A day after the Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook executive Palmer Luckey may have been ousted by the social media giant for his political activities, Luckey appeared on the Journal‘s Tech D. Live stage to talk about the travails of being conservative in Silicon Valley.
Luckey, dressed casually in a Hawaiian shirt, would not directly respond to a question about his support for Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential candidacy. He said conservatives are more numerous in Silicon Valley than one might suspect — but many keep quiet about their political affiliation to avoid negative repercussions.
“There are a lot more people who know if they talk about these things, it could cause problems for them,” said Luckey, adding that some conservatives confide, “The reason I don’t donate is I care more about the thing that I’m working on than that whole politics game.”
The Oculus co-founder would know. He became the focus of fierce backlash when news organizations reported he donated $10,000 to an anti-Hillary Clinton group. (At least one billboard paid for by the group, NimbleAmerica, featured a picture of Mrs. Clinton and the phrase “Too Big to Jail.”)
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg denied Luckey’s eventual departure last year had anything to do with politics during his testimony this spring on Capitol Hill. But the donation sparked anger within the company, where employees used internal message boards to express their unhappiness about his support of a group that at times used misogynistic and white-supremacist messages, the Journal reported.
Ultimately, Luckey posted an apology — drafted by Zuckerberg himself — in which he said he would vote for libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, not Trump.
Luckey did not revisit the Journal‘s reporting from the stage today, where he took part in a town hall discussion about technology and democracy. But he did take big, broad swings at Silicon Valley’s liberal culture and the pressure applied by a vocal minority to convince tech giants to back away from defense contracts.
Google, for example, opted this summer not to extend its contract with the Defense Department for artificial intelligence used to analyze drone video and improve targeting. The company faced public backlash and employee resignations for its role in developing technological tools that would aid in warfare.
Luckey said news reports exaggerated the number of Google employees who resigned — “it was 12 people” — and complained that the 3,000 employees who signed a petition protesting Google’s involvement in the Pentagon program accounted for a fraction of the company’s workforce.
“In reality it’s a tiny tiny share of Google that gets the mind share,” Luckey said. “That perpetuates the idea that no one who works in tech wants to work with the military.”
Luckey said senior-level Google executives, who opted to work with the Pentagon, believed they were doing a good thing for the country by helping to reduce civilian casualties. “And they pulled out because of a vocal minority,” he said. “They allowed themselves to be controlled by a very vocal fringe within their own company.”
The virtual reality wunderkind later bemoaned the fact that the most brilliant engineers, which a generation ago worked for aerospace or defense contractors, now work in Silicon Valley where such work is “not cool.”
“That’s why I got into the defense industry,” Luckey said, whose new firm, Anduril Industries, merges virtual reality and surveillance tools to detect unauthorized border crossings. “It’s because of sleepless nights worrying about that problem.”