In April, Chancellor Robert Jones announced that Max Levchin, a 1997 UIUC graduate in Computer Science, would deliver the keynote address at commencement in May, terming Ukrainian-born Levchin “an inspiring entrepreneur. ”
After four start-up failures during college and immediately after, Levchin moved to Silicon Valley where in 1998 he co-founded PayPal, the money transfer service, which eBay bought for $1.5 billion in 2002.
His PayPal co-founder was Peter Thiel, a Stanford grad and Silicon Valley billionaire. Notable for his far-right-wing, libertarian views, Thiel first came to national attention when he gave a prime-time speech at the 2016 Republican convention supporting Donald Trump.
PayPal made Thiel a multimillionaire; his early investment in Facebook in 2004 made him a billionaire. Thiel and Levchin originated what later would become known as the “PayPal mafia,” in which Levchin played the consigliore to Thiel’s don.
*Caption: The “paypal mafia” photographed at Tosca in San Francisco, October, 2007.
Back row from left: Jawed Karim, co-founder of Youtube; Jeremy Stoppelman, Yelp CEO; Andrew McCormack, Laiola Restaurant managing partner; Premal Shah, President of Kiva; 2nd row from left: Luke Nosek, The Founders Fund managing partner; Kenny Howery, The Founders Fund managing partner; David Sacks, CEO of Geni and Room 9 Entertainment; Peter Thiel, CEO of Clarium Capital and Founders Fund; Keith Rabois, VP Business Development at Slide and original Youtube investor; Reid Hoffman, Founder of LinkedIn; Max Levchin, CEO of Slide; Roelof Botha, Sequoia Capital partner; Russel Simmons, CTO and co-founder of Yelp.*
After Trump’s election, Thiel and his buddies played a prominent role in the transition.*Caption: Peter Thiel with Donald Trump, Trump Tower, December 2016. Thiel’s most high-profile moment during the transition occurred when he organized a meeting with tech leaders, including Tim Cook (Apple) and Larry Page (Google). As “a slew of reporters looked on in astonishment,” Trump was seen “gently petting his [Thiel’s] hand.”*
Also along for the ride was Charlie Kirk, 24, founder of TPUSA. The “Deploraball” immediately before the inauguration celebrated the union of the alt-right and alt-lite. . One participant said, “The thing about the alt-right and the alt-light is we all have the same style, in that we’re un-cucked,” that is, not conservative but hard right.
*Caption: On right, Charlie Kirk appropriates the “OK” sign to make a “white power” hand gesture. The three upright fingers form the letter “W,” and the thumb and index finger form the letter “P.”*
While at Stanford (BA ’89, JD ’92), Thiel in 1987 co-founded the Stanford Review, a long-lived student conservative publication. Thiel’s “work and outlook today can be traced directly to his college years.”
For 30 years, the Review has fought against Stanford’s liberal and left majority, building a “quite impressive” network. In Silicon Valley, “Review alumni have built an infrastructure that spans many billions of dollars in both company market value and personal wealth.”
Stanford professor David Palumbo-Liu and Purdue professor Bill Mullen co-founded Campus Antifascist Network (CAN) in August, 2017, days after the alt-right rally in Charlottesville.
In January, 2018, the Stanford Review published “Antifa Thugs Find a Champion and Leader in Stanford Professor.” The CAN co-founders “can mince words all they want: their organization is undeniably a chapter of a terrorist group, championing the same kinds of violent resistance that have muzzled free speech across the country.”
Palumbo-Liu responded in the the Stanford Daily student newspaper. Six Stanford law school professors from “across the political spectrum” argued that “there is no evidence that he has advocated violence or is a member of a terrorist group.”
Earlier, both Palumbo-Liu and Mullen had been vocal supporters of professor Steven Salaita during 2013-2015, when UIUC withdrew a tenured job offer, leading the AAUP to censure UIUC before the University finally settled with Salaita.
CAN issued a statement January 22, 2018 in support of UIUC history grad student Tariq Khan, harassed by TPUSA and disciplined by UIUC.
Another UIUC grad, James Damore (’10), moved to Silicon Valley, like Levchin, to work at Google. Damore wrote a 10-page memo in 2017 in which he argued that many fewer women worked in technology not only because of “socially-constructed” gender differences, but “in part due to biological causes.” Damore concluded that “we need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism.” Furthermore, he labeled corrective reverse discrimination “authoritarian.”
*Caption: April 5, 2018 TPUSA appearance by James Damore, former Google employee, co-sponsored by the libertarian Ayn Rand Institute and the Leadership Institute, a right-wing think tank.*
Damore’s memo went viral, Google fired him, he sued Google, and joined the nation-wide, conservative, college talk circuit. He appeared at UIUC April 5 at a TPUSA-sponsored event.
*Caption: TPUSA UIUC announces chapter president Andrew Minik’s impeachment by Illinois Student Government as chair of Committee on Diversity and Inclusion. It is not true that he was impeached “due to his affiliation” with TPUSA, but because he forwarded a student’s information received in his capacity as committee chair that led directly to her being “doxxed,” harassed and trolled online.*
One day before Damore’s appearance, TPUSA’s Andrew Minik was impeached by a two-thirds majority of the Illinois Student Government as chair of its Committee on Diversity and Inclusion. In the 13-page formal articles of impeachment, the single most damning charge was that Minik not only organized an “anti-immigrant” TPUSA event, “Building the Wall: A Memorial for Victims of Illegal Immigration,” but that he “also disclosed an email sent to him in his capacity as the Chair of the Committee … to members of Turning Point USA, who proceeded to publicly shame and harass that student on social media.”
*Caption: TPUSA Facebook announcement for their anti-immigrant, “Build the Wall” event, March 15.*
TPUSA’s cardboard wall went up March 15.
*Caption: TPUSA “Build the Wall” event, March 15. On left with upraised thumb is Joel Valdez, a TPUSA activist who has targeted UIUC grad student Tariq Khan.*
Two days earlier, on March 13, Michael Hari, and three other members of the White Rabbit 3 Percent Illinois Patriot Freedom Fighters Militia, a domestic terrorist group in Clarence, located 35 miles northeast of Champaign, were arrested for allegedly bombing a mosque last August 5 in Minnesota and attempting to firebomb a women’s health clinic in Champaign last November 7. Last April, Hari submitted a $10 billion bid to build Trump’s border wall.
*Caption: Internet video of an individual, presumably Michael Hari, calling on militia members to come to Clarence and support the White Rabbit 3 Percent Illinois Patriot Freedom Fighters Militia, in March.*
In another example of the overlap between the alt-right and alt-lite, and how they share symbols and memes, both Hari and Minik fly the Don’t Tread on Me flag, the one most frequently connected to white supremacists after the Confederate flag.
*Caption: Don’t Tread on Me flag in front of building owned by Michael Hari, Clarence, Illinois.*
*Caption: TPUSA UIUC leader Andrew Minik, Facebook home page, Don’t Tread on Me flag on wall in background.*
Key to understanding what the alt-right alt-lite is, and where it came from, is social media.
Social media = social + media, where “social” is our human, social world, and “media” is the technology of the Internet, a human and social construct, a representation of the “social.”
Social Network (2010), the story of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, is actually about networking through social media. For this is what Trump and his supporters did.
Most people do not realize that not only is Trump Internet Troll #1, but that the Internet of 4chan, /pol/, and /b/ already had voted for Trump in 2015. 4chan may not be congruent with Trump’s base, but it comes close.
What happened was that as the hacktivist group Anonymous was repressed by the FBI and other agencies, putting it out of existence on 4chan’s /b/ board, what became the alt-right filled the vacuum thereby created.
*Caption: Anonymous, 4chan. Pepe the Frog takes over the world, a widely shared emblem for /pol/, the political discussion boards on 4chan and 8chan.*
Pepe the Frog exemplifies how it happened. The meme spread across 4chan by 2008, then was appropriated by and “jumped” to the alt-right, as it became asscociated with Trump’s campaign. When Trump retweeted a Pepe representation as himself, the circle was closed.
*Caption: Donald Trump as Pepe the Frog. Trump retweets “You Can’t Stump the Trump (Volume 4),” October 13, 2015. Note links to alt-right alt-lite sites the Drudge Report and Breitbart News.*
In retrospect, we can see that Trump had won the 2016 election by October, 2015.
An outfit like TPUSA UIUC was just one of many alt-right alt-lite groups relatively slow to reproduce and retweet the now-white nationalist Pepe the Frog meme.
*Caption: TPUSA UIUC meeting agenda pairs Trump and Pepe the Frog, February 16, 2017.*
Time to draw up a balance sheet. Today, we may characterize the core issue as (economic) libertarianism + (political) autocracy versus (liberal) democracy. This has scrambled what we think of as “left” and “right,” “liberalism” and conservatism.” Most people most of the time do not consider the Right—Republicans, libertarians, alt-right and alt-lite—“extremists” and “radical.” In fact, they are. In this contest, Democrats are—ironically—conservative, because they want to preserve (liberal) democracy.
These core ideas of the Right (from Republicans and conservatives to the alt-lite and alt-right) are perfectly distilled by the Koch brothers’ intellectual, libertarian guru, economist James Buchanan. In his essay “The Samaritan’s Dilemma” (1975). Buchanan perversely turns the famous parable inside out. “We may simply be too compassionate for our own well-being.” In Buchanan’s retelling, “modern man”—the Good Samaritan—“has become incapable of making the choices that are required to prevent his exploitation by predators of his own species”: the Jewish traveler. Libertarians do not rend the social safety net; they destroy it completely.
The antithesis of the libertarian core of conservatism is a vision of European social democracy, of American democracy ably articulated by historian Joan Scott “[W]e’re all part of something bigger than ourselves, … we live in societies together … Societies are collective entities, we’re meant to be connected to one another; the function of government is to administer that connection. We’ve increasingly lost that sense of community, of the notion that there is something we contribute to and benefit from that is called the common good… The common good is the notion of shared collective responsibility and reciprocity. It’s that that we’ve lost.”
To stand stock still, remaining committed to liberal democracy, to European social democracy, as the U.S. hurtles headlong hard-right, more and more looks liberal, progressive—and radical.