If there’s one thing that distinguishes Ron Paul from the rest of the GOP field, it’s his principled stand against American empire and his ardent defense of individual liberties. Paul’s opposition to wars, bloated defense budgets and government espionage of US citizens has made him a hero among some young conservatives. His seemingly rock-solid principles and radicalism has even drawn some on the left; unlike even left-wing Democrats, Paul has said he wants to abolish both the CIA and the FBI to protect individual “liberty.”
So it should come as a shock and disappointment to his followers that Ron Paul’s single largest donor—his Sheldon Adelson, as it were—founded a controversial defense contractor, Palantir Technologies, that profits from government espionage work for the CIA, FBI and other agencies, and which last year was caught organizing an illegal spy ring targeting American political opponents of the US Chamber of Commerce, including journalists, progressive activists and union leaders. (Palantir takes its name from the mystic stones used by characters in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings to spy one another.)
According to recently filed FEC disclosure documents, Ron Paul’s Super PAC has received nearly all of its money from a single source, billionaire Peter Thiel. So far, Thiel has contributed $2.6 million to Ron Paul’s Super PAC, Endorse Liberty, providing 76 percent of the Super PAC’s total intake.
Thiel, a self-described libertarian and opponent of democracy who made his fortune as the founder of PayPal, launched Palantir in 2004 to profit from what the Wall Street Journal described as “the government spy-services marketplace.” The CIA’s venture capital firm, In-Q-Tel, was brought in to back up Thiel as one of Palantir’s first outside investors. Today, Palantir’s valuation is reported to be in the billions.
A recent Businessweek profile explained how Palantir makes its money—and why Ron Paul’s followers should be bothered:
Depending where you fall on the spectrum between civil liberties absolutism and homeland security lockdown, Palantir’s technology is either creepy or heroic. Judging by the company’s growth, opinion in Washington and elsewhere has veered toward the latter. Palantir has built a customer list that includes the U.S. Defense Dept., CIA, FBI, Army, Marines, Air Force, the police departments of New York and Los Angeles, and a growing number of financial institutions trying to detect bank fraud. These deals have turned the company into one of the quietest success stories in Silicon Valley—it’s on track to hit $250 million in sales this year—and a candidate for an initial public offering. Palantir has been used to find suspects in a case involving the murder of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent, and to uncover bombing networks in Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. “It’s like plugging into the Matrix,” says a Special Forces member stationed in Afghanistan who requested anonymity out of security concerns. “The first time I saw it, I was like, ‘Holy crap. Holy crap. Holy crap.’ ”
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It gets worse: the technologies and know-how acquired over years of spying on suspected foreign terrorists and threats were turned to private, political use against US citizens. In what became known last year as the “Chamber-Gate” scandal, Palantir was outed by Anonymous as the lead outfit in a private espionage consortium with security technology companies HBGary and Berico; the groups spent months “creating electronic dossiers on political opponents of the Chamber through illicit means.”
According to ThinkProgress, Palantir “may have used techniques and technologies developed under military contracts in their pro-Chamber campaign.”
Thiel’s Palantir and its two intelligence contractor partners—collectively named “Team Themis” after the Roman goddess of law and order—proposed to the Chamber’s lawyers a plan that involved illegal cyber-espionage against the Chamber’s enemies, including targeting activists’ families and children. Among those targeted: ThinkProgress, union leaders, MoveOn, Brad Friedman and Glenn Greenwald, whose support for Wikileaks reportedly rankled Chamber member Bank of America.
Ron Paul came out vocally supporting WikiLeaks and Assange, positions that made Paul popular among young libertarians and progressives. Just weeks before PayPal announced it had cut off funding for Wikileaks, Thiel’s stake in PayPal was reportedly worth $1.7 billion (he sold the company to eBay in 2002).
Thiel has funded a number of far-right-wing causes over the years: He was an early investor in conservative filmmaker James O’Keefe’s career, funding a video called “Taxpayer’s Clearing House,” which shows O’Keefe duping working-class minorities into believing they’d won a sweepstakes, only to stick them with a tax bill for the bailouts. O’Keefe, of course, later produced the infamous ACORN and Planned Parenthood videos and was also charged with entering a federal building under false pretenses in an attempt to wiretap the offices of US Senator Mary Landrieu. Thiel was a member of the right-wing Federalist Society while at Stanford Law School, and he co-authored an anti–affirmative action book, The Diversity Myth: Multiculturalism and Political Intolerance on Campus—a book that belittles “imaginary oppressors” of minorities, blames homophobia on homosexuals and attacks domestic partnerships. Thiel himself is gay.
The 1920s were the last decade in American history during which one could be genuinely optimistic about politics. Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women—two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians—have rendered the notion of “capitalist democracy” into an oxymoron.
Thiel also funds a libertarian project headed by Milton Friedman’s grandson, Patri Friedman, called the “Seasteading Institute,” which designs offshore “libertarian utopias.” Patri Friedman also denounced democracy as “ill-suited for a libertarian state.”
If Ron Paul is serious about his principled defense of Americans’ individual liberties and his opposition to war-profiteering and government espionage against its own citizens, then why does his main Super PAC rely so heavily on one of the worst violators of Paul’s core principles?
What exactly is Ron Paul talking about when he warns his followers that America is becoming a “fascist system”? In his recent speech, Paul defined this “fascist system” as “a combination of government and big business and authoritarian rule and the suppression of the individual rights of each and every American citizen.” Can Paul really oppose such “fascism” while his campaign is bankrolled by one of the chief protagonists and beneficiaries of the very system Ron Paul claims to oppose?