Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel has admitted to funding a team of lawyers to find and help “victims” of Gawker Media’s coverage to mount cases against the website.
And as revealed by Forbes on Tuesday, one of those people was Hulk Hogan. The former wrestling star won a stunning $140 million verdict in a defamation suit against Gawker Media after it posted parts of a sex tape showing Hogan with a friend’s wife.
“It’s less about revenge and more about specific deterrence,” Thiel said in an interview with The New York Times the day after he was identified.
“I saw Gawker pioneer a unique and incredibly damaging way of getting attention by bullying people even when there was no connection with the public interest.”
What neither the jury nor the public knew at the time of the lawsuit was that Hogan (a.k.a Terry Bollea) had a secret benefactor paying $10 million towards the lawsuit: Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal and one of the earliest investors in Facebook.
Thiel is known as an Ayn Rand-style libertarian who funds young people who want to skip college and embrace entrepreneurship.
He has expressed venom toward other properties owned by Gawker owner Nick Denton. Gawker attempted to out Thiel in 2007 before he came out as gay. In 2009, Thiel was quoted as saying of another Denton site, “Valleywag is the Silicon Valley equivalent of Al Qaeda.”
Gawker published articles that were “very painful and paralyzing for people who were targeted,” Thiel continued in his interview with the Times. “I thought it was worth fighting back.
“I can defend myself. Most of the people they attack are not people in my category. They usually attack less prominent, far less wealthy people that simply can’t defend themselves,” he said, “even someone like Terry Bollea who is a millionaire and famous and a successful person didn’t quite have the resources to do this alone.”
He decided several years ago to set the wheels in motion to secretly fund multiple cases to try to cripple Gawker, Thiel explained. “I didn’t really want to do anything … I thought it would do more harm to me than good. One of my friends convinced me that if I didn’t do something, nobody would.”
Having previously hinted at the involvement of a billionaire funding the case, Denton said in a statement to the Times: “Just because Peter Thiel is a Silicon Valley billionaire, his opinion does not trump our millions of readers who know us for routinely driving big news stories including Hillary Clinton’s secret email account, Bill Cosby‘s history with women, the mayor of Toronto as a crack smoker, Tom Cruise‘s role within Scientology, the NFL cover-up of domestic abuse by players and just this month the hidden power of Facebook to determine the news you see.”