One of Breitbart and Bannon’s heaviest backers has had enough. Bob Mercer, a billionaire hedge fund manager noted for also backing such “controversial” figures as Milo Yiannopoulos, has resigned as co-CEO of Renaissance Technologies, and sold his stake of Breitbart News to his daughters.
One of the catalysts to this seems to be a trove of Milo’s leaked emails, as revealed by Buzzfeed. The email record shows an attention seeker’s callous disregard for propriety–ambition completely unshackled from morality. Yiannopoulos’ goal was clearly to promote himself above all else, and also to normalize some of the white supremacy and virulent nationalism we have indeed seen somewhat normalized in the wake of the 2016 election. He was deliberately testing the limits of what society would deem acceptable, especially when it came to the causes of racist and bigoted thought.
Mercer explicitly rejected that, saying:
“I supported Milo Yiannopoulos in the hope and expectation that his expression of views contrary to the social mainstream and his spotlighting of the hypocrisy of those who would close down free speech in the name of political correctness would promote the type of open debate and freedom of thought that is being throttled on many American college campuses today. But in my opinion, actions of and statements by Mr. Yiannopoulos have caused pain and divisiveness undermining the open and productive discourse that I had hoped to facilitate. I was mistaken to have supported him, and for several weeks have been in the process of severing all ties with him.”
Despite rejecting Yiannopoulos and relieving himself of his stake in Breitbart, Mercer does not seem to regret supporting Republicans or Republican causes. He has donated to politicians like Arizona Republican Kelli Ward, who was planning to run against Jeff Flake in the primaries until he announced his retirement. Mercer also donates to candidates opposing Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, and to the Republican candidate for Mayor of New York City. His relationship and support of Trump also seems to be unimpeded.
Time will tell whether Mr. Mercer has a fuller understanding of the people he enabled and gave one of the loudest microphones in the country; whether he realizes that, rather than enabling the freedom of speech, he has damaged it. Whether he does or not, this is one more step, however small, of removing the influence of Nazis and white supremacists from America’s stage.