Over the past six years or so, the billionaire venture capitalist Marc Andreessen has been inching ever closer to the right end of the political spectrum — at least according to his Twitter activity, which shows a blossoming affection for the alt-right. What happened to the once-liberal Andreessen? Is this the natural ideological evolution of a billionaire and former Democrat over 40? Or was Andreessen dosed with the dreaded “red pill”?
First, a little history. The now-infamous concept of “red pilling” comes from the 1999 movie The Matrix, in which Neo, played by a trench-coated Keanu Reeves, is given the choice to take a red or blue pill: the red one revealing the truth about the world, the blue one providing security, happiness, and blissful ignorance of society’s ills. In the last decade, being “red pilled” has come to indicate one’s support of the online right or the men’s rights movement. A popular eponymous subreddit, which is currently “quarantined” due to its offensive content, was formed in 2012 — which, coincidentally, was when Marc Andreessen broke from his Democrat-leaning past to support Mitt Romney. Thus, for alt-right and affiliated white-nationalist groups, the redpilled are ready to see how deep the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories goes.
Yet Andreessen's heel-turn may not be that complicated. Rather, his turn to conservatism is perhaps the result of what could be called the “gold pill” — a turn to conservatism due to one’s considerable affluence. In many cases, the accumulation of vast wealth requires an ideological justification that eschews Trumpian vulgarity while maintaining a facade of intellectual respectability. The 47-year-old Andreessen and his wealthy Generation-X peers are simply more inclined to hoard their money — and thus become more conservative — as they become richer and richer. As the man himself said in 2012, “I was a big Clinton and Gore supporter in the ‘90s… I turned 40 last year and so I figured it was time to make the switch.”
One of the web's earliest innovators, Andreessen has lived most of his life online. In 1994 he helped create the Netscape Navigator browser, which was sold to AOL five years later. From there, he became a highly influential (and mega-rich) angel investor. Through his venture capital company, Andreessen Horowitz, Andreessen has his fingers in a number of Silicon Valley pies, from Facebook — where he's been a member of the board since 2008 — to Twitter, LinkedIn, and eBay. This has all been very good for him: he has an estimated net worth of $1.3 billion.
But outside of Silicon Valley, Andreessen might be best known for his Twitter account, which has more than 700,000 followers. There, Andreessen goes by the handle "pmarca," a name that he first used on his old blog and which means “private Marc Andreessen.” His avatar has, in recent years, been various South Park characters; it’s currently Charlie Brown. He’s also known, for better or worse, as the “father of the tweetstorm.”
In the early years of this decade, Andreessen's threads focused mostly on the tech industry and the evolution of social media. He tweeted extensively about what he believes is the ability of the sharing economy to reduce income inequality, the economic benefits of tech disruption, and Facebook’s effect on mental health. His account became a must-view feed for the tech and journalist set.
That all changed in 2016.
Andreessen started that year already on thin ice with Twitter users. In January, he was called out for consorting with the white-nationalist troll and former Breitbart scribe Milo Yiannopoulos, writing that Twitter’s removal of Yiannopoulos's verification checkmark raised “the tantalizing scenario that your account has been taking over by an imposter who can exactly replicate your mojo!” Oy. Predictably, Andreessen's joking around with one of the most-hated harassers on the internet wasn't what his followers wanted to see from one of the most powerful men in Silicon Valley.
Anger at Andreessen really exploded the next month, when he made a number of ill-received comments about India after the country put in place internet regulations similar to net neutrality. The regulations dealt a fatal blow to Facebook's “Free Basics” program, in which the social-media giant could control which websites impoverished people accessed in exchange for providing internet services.
The regulations were “morally wrong,” Andreessen said — and he didn’t stop there. “Another in a long line of economically suicidal decisions made by the Indian government against its own citizens,” he tweeted.
Despite building outcry, he kept going. “Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades. Why stop now?” he wrote.
After being thoroughly excoriated for his imperialist hot take, Andreessen retreated, deleting the offending tweets and offering a mea culpa. “I apologize for any offense caused by my earlier tweet about Indian history and politics,” he wrote. “I admire India and the Indian people enormously.”
Fast forward to seven months later, when he deleted the entirety of his timeline and went silent, citing a need to take a break.
“I feel free as a bird,” Andreessen said at the time.
But he slowly crept back online (if he even left in the first place). At first, as Gizmodo noticed in November 2016, he began liking others’ tweets leading up to and after the election, despite his own timeline silence.
"Even though Andreessen hasn’t been tweeting himself," Gizmodo reported, "he’s still engaging with the social media platform’s worst feature — other people’s accounts."
In February 2017, he briefly returned to the platform, offering people the opportunity to ask him a question (“why did you block me?” Slate’s Will Oremus asked) and receive an answer for a $20 donation (later a $100 donation) to the nonprofit Black Girls Code.
After that, Andreessen’s timeline went silent again (though he kept faving tweets and following people). But this July, he decided to return to Twitter to share what he was reading with the world, and the books he recommended showed the first cogent hint of his rightward tilt. Among books on business and investing were a few eyebrow-raising selections: the popular and controversial psychology professor Jordan Peterson's 12 Rules for Life, British journalist Douglas Murray's The Strange Death of Europe, which has been criticized as an anti-migrant, xenophobic book, and libertarian activist Martin Gurri's The Revolt Of The Public And The Crisis Of Authority In The New Millennium.
Andreessen then tweeted a number of quotes from a story published on the alt-right-adjacent website Quillette about the impossibility of moderating one's politics. The site, which was started in 2015 by Claire Lehman, functions as a gateway to far-right ideology by using largely manufactured controversies over campus free speech to lure in disaffected yuppies and older liberals disillusioned with the Democratic party (it’s a quillpill, if you will).
Though Andressen's timeline has been silent since July 7 (save for a retweet of his business partner, Ben Horowitz, in August), he has evidently been lurking on the site and faving alt-right leaning tweets.
Sometime around November 8, he faved a scolding tweet about the antifa mob that protested outside of Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s house. Weinstein drew a line from liberals protesting conservative politicians (such as Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kristjen Nielsen) in restaurants to the “threat” on Carlson's home and family (which was, of course, at best an exaggeration from Carlson but nonetheless gullibly repeated across the media).
Notice all the folks who thought it was totally edgy & cool to confront Republicans in restaurants, but who are now shocked & outraged that people would threaten @TuckerCarlson’s wife’s safety at home.— Eric Weinstein (@EricRWeinstein) November 9, 2018
Ask them: “So, what did you think was going to happen? You wanted this, no?”
Andreessen found the Carlson controversy to be a suitable time to show support for more marginal figures, too — he also faved a tweet from date-rape apologist and hard-right conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich criticizing the protest. This represents a shift in Andreessen’s liking activity, from approving of right-wingers who veil their conservatism in “facts” and “reason” to those that are outright racist, misogynist, and generally incendiary for fun.
We’ve finally gotten to a place where society is rewarding the non-violent. Let’s preserve this idea, which we now see is fragile, it was always fragile.— Mike Cernovich 🇺🇸 (@Cernovich) November 9, 2018
All violence is wrong, the stalking, the harassment, all must be rejected.
That Andreessen would approve of an alt-right kingpin like Cernovich shouldn't be too surprising — he also approved of a November 9 tweet from anti-“grievance studies” scholar James Lindsay that hinted at an acceptance for a kind of liberal transphobia. This is an opinion not out of place in the modern alt-right movement, which relies on Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro's rejection of chosen pronouns.
"As someone who is trans... thank you."— James Lindsay (@ConceptualJames) November 9, 2018
I love getting emails like this! Send more!
It's generally assumed that the work done in grievance studies is good because it aims to help disadvantaged people, but because it isn't doing its work honestly, it doesn't always help. pic.twitter.com/45N7rNatIS
He also liked a November 3 tweet from the satire site Satiria that implied politically correct language was reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984.
Journalism should be policed by Woke Social Justice Stasi Commissars to ensure that only Politically Correct Thoughts are disseminated to the masses.— Satiria (@SatiriaNews) November 3, 2018
This wil ensure wrongthink will be abolished and utopian nirvana is established.
As Andreessen has grown wealthier, the virtual world that he has helped create has become more democratic, even as the material world has grown more unequal. The internet and social media provide the masses the ability to directly address the aristocracy and that has predictable results — people relish the opportunity to speak directly to the powerful.
In such an environment, the wealthy are forced to find a way to justify their societal status in a way that normalizes inequality and makes it a function of the natural world. Anything that goes against this mandate is decried as politically correct bullshit — the anti-intellectual blather of genderless youth who need safe spaces, who can’t take the capital-t Truth that rich white men tend to freely and confidently espouse.
But sometimes, even the rich and powerful need to seek refuge — Andreessen’s account is currently protected.