Peter Thiel helped build Facebook, now he’s building a new anti-tech right

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On a summer morning in 2019, Rep. Matt Gaetz was having breakfast at the Los Angeles mansion of billionaire investor Peter Thiel, who would become one of the Republican Party’s biggest donors. At the time, Thiel was locked in a to-be-or-not-to-be debate over whether to leave the board of Facebook. Aware of Thiel’s love of Shakespeare, Gaetz (R-Fla.) playfully dubbed him Hamlet.

Like many Republicans, Gaetz viewed the social media giant as increasingly monopolistic and dangerous. He and another guest, entrepreneur and former right-wing provocateur Chuck Johnson, encouraged Thiel to leave the company. But Thiel demurred, telling the pair that he hoped to change it from within, according to two people familiar with the conversation.

Last month, Thiel finally stepped down from the social network, formally dissolving one of the most powerful partnerships in the history of Silicon Valley. As Facebook’s first outside investor, its longest-serving board member and a close adviser to CEO Mark Zuckerberg since he launched the company as a Harvard sophomore in 2004, Thiel helped alter the direction of the company whose products serve billions.

Thiel’s ambition to serve as an architect of the American right had grown increasingly at odds with his position on the board of one of the movement’s top enemies — a political shift that dovetailed with his own growing alienation from Silicon Valley.

Peter Thiel to exit Facebook’s board to focus on 2022 midterms

Reports at the time said that Thiel left the Facebook board to focus on politics, including a slate of 2022 congressional candidates aligned with former president Donald Trump.

But interviews with members of his inner circle indicate that his departure was years in the making, driven by a growing philosophical rift between Thiel and Facebook as conservatives became uncomfortable with the tech industry’s willingness to police online speech. Thiel, according to those close to him, lost his appetite to serve as Facebook’s defender as his political aspirations matured.

This account is based on interviews with more than a dozen people familiar with Thiel’s thinking, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations.

Since March of 2021, Thiel has pumped more than $20 million into 16 political campaigns, including the Ohio Senate race where close associate J.D. Vance last month won the Republican nomination, in part by attacking Big Tech and social media censorship. Thiel also has given at least $13.5 million to acolyte Blake Masters, a Republican candidate for Senate in Arizona who serves as president of Thiel’s personal foundation and has positioned himself as an adversary of Big Tech.

New reporting shows Thiel has set his sights on transforming American culture — and funding its culture wars — through what his associates refer to as “anti-woke” business ventures, including a right-wing film festival, a gay dating app for conservatives founded by a former Trump administration ally and a firm, Strive Asset Management, that will “pressure CEOs to steer clear of environmental, social and political causes,” said Vivek…

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