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November 2, 2017
Reclusive billionaire Robert Mercer sent a letter to investors in the massive hedge fund Renaissance Technologies informing them that he would resign from his leadership positions, both as co-executive director and board member. Mercer, one of the major funders of Breitbart News, said he would sell his stake in that company to his daughters and sought to distance himself from Breitbart’s Steve Bannon and his controversial protege Milo Yiannopoulos.
“The press has also intimated that my politics marches in lockstep with Steve Bannon’s,” Mercer wrote. “I have great respect for Mr. Bannon, and from time to time I do discuss politics with him. However, I make my own decisions with respect to whom I support politically. Those decisions to not always align with Mr. Bannon’s.”
It was Mercer, through his daughter Rebekah, who brought both Bannon and Kellyanne Conway to the Trump campaign in a move that may have saved it from certain defeat after allegations surrounding Paul Manafort’s shady ties to foreign governments threatened to sink the campaign.
According to Harvard professor Yochai Benkler, Breitbart News was three times more influential than its closest rival, Fox News, during the 2016 election.
This popularity led to what Benkler calls a “bridge” effect that allowed Breitbart to launder extreme “alt-right” and white nationalist ideas for a wider public than obviously extremist publications such as the Daily Stormer.
Last month, when Buzzfeed revealed Yiannopoulos’ emails from his period at Breitbart, the mechanisms of this bridging became clear when it revealed Yiannopoulos sent stories to white supremacists for line edits. Even after Yiannopoulos was ousted from the site amidst a scandal involving a statement that seemed to support pedophilia, the Mercers seemed to support him, reportedly funding Milo Inc.
“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 promise the type of open debate and freedom of thought that is being throttled on many college campuses today,” Mercer wrote.
But in the letter, Mercer specifically distanced himself from Yiannopoulos, seemingly in response to the Buzzfeed revelations “several weeks” ago.
“[I]n my opinion the actions of and statements by Mr. Yiannopoulos have caused pain and divisiveness undermining the open and productive discourse that I hoped to facilitate,” Mercer wrote. “I was mistaken to have supported him and for several weeks have been in the process of severing all ties with him.”
Mercer further attempted to distance himself from the white supremacist movement often associated with Breitbart. “Of the many mischaracterizations made of me by the press, the most repugnant to me have been the intimations that I am a white supremacist or a member of some other noxious group,” he wrote. “Discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, creed, or anything of that sort is abhorrent to me. But more than that, it is ignorant.”
Renaissance Technology manages $50 billion in assets and its Medallion Fund is one of the most successful hedge funds in history, averaging over 70% returns, before fees, over more than 20 years—all based on complex mathematical calculations. Mercer also funded Cambridge Analytica, a firm that analyzed voter data for the campaign of Donald Trump.
The Government Accountability Institute, which supported Peter Schweizer’s research into the book “Clinton Cash,” was also funded by Mercer.
But in the letter Mercer acknowledged that his role in politics had begun to bring unwanted scrutiny. He would, the letter said, continue to work on the technical side of Renaissance.