appearing in Forbes. That phrase certainly gains a new resonance after the June 9 SPLC report.
In the same Forbes interview, Sandberg extolled Thiel’s different thinking as a desirable character trait:
“… We have very independent board members with very independent thoughts that they share publicly.”
“Those strong people make really good board members because they have strong views, and they’re not afraid to think differently than other people, which has served Facebook well …”
Sandberg also referred to another controversy this spring, in which Facebook took fire from conservatives for supposedly shutting conservative-friendly news out of its Trending Topics links. The dustup ended with a meeting between the two sides.
The result, Forbes suggests, is that Facebook will be more likely to promote conservative ideas in the future:
“We want the continuing dialogue on what we think makes the platform work for them,” she added, noting that the political figures at the meeting were highly interested in discussing how to best promote their ideas on the platform. “People believe Silicon Valley has a liberal bias, so we understood the concern.”
Photo: by by Stephen Brashear (http://www.stephenbrashear.com) via flickr.com, creative commons license.