Tech Insider Explains Why Some in Silicon Valley Are Turning to Trump
Tech Insider Explains Why Some in Silicon Valley Are Turning to Trump

By Nathan Worcester

SAN FRANCISCO—Jacob Helberg didn’t start out as a big fan of former President Donald Trump.

In his 2021 book, “The Wires of War,” Mr. Helberg detailed his concerns about the former president, during and after his first administration when he was working on disinformation and foreign interference at Google.

“After Biden’s victory, millions of Americans—egged on by Trump—indulged in unwarranted conspiracy theories claiming that Trump had in fact won,” wrote Mr. Helberg, at that time the co-chair of the Brookings Institution’s China Strategy Initiative, when describing efforts in Silicon Valley to fight what he called “domestic disinformation.”

He was a bundler for Pete Buttigieg’s presidential run during the 2020 cycle.

Yet in recent weeks, Mr. Helberg, now an adviser to Palantir CEO Alex Karp, has come forward as a vocal supporter of former President Trump. In May, the Washington Post publicized his $1 million donation to the Trump campaign.

“I am far from ruling out additional support for President Trump,” Mr. Helberg told The Epoch Times.

In 2020, many of President Joe Biden’s biggest supporters came from Big Tech. They included Facebook cofounder Mark Zuckerberg, LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman, and Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple cofounder Steve Jobs. Many tech millionaires and billionaires are supporting him again in 2024. Vinod Khosla, of Khosla Ventures, hosted a fundraiser for President Biden in May. Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s former chief executive, held a reception for him, too.

This time, though, the former president seems to be gaining ground in the tech world, including through high-profile donations like Mr. Helberg’s.

The tech insider dismissed the recent guilty verdict against the former president in New York, saying the trial was “widely regarded as a sham.”

“The conviction seemed more like a vengeful act,” Mr. Helberg said.

When asked why he had changed his mind about the former president, Mr. Helberg drew attention to the Obama administration’s approach to China—what he called “a policy of managed decline”—as well as the “woke wave of 2020,” which he said has come to dominate the party he once favored.

A Trend in Tech

While Mr. Helberg has been especially outspoken, he’s part of a larger movement in some parts of the tech world.

Current and former “Palantirians” like Mr. Helberg, as well as others connected to the world of defense tech, are among those backing the former president in an industry that is sometimes hostile to Republicans.

The Twitter headquarters in San Francisco on April 27, 2022. Billionaire Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, reached an agreement to purchase the social media platform for $44 billion. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

During the 2022 midterms, the vast majority of donations from employees of Twitter, now X, went to Democrats.

Compared to many other tech companies, Palantir is more evenly divided between the two main parties. An analysis from Open Secrets found that about 56 percent of Congressional donations associated with Palantir went to Democrats, while about 40 percent went to Republicans.

Anduril Industries was cofounded by a team from Palantir. Anduril cofounder Palmer Luckey, whose sister is married to Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), has long been a prominent supporter of former President Trump and other Republican politicians. He co-hosted a sold-out fundraiser at which the former president spoke, in Newport Beach, California, on June 8.

Venture capitalist David Sacks, who previously backed the presidential campaigns of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., co-hosted a tech world Trump fundraiser of his own on June 6 alongside one of his “All In” podcast co-hosts, venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya. In the past, Mr. Palihapitiya donated large sums to Democrats—for example, $1 million to the Senate Majority PAC.

On a May 31 episode of “All In,” he claimed that President Biden had not responded to an invitation to appear on that program. The White House has not responded to a request for confirmation of that claim.

“I’ve donated to Bobby Kennedy. I’ve donated to the Democrats massively. And I’ll donate to Donald Trump. And if there’s an opportunity to talk to President Biden and really understand where he’s at, I’d donate to him as well,” Mr. Palihapitiya said.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s ties to the tech world also include his running mate, Silicon Valley attorney Nicole Shanahan, who has also donated large sums to the campaign. The founder of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, voiced support for Mr. Kennedy in 2023.

Late on June 6, hours before the fundraiser, Mr. Sacks endorsed the former president on X.

“The voters have experienced four years of President Trump and four years of President Biden. In tech, we call this an A/B test. With respect to economic policy, foreign policy, border policy, and legal fairness, Trump performed better,” he wrote.

In a statement after the June 6 event, Mr. Helberg said he witnessed “energy and excitement for a Republican presidential candidate unlike anything I’ve ever seen in Silicon Valley.”

(TOP) President Donald Trump takes the oath of office as his wife Melania Trump holds the Bible, in front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 20, 2017. (Bottom Left) Anduril co-founder Palmer Luckey has been a long-time supporter of former President Trump. (Bottom Middle) Venture capitalist David Sacksc co-hosted a tech world Trump fundraiser on June 6. (Bottom Right) Venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya was the other co-host of the June 6 fundraiser. Mr. Palihapitiya has donated large sums to Democrats in the past. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images, Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images, Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch, Mike Windle/Getty Images for Vanity Fair)

Eoghan McCabe, the CEO and cofounder of Intercom, had a similar interpretation on X, where he posted an image of himself with the former president.

“I spoke with six people there. None identified as Republican. All voted or donated Democrat in the past. Now they’re backing this guy for his policies on war, immigration, crypto, and more. This election is a referendum on those issues,” wrote Mr. McCabe, who has previously donated to Mr. Kennedy, Larry Elder, and Blake Masters.

A few days after the fundraiser, former President Trump wrote on Truth Social that “we want all the remaining Bitcoin to be made in the USA!”

“The media gave him credit for nothing. People are realizing they’ve been misled,” Mr. Helberg told The Epoch Times when asked what he thought accounted for the current pro-Trump momentum in tech.

The ‘Paypal Mafia’ and Sequoia Capital

Mr. Sacks is known as a member of the so-called “PayPal Mafia,” made up of early employees of the payment processing company who have gone on to even bigger things.

Palantir cofounder Peter Thiel, SpaceX founder Elon Musk, and Keith Rabois of Khosla Ventures are among the PayPal alumni known for their influence on conservative politics. Mr. Rabois, who is Mr. Helberg’s husband, was a major donor to SFA Fund, a group backing Nikki Haley’s presidential bid.

Another PayPal alumnus, Roelof Botha, went on to become a partner at the Silicon Valley mainstay Sequoia Capital.

Two partners in that firm, Doug Leone and Shaun Maguire, have recently drawn attention to their support for former President Trump this cycle.

In a June 3 post on X, Mr. Leone cited immigration, the deficit, and “foreign policy missteps” as reasons why former President Trump is his choice.

Mr. Maguire, who in 2016 donated to Hillary Clinton, trumpeted a $300,000 donation to the former president in a lengthy X article on May 30.

“Back in 2016 I had drunk the media Kool-Aid and was scared out of my mind about Trump,” Mr. Maguire wrote.

The first presidential debate between candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden during the 2020 election is broacasted at Walters Sports Bar in Washington on Sept. 29, 2020. (Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)

The venture capitalist and physicist, who worked for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Afghanistan, described the chaotic withdrawal from Kabul as a turning point.

The Epoch Times has reached out to Mr. Maguire for comment.

In his messages to The Epoch Times, the former Googler didn’t dismiss conservative worries over a purported anti-Republican and anti-conservative bias in Big Tech.

“Big tech companies have broadened the definitions for what gets penalized as ‘misinformation.’ Today, most of these platforms have become way too censorious and hostile to emerging theories and particularly conservative viewpoints. This is wrong and should be course-corrected,” he told The Epoch Times.

Like Mr. Maguire, Mr. Sacks, and others in the industry who have thrown their weight behind former President Trump, Mr. Helberg repeatedly stressed foreign policy in his comments to The Epoch Times, particularly regarding China and Israel.

Recent donations to former President Trump from strongly pro-Israel benefactors, including a $100 million pledge from Miriam Adelson, the widow of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, suggest the former commander-in-chief has that wind at his back.

Mr. Maguire, Mr. Luckey, Mr. Sacks, Mr. Palihapitiya, and other Silicon Valley insiders did not respond to requests for comment.

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