When 150 Silicon Valley executives penned an open letter warning of the dangers of a Donald Trump presidency, one big name wasn’t on that list: libertarian billionaire PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel.
An independent thinker — who has voiced some strong and controversial opinions on the state of our democracy — the 48-year-old Thiel is backing Trump and will address the Republican National Convention tonight before Trump formally accepts the party’s nomination.
Here are ten things to know about Thiel:
1. He was born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1968. He immigrated to the U.S. with his parents when he was a year old.
2. Despite earning a BA and JD from Stanford, he questions the utility of a university education. “You have this priestly class of professors who aren’t doing a whole lot of work, supported by a system dedicated to convincing people to buy indulgences and amass enormous debt for the dubious salvation that a diploma represents,” Thiel told The New York Times last month. Five years ago, Thiel began a fellowship program to support young entrepreneurs and help innovators realize their ideas outside of college.
3. He made a fortune with PayPal and is now worth an estimated $2.8 billion. Thiel co-founded the online payments system in 1998. The company went public in 2002 and was sold to eBay for $1.5 billion that year. Thiel ranks 234th on the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans.
4. He’s was an early backer of Facebook and is now a major tech investor. Thiel put $500,000 in seed funding into the social media company in 2004. Although he sold most of his 10 percent stake in the company in 2012, he still sits on its board of directors. Thiel is also founder, co-chair and a major shareholder in Palantir, a data analysis company that is America’s third most valuable tech startup behind Uber and Airbnb. Thiel has also invested in Airbnb and online payment company Stripe.
5. He was once an avid chess player. Thiel was once among the highest rated under-21 chess players in the country.
6. He’s known for his libertarian views. “I stand against confiscatory taxes, totalitarian collectives, and the ideology of the inevitability of the death of every individual. For all these reasons, I still call myself ‘libertarian,’” he wrote in an essay for CATO Unbound, adding that, “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.” He has spoken out against Medicare and Social Security spending. He has also contributed to Republican candidates, and initially backed Carly Fiorina in the 2016 presidential race.
7. He’s supporting anti-aging research. Through his non-profit Breakout Labs, Thiel is funding research to “increase the human healthspan, tackle neurodegenerative diseases, and reverse age-related decline.”
“Most people deal with aging by some strange combination of acceptance and denial. I think the psychological blocks to thinking about aging run very deep, and we need to think about it in order to really fight it,” he said in a Reddit post.
8. He’s gay. CNN reports that in his RNC speech, Thiel will declare that he is proud to be gay and will push the party to embrace LGBT rights. Thiel would be the third openly gay speaker at a Republican convention, and the first in 16 years.
9. He bankrolled wrestler Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker for publishing a part of Hogan’s sex tape. Thiel was initially outed by Gawker in 2007, and his displeasure with the site and its articles about him and others apparently led him to spend a reported $10 million to back the legal case against the site brought by Hogan. “It’s less about revenge and more about specific deterrence,” he told The New York Times about his support for the lawsuit. In May, a judge upheld an earlier verdict that Gawker must pay $140 million in damages to Hulk Hogan. Gawker subsequently filed for bankruptcy.
10. He’s provided funding for an organization that seeks to set up a “libertarian utopia.” Thiel provided $500,00 toward the creation of the Seasteading Institute, whose mission is to “establish permanent, autonomous ocean communities” — islands beyond the control of governments — “to enable experimentation and innovation with diverse social, political, and legal systems.”