Who is Peter Thiel, the tech billionaire trying to push the U.S. to the right?

He founded PayPal and helped fund Facebook. Now he’s focusing on electing right-wing politicians.

Billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

This week, Facebook announced billionaire investor Peter Thiel was stepping down from its board after more than 15 years.

The 54-year-old, whose contrarian and right-wing political views have made him one of the most controversial figures to emerge from Silicon Valley, will focus his time on helping pro-Trump candidates win in November’s midterm elections, according to a person familiar with his thinking who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

Thiel has been participating in national politics for most of his life, helping create a conservative journal at Stanford University in the 1980s before diving into tech investing and helping found PayPal. He used the money from PayPal’s sale to invest in other tech companies, becoming the first major outside investor in Facebook and seeing his wealth and influence rocket upward as Big Tech’s dominance grew over the past 20 years.

In 2016, Thiel supported Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and later served on his transition team. Now he’s playing an even more direct role in politics, funding the Senate campaigns of two of his close associates, J.D. Vance in Ohio and Blake Masters in Arizona. At the same time, he’s still a force in tech investing and plays a major role in companies including data-harvesting firm Palantir, where he serves as chairman.

PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel said that he was proud to be gay and a Republican during the fourth day of the Republican National Convention. (Video: The Washington Post)

Straddling the worlds of Silicon Valley and conservative politics has made Thiel a uniquely influential and polarizing individual, though he’s not as widely known as other well-documented political funders such as the Koch brothers. That’s likely to change as he dives deeper into U.S. politics.

A spokesperson for Thiel did not reply to a request for comment.

Peter Thiel to exit Facebook’s board to focus on 2022 midterms