In some ways, Peter Thiel is the embodiment of Silicon Valley success. Stanford brought him to the region, PayPal made him rich, Facebook made him richer, and now he doles out his millions to fund other entrepreneurs.
But Thiel, 50, has also never felt himself to be a part of Silicon Valley. An outspoken libertarian provocateur, even in his early days in college, Thiel has long tried to nudge America’s tech capital rightward, with little success. And after his endorsement of President Trump, a man who reveled in being an outsider has apparently found himself too far to the fringes for his liking.
Now Thiel is leaving Silicon Valley for Los Angeles — a move his camp describes as a bid to escape the political hegemony of the San Francisco Bay Area.
He plans to relocate his residence to his home in Hollywood, and move his Thiel Capital and Thiel Foundation organizations to a new headquarters in L.A., according to a person familiar with his plans who was not authorized to publicly discuss them. (Another of his firms, the venture capital firm Founders Fund, will remain in San Francisco, the person said.)
Thiel Capital spokesman Jeremiah Hall declined to comment.
His move could be seen as an indictment of the dangers of groupthink in the nation’s most important industry — or, more simply, as the case of a billionaire tired of being a pariah to his neighbors.
“It's tough to exist [in Silicon Valley] personally,” said Alex Marlow, editor in chief of Breitbart News. “Conservatives are blacklisted to the point of humiliation. There's only so much a man can take.”
What Thiel will do in L.A. isn’t exactly clear.
Thiel has discussed with people close to him the possibility of resigning from Facebook’s board, according to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported on his plans.
He’s rumored to be interested in launching a conservative media outlet. Despite the region’s reputation as a bastion of liberalism, Southern California is where some of the bigger names in conservative media — such as Breitbart News, the Drudge Report and the Daily Wire — got their start.
There’s irony in Thiel starting a news outlet. Last year he secretly funded a lawsuit by former professional wrestler Hulk Hogan that resulted in the closure of gossip website Gawker, a move that sparked criticism for its potential chilling effect on freedom of the press.
And there's also irony in moving to Los Angeles to be around fewer liberals. But Southern California, which catapulted the political careers of presidents Reagan and Nixon, has always been more welcoming, local conservatives say, simply because its size offers a great diversity of political views.
“Mr. Thiel understands that [Silicon Valley] is a monolithic culture and there’s a political bubble there that doesn’t match the reality around the country,” said Eric Beach, the L.A.-based co-chair of the pro-Trump Great America PAC. “L.A. is more of a melting pot because you’re surrounded by conservative areas like Orange County and the Inland Empire.”
Born in Germany, Thiel moved with his family to the U.S. as a child. He studied philosophy at Stanford University, where he co-founded the conservative and libertarian Stanford Review. He invited controversy when he co-wrote the 1998 book “The Diversity Myth,” which argued multiculturalism was debilitating to higher education and academic freedom. The following year, he wrote that giving women the right to vote undermined capitalist democracy.
Controversial opinions are something of his calling card. Thiel has questioned whether anyone with interests in high-tech inventions and entrepreneurship needs an expensive college education and, to that end, started the Thiel Foundation to offer fellowships to young people who skip or drop out of college to pursue their ideas and business plans.
His track record in Silicon Valley is one of many successes. He co-founded PayPal, which was sold to EBay for $1.5 billion in 2002. He made early investments in Facebook and SpaceX. He helped launch Palo Alto software company Palantir Technologies Inc., which makes powerful data-analytics software used by military and intelligence agencies as well as commercial companies. His net worth is $2.5 billion, according to Forbes.
But it was a $1.25 million expenditure that may have transformed him from iconoclast to outcast. His donation to help elect Trump and his decision to speak on Trump’s behalf during the 2016 Republican National Convention sparked backlash from tech industry peers, particularly within Facebook’s ranks.
Thiel has made no apologies for his support of Trump. He said in 2016 that he was surprised by what he called a “visceral reaction” in socially liberal Silicon Valley to his support of the president.
More recently, Thiel has said the Bay Area tech industry has become increasingly intolerant of conservative political views. “Silicon Valley is a one-party state,” he said in January during an appearance at Stanford University.
Chris Douvos, managing director of Venture Investment Associates, said Thiel’s assessment is simplistic. Silicon Valley isn’t necessarily anticonservative — it’s anti-Trump.
“I don’t think George W. Bush was anywhere near as reviled in Silicon Valley as Donald Trump,” Douvos said. “A big part of why that is is because immigrants are the life blood of Silicon Valley, and part of Trump’s agenda has resulted in making even talented, high-skilled immigrants feel like America is a hostile place.”
Democrats represented nearly 58% of registered voters in San Francisco, while Republicans accounted for more than 7%, according to 2017 statistics from the California Secretary of State’s office.
The counties that constitute Silicon Valley also were dominated by Democrats but had a greater proportion of Republican voters than San Francisco.
In L.A. County, nearly 52% of voters were registered as Democrats, while more than 18% were registered as Republicans.
Thiel’s gripe with the left, however, is more likely with his fellow millionaires and billionaires than ordinary voters. He famously clashed with fellow Facebook board member and chief executive of Netflix Reed Hastings over his support of Trump.
Thiel has long been identified with the libertarian movement — including some of its more quixotic ideas, like floating nation-state cities in the open ocean. But he recently has espoused views in line with conservatives who back Trump’s populist message. That includes a belief that America is in decline thanks to elites in Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C.
America “is on the Titanic and we’re going to sink,” he told the National Press Club days before the 2016 presidential election.
According to the person familiar with his thinking, Thiel isn't just moving to L.A. because he thinks Silicon Valley is a monoculture. Doing so also stems from his view that the region’s technology efforts are expanding, as illustrated by Hawthorne-based SpaceX and Snapchat maker Snap Inc., which is based in Venice.
His arrival could help attract more attention to the local tech scene, which has long been overshadowed by Silicon Valley, said William Hsu, co-founder and managing partner of L.A. venture capital firm Mucker Capital.
“The fact that he is moving here will change minds about what L.A. is about,” Hsu said. “The fact that Elon Musk makes his primary residence here has already changed minds.”
Hsu also thinks Thiel will be better received in L.A. than in the Bay Area.
“People are more used to the conflicts, for lack of a better term, that come naturally with diversity, including diversity of thought,” Hsu said. “So I believe that he will be received better here. It would be wrong to say L.A. is more conservative than the Bay Area, but even the liberals here are OK with having a conversation about conservatism."
Harmeet Dhillon, a San Francisco-based attorney representing James Damore — the former Google employee suing the company for allegedly discriminating against him as a conservative white man — said Thiel will feel liberated in L.A.
At very least, she added, Thiel will have more fun down here.
“It’s certainly more glamorous than Silicon Valley; maybe they have better parties,” Dhillon said. “It is depressing to be a conservative in the Bay Area. I ask myself daily, what am I doing?”