Peter Thiel has admitted to bankrolling anti-Gawker lawsuits in an attempt to shut down the website that once tried to out him as gay. But who is Thiel — and how did he make his billions?
For starters, Thiel is currently worth $2.7 billion, according to Forbes. He’s No. 10 on the 2016 Midas List of the world’s smartest tech investors and known as a Libertarian with outspoken political views.
The 48 year old also co-founded PayPal and was an early investor in Facebook, and then sold the majority of his 10 percent stake in the social media giant following its 2012 IPO, but remains on its board to this day.
Thiel co-founded and chairs Palantir, a CIA-backed data company, and also has significant investments in Airbnb and Stripe (an Irish tech company that allows both private individuals and businesses to accept payments over the Internet).
Born in Frankfurt am Main, West Germany, to German parents, Thiel moved to the U.S. when he was one year old and was raised in Foster City, California. He currently lives in San Francisco and is a well-known figure around Silicon Valley.
Thiel has a foundation that encourages young entrepreneurs to skip college, and even pays them to forgo higher education. Seriously. The Thiel Foundation awards $100,000 over two years to select Millennials to opt out of higher education and pursue their business dreams.
Although he encourages other people to choose their own unique route by passing over college, Thiel didn’t follow his own advice. He attended Stanford University, earning a Bachelor of Science and a Doctor of Jurisprudence, which means he studied the theory of philosophy of law.
Thiel initially got upset with Gawker when it ran a story headlined, “Peter Thiel is totally gay, people,” in 2007 before the billionaire came out publicly on his own.
Here’s another fun fact: Thiel is reportedly the inspiration for the character named Peter Gregory on HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” who is an eccentric techie billionaire played by Christopher Evan Welch. HBO writers reportedly molded Gregory after Thiel, but he was written out of the show when Welch tragically died of complications from lung cancer.
The Thiel-based character made a lasting impression, famously ordering everything on the Burger King menu and then parlayed his curiosity into a fortune from an investment in sesame seed futures. The real Thiel didn’t profit off sesame seeds, but he is known to be equally as eccentric as his HBO counterpart.
The New Yorker ran a lengthy profile of Thiel back in 2005, mentioning everything from his Mercedes SL500 to a $27 million oceanfront property he owns in Maui.
This week, Thiel went from being identified as an eccentric Silicon Valley billionaire to the center of an on-going theme of the ultra wealthy using their cash to control how they are covered in the media.
The Writers Guild of America, East has publicly asked Thiel to reveal what other lawsuits he’s secretly funding after he admitted his attempt to take down Gawker by funding lawsuits against the media empire, including Hulk Hogan‘s suit that resulted in a massive $140 million payout.
“Peter Thiel has all but confessed that his primary objective is Gawker’s demise. Plutocrats already have outsized power in this country, and we cannot allow them to use their vast fortunes to silence media companies,” WGAE said in a statement.
“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.
Gawker founder and CEO Nick Denton challenged Thiel to an “open and public debate” about journalism’s role in society in his open letter on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the New York Post reported that Denton has begun soliciting bids for the company because the Thiel-funded trial is leaving him strapped for cash.