A week ago, James Damore worked at Google. Now, he’s sitting for portraits with Peter Duke, the photographer the New York Times dubbed “the Annie Leibovitz of the alt-right.”
In one photograph – the user image for an unverified Twitter account believed to be his – Damore sits in front of a blue background, holding a laptop. He’s wearing a T-shirt that has one word printed on the chest, in Google’s font. It reads: “Goolag.”
Damore, a software engineer, was the author of a 10-page internal memo at Google in which he argued that the company’s current diversity initiatives were “discriminatory” against those who weren’t women or people of color, that the company should focus more on “ideological” diversity, and that the underrepresentation of women in some engineering and leadership positions in Google’s staff was better explained by biological gender differences rather than by institutional bias.
The memo went viral at Google and then became news when its existence was leaked to Motherboard. Damore was fired for “perpetuating gender stereotypes.” But he quickly became a hero on the right-wing Internet, where a coalition of anti-politically-correct online personalities, Trump supporters and the alt-right believed that Damore’s firing was proof that Silicon Valley was hostile to conservatives – and that something was about to change.
As his Duke portraits show, that is a role that Damore has embraced. Below is a look at how he got there.
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Step one: The initial reaction
Each component of the Damore’s story read like a fulfilled prophecy for the right-wing Internet, which has spent years accusing Silicon Valley companies of conspiring to silence conservatives.
Many of the things Damore argued in that memo were more or less aligned with this viewpoint: for instance, that “Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence,” and later, that “we have extensive government and Google programs, fields of study, and legal and social norms to protect women, but when a man complains about a gender issue affecting men, he’s labeled as a misogynist and a whiner.”
Andrew Torba, the founder of Gab – a social network that has pitched itself as a Twitter alternative for those who believe the platform engages in too much censorship – told The Washington Post in an email that he believed “Damore’s memo and firing will be the shot heard across the tech world.”
Torba believes this week will be the “beginning of the alt-tech revolution,” an uprising of conservative Silicon Valley workers against the tech world’s left-leaning culture. Gab’s Medium post on said revolution is illustrated by a popular meme of Damore, in which his face has been placed over that of Martin Luther, nailing the Ninety-five Theses on the door of a church.
The Gab founder has previously said that he believes progressives have a monopoly on every major Silicon Valley company, and has built Gab as an independent, free-speech alternative – one that has been especially popular with the Trump-supporting Internet and its diaspora. Gab said in a tweet that it had raised $80,000 for its crowdfunding campaign over the past week, a period roughly aligning with Damore’s story going viral.
Torba also said that Damore’s memo was particularly well-timed, because “censorship from Silicon Valley has increased dramatically over the past few weeks.” He pointed me to this tweet for examples:
“James Damore fired
“Sargon banned on Twitter
“Diamond and Silk demonetized on Youtube
“Drudge’s tweet censored
“This is war.”
– Gab (@getongab) August 10, 2017
If you’re not steeped in this part of Internet culture, the rest of Gab’s tweet might read like nonsense. So, briefly, here’s a primer. “Sargon” refers to “Sargon of Akkad,” the pseudonym for a pundit-style YouTube personality with nearly 700,000 subscribers who is probably best known for regularly mocking and criticizing individual feminists and “Social Justice Warriors” in his videos. He was recently suspended from Twitter, and his supporters have interpreted the suspension as politically correct censorship.
Diamond and Silk are also YouTubers. They supported Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, and have accused YouTube of “demonetizing” some of their videos because of their politics (although the reality might be a bit more complicated):
“Wonder if @YouTube@TeamYouTube stopped the monetization of our videos because we are loyal supporters of the @POTUS . . ..Hummmm. . .. . .. . …”
– Diamond and Silk (@DiamondandSilk) August 10, 2017
Since Google owns YouTube, Diamond and Silk have become a part of the Damore narrative, as further proof that the company is trying to silence conservatives.
And Drudge, of course, refers to The Drudge Report. Gab is referring to an accusation one of the President’s sons made last week about a tweet of his being “censored.” He was trying to quote-tweet a Drudge tweet, but ran into an issue.
Because Damore’s memo, and firing, escaped the right-wing filter bubble and became a real, mainstream controversy, his story took on a much larger significance. Soon, some prominent personalities were talking about Damore with the language of civil rights;
“The mistreatment of conservatives and libertarians by tech monopolies is a civil rights issue. #googlememo”
– Dana Rohrabacher (@DanaRohrabacher) August 10, 2017
Step two: Offer support
Gab, along with WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, both publicly offered to hire Damore after he lost his job at Google. But the onslaught of online support that headed Damore’s way as the story about his memo blew up was more comprehensive than that.
WeSearchr, the crowdfunding “bounty” platform run by infamous Internet troll Chuck Johnson, set up a “fundraiser” for Damore that has raised $40,000 in a matter of days. The conservative media, picking up on the initial support of Damore on right-wing Twitter, began to cover the story as progressive overreach.
His new supporters believed that the only thing keeping Silicon Valley from a conservative revolution was that an army of secret conservatives were afraid to “speak out.” And despite what Google said about the decision to fire Damore, his supporters were ready to read the action as a desperate attempt to silence him and anyone like him.
If Damore became an outspoken critic of the institutions for which he once worked, perhaps it would convince others to do the same.
Torba wanted to assure me that this was already in progress. In his email, he said that “Gab has personally heard from engineers working in established Fortune 500 companies, inquiring on how they can help us create the alternative online world – a world based on the principles of freedom and the freedom to dissent.” And Breitbart has started publishing interviews with anonymous, disgruntled Google employees.
Others began to go on the attack against the people they blamed for Damore’s firing, by tracking down the names and online profiles of individual Google employees whom they believed were outspoken against the memo.
A few viral, seemingly 4Chan-sourced social media posts highlighted the names and Twitter bios of progressive Google employees, who were apparently critical of the memo internally. Conservative writer Milo Yiannopoulos posted one of those screenshots to his popular Facebook page, where it has more than 2,000 shares. Some of those employees pictured have since had to set their accounts to private.
A planned Thursday meeting at Google to address the fallout from Damore’s firing was cancelled at the last minute, due to concerns about employee harassment.
Step three: Support accepted
Damore didn’t appear to have a Twitter account before his memo went viral. On Tuesday, he apparently started tweeting as @fired4truth. The account tweeted a photo of Damore posing for a photo shoot outside of Google’s headquarters Thursday, holding up a sign that carried the same message.
And the first two long interviews he gave after his firing were to YouTube personalities who are popular on the right-wing Internet. One was Stefan Molyneux, a popular right-wing, anti-feminist YouTuber who describes his programming as “philosophy.”
Damore told Molyneux that he decided to write the memo after attending a diversity training session at the company. There were portions of the training he “definitely disagreed with,” he said.
“There was a lot of just shaming and, ‘No, you can’t say that, that’s sexist, you can’t do this,’ and there’s just so much hypocrisy in a lot of the things that they are saying,” he said.
The other interview, posted Wednesday, was with Jordan Peterson, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto who runs a popular YouTube channel that regularly goes after what Peterson believes to be “political correctness.”
In his 50-minute interview with Peterson, Damore accused Google’s “upper management” of misrepresenting him, “just to silence me,” he said.
Later, Peterson asked him how he’s doing. “I’ve gotten a surprising amount of support,” Damore said. “It definitely sucks, but at least I was proven right,” he added. “The whole culture tries to silence any dissenting view.”
Both interviews with Damore have hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube. Two days later, Damore published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.
In just a week, Damore has become on one of the biggest celebrities on the conservative Internet. He hasn’t indicated yet what he’s doing next – Gab didn’t say whether Damore had responded to their job offer.
Meanwhile, Damore’s new online army is organizing “Marches” on Google’s office buildings to protest his firing. Damore hasn’t said whether he’ll attend any of them.