As white supremacists stormed Charlottesville with tiki torches alit, thousands of amateur and professional photographers documented the mob’s movements on social media and on news sites. Portraits of rally-goers trickled through the digital ether, and as public outrage grew, many attendees' identities were outed by digital vigilantes. As a result, stories abound of rally attendees being fired from their workplaces for their white supremacist leanings: a cook at the Berkeley-based Top Dog (technically, he resigned), a San Francisco electrician, a cook at an Uno Pizzeria franchise in Vermont, and a welder from South Carolina among them.
There is something comforting about the outing and firing of Nazis: it draws a line between what kinds of politics are socially and morally acceptable, and which aren’t. That’s more than the president could do in his post-riot address. Yet if you study those who were fired for being white nationalists or flirting with Nazism, you might be apt to notice a pattern: Generally, those who suffered the loss of their jobs were working-class men, working service labor. Simultaneously, we must face the fact that there are those with Nazi sympathies in positions of relative greater power who are utterly secure in their career tracks. That is indeed troubling.
You might point to someone like James Damore as a counterexample to this. Yet the software engineer is the neat exception that proves the rule. When it came to light that Damore had shared among Googlers a manifesto extolling men’s superiority over women in STEM fields, and tying his thesis to a “biological” destiny -- an oft-disproved theory used by chauvinists for hundreds of years, as I’ve written about before — he was swiftly fired by Google. Lest you object to lumping Damore in with the assorted grab-bag of white supremacists, chauvinists and literal Nazis who marched in Charlottesville, consider: Damore has already become a cult figure and a hero to the alt-right, some of whom meme-orialized him as Martin Luther. Damore embraces the same white male identity politics, and embodies the same grievance culture as the alt-right. We’re splitting hairs to think of him as different.
Yet as an Ivy League-educated scion of Silicon Valley with a six-figure salary, Damore has little in common with the working-class welders and cooks who lost their jobs because of their association with the Charlottesville rally — even though that lily-white parade of torch bearers held signs with statements that echoed Damore’s belief that men occupy a separate, superior status when compared to women. But here’s the rub: Damore wasn’t fired because of his views, but because his actions created a PR disaster for the company. Indeed, plenty of Google engineers have expressed their solidarity with him and expressed that they agree with him, as multiple reports reveal. Damore was fired because he publicly embarrassed the company.
In other words, Damore would have been plenty secure in his position had he not made a spectacle of himself. Plenty of software engineers share his views; moreover, some blue-chip tech firms have a history of hiring people with authoritarian views, and turning a blind eye when called out for it. Likely, none of them have ever created a PR disaster of the same magnitude as Damore. But they are there.
In 2014, an article in the Baffler, “Mouthbreathing Machiavellis Dream of a Silicon Reich,” documented a burgeoning ur-fascist movement that was born of tech chauvinism rather than "Mein Kampf." As the Baffler noted, many in Silicon Valley believe in an authoritarian state ruled by the moneyed tech caste that they claim membership in; for instance, Google engineer Justine Tunney unironically issued a petition to transform the U.S. into a corporate despotism. Curtis Yarvin, a far-right “philosopher” of sorts who inspired Tunney’s authoritarian politics and has defended white nationalists, has a day job at a venture capitalist-funded startup called Urbit.
One of the most powerful techies with extremely authoritarian (and sexist) politics is the much-maligned Peter Thiel, the billionaire PayPal cofounder who was so personally affronted by the existence of Gawker that he bankrolled Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit to destroy the online magazine with a religious fervor. Thiel once said that he “no longer believed that democracy and freedom were compatible,” and expressed disappointment that women retained the right to vote.
On the federal level, too, one can flirt with Nazism with no perceivable career consequences — particularly in the Trump administration, where such affiliations seem to result in one being rewarded rather than punished. Trump advisor Sebastian Gorka was “reported to be a member of Vitézi Rend, a Hungarian far-right organization that sympathizes with Nazi goals,” as my Salon colleague Matthew Rozsa wrote. Beyond Gorka, advisor Stephen Miller and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have connections to white nationalism, as did Steve Bannon, whose ouster was announced on Friday. Despite the relatively short half-life of Trump staffers, it is safe to say that these men will all have lucrative careers as consultants or advisors for the rest of their lives, despite their despicable views.
The political difference between Tunney, Gorka and Yarvin, and the service workers fired, seems slight at best. This raises a troubling prospect: that those who are fired for being white nationalists are those who are most expendable and easily replaceable to our society, and that corporations, businesses and even the White House will tolerate white nationalism and Nazi sympathies in employees in other cases. Perhaps the white nationalists fired from their service jobs should consider a career in tech — or even better, politics.