EDITOR'S NOTE: Billionaire tech entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel made an appearance at a Miami tech conference this week and made “surprising points,” according to Bloomberg. The first is that Thiel, who earlier in the year called Bitcoin a “Chinese financial weapon,” praised the digital currency because it signals that “the financial hegemony of the dollar might be close to an end,” and “that this decrepit… regime is just about to blow up.” Next, Thiel offered a defense of his beloved Facebook, saying it is “tech that really challenges the state.” The through-line of both Thiel’s observations is that the Biden administration is not doing the right thing for the American people and, he thinks that people should stand up to the government and protect themselves by investing in alternatives to fiat currency.
Hi, it's Max. Peter Thiel made two surprising points while speaking at an event this week. But first...
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“Just about to blow up”
The venture capitalist Peter Thiel appeared in Miami on Oct. 20 at an event billed as a celebration of the future, a coming out party for a self-proclaimed tech hub, and, at least among Thiel’s biggest admirers, something approaching a religious experience.
Thiel is—as I write in my new book, The Contrarian—one of the most successful tech investors of his generation and commands a cult-like following of young, ambitious people who are attracted to his unapologetically pro-Trump conservativism and his belief in the supremacy of technology, and in particular technology billionaires like himself. “Today is a holy day,” Delian Asparouhov, a partner at Thiel’s venture capital firm, Founders Fund, wrote on Twitter. Perhaps in jest (I hope?), he photoshopped Thiel’s face onto a painting of Saint Stephen, holding a skull labeled “Gawker,” in reference to Thiel’s secretive and—within right wing circles celebrated—campaign to destroy the liberal media outlet.
Appropriately, this week’s Q&A with Thiel was billed explicitly as an exploration of “culture, religion, and technology.” The chat was a showcase for Thiel’s current focus as an investor as well as illustration of just how extreme Thiel’s politics have gotten in recent years. It began with a discourse on “freedom” in which moderator Bambi Francisco railed against vaccine mandates. Thiel responded by criticizing the “insanity” of Covid lockdowns and proclaimed himself “really into freedom from taxation.” (You don’t say.) Attendees were also treated to a sort of greatest hits of Thielism. He complained about “political correctness”—the No. 1 political problem in America, he said—called public education a form of “brain washing,” and sounded the alarm about the “deep state.”
Most of these riffs will be familiar to those who have followed Thiel over the past few years, but there were two interesting moments. First, as my colleague Nathan Crooks reported, Thiel heaped praise on Bitcoin, which he criticized earlier this year as a potential “Chinese financial weapon.” In Miami, he declared himself “underinvested” in Bitcoin and said that he recommended “going long,” on the currency. Perhaps more intriguingly, Thiel declared that Bitcoin’s high price, $66,000 at the time, was an indication that the financial hegemony of the dollar might be close to an end. He put this even more strongly earlier in the week, at a meeting of the Federalist Society. “It’s the canary in the coal mine,” he said of Bitcoin’s high price, according to The Information. “It’s the most honest market we have in the country, and it’s telling us that this decrepit… regime is just about to blow up.”
The comments are red meat for Bitcoin’s libertarian faithful, but they contain a slightly unsettling implication—at least for those of us not keen on complete societal collapse. By suggesting that Bitcoin is undervalued and that record high prices portend imminent political upheaval, Thiel is saying that he expects such upheaval to come to pass and is welcoming it. That may go a long way to explaining why Thiel is currently backing politicians, such as J.D. Vance (running for Senate in Ohio) and Blake Masters (a Senate candidate from Arizona and a longtime Thiel employee), who have at times seemed to treat the Jan. 6 insurrection as a peaceful protest and who have implied, falsely, that the 2020 election was stolen by Democrats.
The other interesting moment of the night involved Facebook Inc., where Thiel is the longest-serving outside board member and a key political ally to Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg. After acknowledging some disagreements with Facebook and its peers, Thiel offered what he called a “partial defense” of Facebook, in which he claimed that social media was an important check on what he described as a consensus of elites in universities, media and government, praising “tech that really challenges the state.” Then he added, “I will take all the QAnon and Pizzagate conspiracy theories everyday over the Ministry of Truth,” a reference to the state propaganda arm in the novel 1984.
It was, of course, a false choice—and a disconcerting one. Lawmakers, as well as critics and whistleblowers, aren’t calling for a Ministry of Truth; they’re just asking the company to make it more difficult for violent ideologies to spread. But by defending QAnon groups, which were involved in the planning of the insurrection, Thiel was simultaneously offering an endorsement of Zuckerberg’s hands-off approach to regulation, and signaling a certain comfort with the most extreme parts of the American far right. On Jan. 6, Senator Josh Hawley, another longtime beneficiary of Thiel’s largesse walked into the U.S. capitol holding a raised fist—a show of solidarity that may have emboldened the rioters. Thiel’s comments could be read as a similar, and equally chilling, signal. —Max Chafkin
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— With assistance by Nathan Crooks
Originally posted on Bloomberg.