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The billionaire lieutenant helping Elon Musk fight the culture wars

Sacks Musk - Patrick McMullan
Sacks Musk - Patrick McMullan

It took two decades for a little-known book by two Stanford graduates to hit the headlines.

The Diversity Myth – a takedown of political correctness and identity politics on campus – received barely a ripple of attention when it was first published in 1996.

At the time, few seemed interested in the authors' argument that multiculturalism was harming education – or, in one later notorious passage, their claims that some instances of date rape were in fact “seductions that were later regretted”.

Only 20 years later, when the two writers had joined the ranks of America's richest men, did their screed come to be seen as emblematic of the views of a certain kind of radical Silicon Valley dreamer.

One of those authors was Peter Thiel, a billionaire tech tycoon who co-founded PayPal and set up controversial data firm Palantir. The other was David Sacks, another PayPal entrepreneur and close friend of Elon Musk.

Now, as Musk attempts to put his stamp on public discourse as the new owner of Twitter, Sacks is standing at his side as one of a close-knit group of acolytes spearheading the billionaire’s campaign in the culture wars.

Sacks, 50, first crossed paths with Musk in the late 1990s at PayPal, where he served as chief operating officer and product lead. The pair are among members of the so-called ‘PayPal Mafia’ – a group of former employees at the company who have gone on to found their own successful tech firms.

Since then, Sacks has established a foothold in the tech world. In 2008 he founded Yammer, a workplace social media site that was sold to Microsoft for $1.2bn (£1bn) just four years later. He also set up Callin, a rapidly growing podcast platform, leads venture capital firm Craft Ventures, and co-hosts the popular All-In podcast.

David Sacks - Alex FLynn/Bloomberg
David Sacks - Alex FLynn/Bloomberg

A well-known figure in Silicon Valley, his portfolio includes investments in Facebook, Uber, Twitter and Slack. His tech bets have generated an estimated $200m, with the tycoon boasting a portfolio of lavish properties including a Miami mansion, a $23m home in the Hollywood Hills and a $20m house on San Francisco’s Billionaires' Row.

It is only amid the upheaval at Twitter, however, that Sacks has started to emerge into the limelight. Despite his insistence that he has no official role at the social media company, the tech tycoon has been tweeting relentlessly about it since Musk’s involvement became public earlier this year.

Text messages revealed in court as part of Musk’s legal battle with Twitter showed the pair sharing online praise about the takeover and discussing a potential investment by Sacks.

In a tweet posted in April, Sacks outlined a “checklist” for the new chief executive of the company, which included “eliminate all bots”, “restore free speech” and “fire useless employees (50pc?)”. Many of these changes have already been implemented by Musk.

More recently, Sacks has defended Musk’s move to make users pay for blue tick verification and has reportedly discussed the idea of forcing users to hand over a monthly fee to continue using the platform.

But while Musk’s overhaul at Twitter has attracted significant attention, Sacks’ involvement in the project goes far deeper than the day-to-day running of the company. He is also manning the barricades in the culture war being campaigned by the world’s richest man.

Central to this is the disparagement of the “woke” views espoused by West Coast liberals. This week, Musk tweeted a video of t-shirts found in Twitter’s headquarters emblazoned with the hashtag “Stay Woke”. Sacks retweeted the post, adding a Game of Thrones reference: “The conquest of Wokerosi is complete. Melt them down and turn them into an Iron Throne.”

More significantly, the ideology has expanded into geopolitics. Sacks told a podcast that the invasion of Ukraine was turning into “Woke War III” and penned an article for The American Conservative that advocated for a negotiated end to the conflict. Shortly afterwards, Musk drew criticism from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for espousing similar views.

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Sacks has also been a vocal proponent of the crypto industry and taken aim at the media for its coverage of the market in the aftermath of the dramatic collapse of FTX, an exchange run by major Democrat donor Sam Bankman-Fried.

In a tweet this week, Sacks wrote: “For years, the elite media has treated every successful tech startup as if it’s a fraud that needs to be exposed.

“But when the mother of all frauds actually comes along, they minimize and cover for it.”

That comment was surely written with half an eye on Tesla, long bet against by hedge funds and attacked by critics as all spin and no substance before it became one of the world's biggest businesses.

In a sense Sacks embodies the ideology embedded in Musk’s inner circle, which includes other high-profile figures such as Jason Calacanis, Sriram Krishnan and his brother Kimbal.

With its basis in Silicon Valley libertarianism, this movement emphasises the value of the game-changing individual over established groupthink. But it also adopts aspects of conservative scepticism towards liberal institutions.

Antonio García Martínez, a former Facebook product manager turned tech commentator, sums up the movement as “a revolt by entrepreneurial capital against the professional-managerial class regime that otherwise everywhere dominates (including and especially large tech companies)”. He adds: “That same PMC (which includes the media) is treating it as an act of lèse-majesté”.

At the heart of this new philosophy is the complaint that professionals are constraining risk taking founders by forcing them to conform to a bureaucratic worldview founded on values that opponents consider “woke”.

Or, as Martinez puts it, Musk is targeting “the entire HR regime, the ESG grifters, the Skittles-hair people with mouse-clicking jobs who think themselves bold social crusaders rather than a parasitic weight around any organization’s neck”.

For his part, Sacks remains a figure in the background with no formal ties to Twitter. However, he looks set to push his political agenda further.

Sacks has previously made donations to both the Democrats and Republicans but last year hosted a fundraiser for Ron DeSantis, the Republican Florida Governor who has been tipped to take on Donald Trump in the race for the 2024 presidential nomination.

According to The New Republic, a new political funding organisation dubbed Purple Good Government PAC was established over the summer. Purple Good has already raised $125,000 from Sacks and his wife, and filings show people from his network connected to the organisation.

It took a long time for Sacks' philosophy to reach the mainstream. But as he writes the next chapter, it is likely to be a lot less than 20 years before the world takes notice.