The 2022 midterm elections are here. For the last couple weeks, in the state of Arizona, the Democratic incumbent, Mark Kelly, has been neck-and-neck with his challenger, Blake Masters.
Everyone is very excited about Masters becoming “the new senator from Arizona!” Kelly, we know, is the astronaut whose wife, Gabrielle, was shot in the head by a psychotic madman more than a decade ago. But who is Masters? Wikipedia tells everyone that he was born in the state, and raised in Tucson. He then went to study law and politics at Stanford. While there, he met the billionaire tech magnate Peter Thiel.
Masters was mesmerized by Thiel’s lectures, writing a series of notes which became fantastically popular after they appeared online. The two became such good friends that Blake later went on to become COO of Thiel’s investment firm and president of his foundation.
The average voter might ask: Where’s the big briefcase full of court cases? Or the military service? Or the mayoral campaigns? As it appears, Masters’ resume looks to show only that he’s been an employee of Peter Thiel. This is the rich guy who is known as one of the primary builders of Silicon Valley, as well as the man who gave Donald Trump a huge injection of cash in the lead up to 2016. For that gesture, he was the main speaker at that year’s RNC.
So it comes as something of a shock that very few people mention Mr. Thiel’s name when discussing Arizona’s senatorial race. Even libertarians shy away from it, which would disappoint the late libertarian sage Murray Rothbard. In 1984, Rothbard wrote a long essay detailing the nexus between powerful interests and their trigger-happy recipients vying for a comfortable seat within the state apparatus (the title is emphasized: “and American Foreign Policy.”) After all, someone has to pay for all those signs and T-shirts, and maybe we should know a thing or two about them. Those questions never used to be controversial.
Aside from the small details – those regarding Trump’s campaign – I hadn’t really thought about Peter Thiel, even when I picked up a copy of Max Chafkin’s biography from a Barnes and Noble earlier this year. The Contrarian – hey, just like me! But what was Thiel being a contrarian about? I wouldn’t find out immediately, because I put the book on my shelf, where it sat for several months uncracked.
Politics! Arizonans do love their electoral season. Some street corners have so many political signs, you can’t even see what businesses are behind them. When it gets too windy, they fly across the intersection, and your car tires will soon give a black mustache to Mr. Masters, or a full head of hair to Mr. Kelly. As for knocking on doors, election volunteers give even the Jehovah Witnesses a run for their money. One never has to worry about hearing someone say, “What election?”
I’d made several attempts to wade into my new state’s political atmosphere. For instance, on June 23rd a senatorial debate was being hosted by FreedomWorks. I intended to attend. But first, some more Googling, find out about our candidates. There was Jim Lamon, a businessman who made billions in coal, gas, and solar power; Mark Brnovich, the attorney general of Arizona who claims to have launched more lawsuits against the Obama administration than any other AG in the country; Mick McGuire, a retired Air Force general; and then Blake. Although I don’t remember anyone telling me specifically, the race was winnowed down between Lamon and Masters.
Masters and I have at least one thing in common: we both have exactly one article posted up on Lew Rockwell. (Rockwell was Rothbard’s best friend and co-publisher, and so another household name in libertarian circles). Masters’ 2006 article was a synthesis of G. Edward Griffin’s classic work on the Federal Reserve and another book about British Naval intelligence. In it, he argues that the United States government lied the people into World War One.
My article was a report about the rampage of one Christopher Dorner and the subsequent manhunt that took place over the course of several days. (My article is still there, if one looks hard enough.)
Rockwell himself is an avowed secessionist, and talk of secession is in the air. It trends on Twitter all the time. The issue is also pertinent considering that the Texas Republican Party had, just a few days earlier, approved a platform that included the right to secede. It was a fair question to pose to Mr. Masters, or anyone else who would entertain me.
So I went to the debate. Watched and listened. Lamon said Thiel by name – “one of Facebook’s board members!” Masters rejoined with a corrective: “Former Facebook board member. I’m proud of Peter,” he said, calling him the “only America First billionaire.”
When it finished, I looked around, seeing who was hanging out. Blake was standing to the side of the stage, talking and taking pictures with his fans. I approached, and it was apparent that Blake enjoyed the adulation. He wanted nothing else, and cheerfully argued with some CNN reporters when they asked for an interview.
Then I approached, with a “quick question”: “You used to write for Lew Rockwell. Rockwell is an avowed secessionist. Do you…?”
Blake looked at me, waved me off. He said I was “trying to make him look bad,” adding that he’d “rather talk to CNN.”
Trying to make him look bad? I was trying to do no such thing. Besides, only he can make himself look bad. Plus, I thought this was a grassroots movement. And I am the grassroots! And I felt secession was a perfectly relevant subject. But Masters did not want to talk to me that day. It seems not everyone appreciates ambush journalism.
I kept up with the campaigns as best I could. Masters got the nomination. I then started “following” him and Kari Lake on Twitter. The two started a statewide campaign tour – which, to the outside observer, appears to be confined largely to the massive Maricopa County, and with Phoenix, the capital, being the very center of the state. They always hit all the high notes: fentanyl poisonings, caused by a Southern border left wide open by Biden; inflation, also Biden’s fault; gender ideology, pushed by the insane radical Left.
And as the campaigns heated up, so did the war between Russia and Ukraine. In September, Putin annexed several parts of Ukraine. Zelensky then asked for “accelerated ascension” into NATO, with Putin quickly repeating his decades old warning that if this were to happen, it would trigger World War Three.
For whatever reason, the conflict was left off the table. It didn’t seem to be discussed very much at all in ads or speeches. On October 6th, the three senatorial candidates – Masters, Kelly, as well as the libertarian lawyer/candidate Marc Victor – had a debate, if only for a single hour. Again, there was not a single mention whatsoever of the war.
This omission of was made all the more striking when it was reported, less than two weeks later, that Mr. Masters’ benefactor had invested seventeen and a half million dollars in a drone manufacturer that had already given 42 drones to the Ukrainian resistance. Thiel said the company, Quantum Systems, was “leaps ahead” of the competition.
More Googling revealed that Alex Karp, Thiel’s hand-appointed CEO of Palantir (which I’ll get back to), had flown to Ukraine back in June and met with Zelensky, who said he was “delighted that Palantir is ready to invest in Ukraine and help us in the fight against Russia on the digital frontline.” The reports note that Karp was the first CEO of a major company to offer such support.
There was also Blake’s “tweet” from March 1st, in which he wrote that, while we should “obviously not go to war,” that we should “supply the Ukrainians as they fight for their country,” as well as “sanction Russia so that Putin and his cronies feel the consequences.” Our own military, the Twitter thread concluded, should keep out of the conflict.
Another townhall-like event was coming up. Scheduled for October 18th, it was being held in downtown Chandler, between two of the many bars in the town. That night, I would once more attempt to ask a question to our candidates.
The place was mostly packed. About a half hour into it, on the path that led to the parking lot behind the event, I saw our candidate for Attorney General, Abe Hamadeh, who was about to share a stage with Blake. Abe was very approachable, and only had one large security guard following him around. I told Abe what my concerns were: Masters is Thiel’s employee, and Thiel is kind of all over the place. Now there’s news of this drone manufacturer he’s investing in. “I’m glad I don’t make those decisions,” Abe said with a smile. I shook his hand and walked off.
Abe went on stage, and was soon joined by Blake. An iron gate separated the stage from the attendees. They repeated the same old crowd-pleasing pans against the Democrats. When it was over, I got on the side of the gate where they were supposed to walk alongside of in order to get back to the parking lot. I managed to shoulder my way to the front, and got an arm way out there. Blake came around in front. He grabbed my hand. “Are we going to give any more money to the Ukrainian resistance?” I yelled it as loudly and clearly as I could. Blake shrugged, and I think he said “I don’t know.” Then kept walking.
Not totally satisfied with that response, I followed him around the side, but soon came up to a huge crowd that leaned against the iron gate, leaving me no way to continue. I went the opposite direction, out of the crowd, and ran around the entire building – tripping on my face one time, due to a dark corner – and then headed to the back. I turned my camera on. Masters was hugging and taking pictures with a few of his admirers. “There he goes,” I said to myself, “running off.” “Blake,” I said louder, “some kind of comment please…one question, about arms going to the Ukrainian resistance.” He walked off, between the cars, to the hotel beyond. “That man,” I fumed to the security guard who began following me, “is a coward.”
As expected, Tulsi Gabbard was tonight’s surprise guest. Tulsi had recently defected from the Democratic Party, something any idiot could see coming. I think she came out first. Then Kari. Tulsi gave her endorsement of our candidates. When they were finished, Tulsi sort of disappeared into a crowd that seemed to have grown larger.
Then Kari Lake came into the crowd. She shook some hands and said some hellos. I got on the side. Kari looked at me as I asked my question. She kept walking. I then yelled it: “Is Blake Masters going to give any more money to the Ukrainians?” Afterwards, I argued with some of the attendees, who needlessly reminded me that the governor doesn’t make such decisions. That I know; but she’s campaigning with the guy who does.
So, did I get my point across? Well, maybe. Soon after the event, Masters went on two prominent libertarian podcasts. The first was Ron Paul’s “Liberty Report,” hosted by the great man himself and his wonderful cohost Daniel McAdams. These two men, both principled anti-warriors, asked about Ukraine, with McAdams bringing up Blake’s earlier tweets.
Blake said these aid bills, a result of the “bipartisan foreign policy consensus,” were “increasing the chances for nuclear war.” He then talked about how Ron’s son, Rand, had asked for an audit of the bill, since there was too much momentum in stopping it. “I look forward to joining forces with him,” Blake said.
McAdams, not wanting the interview to be just a “lovefest,” asked Blake about his earlier tweets. “I don’t think I said we should send weapons,” he replied, saying that perhaps food, fuel and medical supplies might be justified. “I’ve drawn the line at weapons,” Blake said, “I don’t think we should be engaging in proxy war in Ukraine.”
So that’s good. And then Blake appeared on libertarian Dave Smith’s podcast, where he was again asked his stance on the war. This time, Blake said we should do everything in our power to get Russia and Ukraine to the negotiating table. “We want to stop the war,” he said, adding that all this aid is just pouring more fuel onto the fire. Of course!
Now, I’m not saying that I gave Blake the impetus to appear on these shows. I only point out that I was the one who made the concerns clear to those touring on the election roadshow – and especially with my elaboration to Mr. Hamadeh. In any case, they’re fans of Trump, and so perhaps a little hubris and self-aggrandizement will be appreciated.
But notice that neither Paul, McAdams, or Smith had mentioned the name Peter Thiel. They neglected – forgot? – to discuss Thiel’s investments. I figured this was a good time to crack open Chafkin’s book. It was important to learn more about the man who was Blake Masters’ campaign. And while I won’t go over every chapter of this 337-page hardcover, I’ll highlight a few details I feel to be concerning.
Mr. Thiel has been described in various ways. He’s a libertarian. He’s one of the main builders of Silicon Valley. He’s a thought leader of the New Right. The first is a description Thiel has even used himself several times. As for the second, if one considers his cofounding of PayPal, as well as his early investment in Facebook, then it’s just a matter of fact. As for the third, that’s one used more and more these days.
I’ve been reminded that Thiel had been a main bankroller for Ron Paul’s last two presidential campaigns. And so doesn’t that make him a libertarian?
Two counterpoints to this assertion. First, Thiel is the founder of Palantir, which Chafkin calls his “thoroughbred unicorn.” The author reports that Thiel was in New York City on September 10th, and was unable to find a flight out of the city. He was told to wait until a United flight the next morning, but instead opted to wait until there was room. Thiel made it out that night, but it’s likely that some other passengers who did wait until morning became victims of the Attacks. Perhaps for this reason, Thiel had become “increasingly consumed by the threat posed by Islamic terrorism…”
Palantir was created in 2003 when Thiel had ordered a group of employees to see if Igor, a software developed by PayPal cofounder Max Levchin to thwart Russian cybercrooks that threatened the company, could be upgraded so as to catch terrorists. Thiel named Palantir after the mythical “seeing stone” in Lord of the Rings, and hoped to “mine the governments near endless trove of data, including financial and cell phone records, and use the network analysis to find terrorists,” according to Chafkin. Thiel then picked his old classmate, the left-leaning Alex Karp, to run the company.
In February of 2017, The Intercept ran an excellent piece explaining what Palantir did for the U.S. government. The company first gained attention with Edward Snowden’s original revelations. The relationship between Palantir and government spy agencies goes back to at least 2008, with the British government being especially impressed by Palantir’s demos. Within a few years, three of the “Five Eyes” countries – that is, the spy agencies of the U.S., the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, and Canada (which all share information together) – were using Palantir.
Specifically, Palantir was made for data analysis. The governments were taking in so much information from people’s online activity that they became overwhelmed by it. They needed help organizing this data, which is the function that Palantir was designed to do. According to Chafkin, Thiel was even courting officials he had known in the Bush Administration, including John Poindexter, who is considered the architect of Bush’s “Total Information Awareness” doctrine; in short, knowing everything about everyone.
In the years that followed, Palantir would be given a lot more U.S. government contracts. This is despite the fact that the government didn’t always want to use the company. Indeed, in 2016, Thiel sued the U.S. Army, because it claimed the army had left Palantir out of the contract bidding. Thiel won that case. During the Trump presidency, Palantir would do a lot more business with the U.S. government, working with ICE, and later, with COVID, helping to keep track of vaccines (it also had contracts with hospitals, monitoring cases and supplies).
The second counterpoint to the “he’s a libertarian” talking point is Thiel’s relationship with the Paul campaign. In the 2012 election, Thiel gave $50,000 to Revolution PAC, a group supporting Paul. Then another $85,000. Finally, he gave $2.6 million to Endorse Liberty.
But these donations left the Paul campaign bewildered. Officially, Super PACs and the candidates work independently, though normally they remain somewhat close, making sure to play by the same rulebook. Jesse Benton, Paul’s campaign manager, said: “We had none of that with Peter.” Chafkin tells us that neither Benton nor Paul had so much as shaken Thiel’s hand prior to 2012.
Thiel never again made mention of Paul. Why? Thiel later said that supporting Paul “was for 2016.” One can see the strategy. Thiel was laying groundwork on which he could later build upon. Now, one can start a company that helps the NSA spy on people around the world – and still be seen as a libertarian! How very clever.
Chafkin sees these self-contradictions all over the place. “Contrarian” isn’t about Thiel taking a controversial stance; it’s about Thiel contradicting himself at every turn. Which is not to say I agree with all of Chafkin’s observations. For instance, Chafkin wonders how a man who is so interested in extending life (Thiel is a big believer and investor into life extension) could be so critical of the COVID lockdowns (a reason given as to why Thiel didn’t really support Trump’s reelection bid), as those were supposed to save lives. For plenty of others – us real libertarians – we recognized how preposterous it was to think you could lock everyone in their houses until the virus just disappeared. Instead, we worried about those who would gain weight, or would miss doctor’s appointments. That, too, would cause death.
The contradiction I’ve tried to highlight here is the War Question. Supposedly this meant a lot to Kari, who is said to have switched parties in 2008 so as to vote for Obama, because Obama said he wanted to end the Iraq War.
As for Thiel, since his initial endorsement of that war, he has become a critic of America’s endless and pointless wars. He even said as much during his RNC speech. Yet he and Karp still run Palantir, which, as said, fought the government to make them buy their product. Now they’re doing business in Ukraine. Then there’s this drone manufacturer, which was just reported the other month.
I certainly don’t wish to be a gossipy publication like Gawker, which Thiel helped put out of business. Moreover, I can also say “thank you” to Kari for being so vocally opposed to vaccine mandates, as well as gender ideology inside our schools. Thank you! These things are important.
But Ron Paul brought me into the political fold – also – and his consistent criticism of the imperial state has stayed with me. So excuse me if I’m a bit concerned about special interests.
One possible way to project the future is by looking at three other candidates supported by Thiel. Ted Cruz was the first politician Thiel helped to elect. Josh Hawley was the second. Now there’s JD Vance, and of course Blake. Cruz voted in favor of military aid. Hawley did not. Vance has been critical of the aid, saying he “doesn’t really care what happens to Ukraine.” And then we have Blake’s position. Let’s hope he sticks with it.
During an interview with Marc Victor (who then endorsed Blake), Blake said to hold him accountable! Almost sounds like I’ve been invited into his house. Yet when Blake rebuffed me, I really did feel like the grassroots, if only because I was being stepped on. Hopefully, the grassroots don’t get salted.