Peter Thiel is a lot of things—a Republican megadonor, an avowed fan of monopolies, and the guy responsible for this website’s former parent company, Gawker Media, going bankrupt some years ago. And if his latest public appearance is any indicator, he’s ready for war.
Specifically, war against the powerful old people at establishment financial institutions. At Miami’s Bitcoin 2022 conference on Thursday, Thiel, age 54, kicked off his keynote speech—which you can watch for yourself here—with a clip of himself in 1999 ruminating about the future of cellphones, banks, and digital infrastructure. Then, the real Thiel took the stage and said he’d start his talk the same way he’d start investor pitches in PayPal’s early days: ripping up several hundred dollars and negging onlookers for their naively shocked reactions at the guy who just ripped up several hundred dollars.
“Would the gentleman in the front row like to have the money?” He asked, crumpling the bills and tossing the wad to the front row. “I thought you guys were supposed to be Bitcoin maximalists!”
Look, a few hundreds is pocket change to Peter Thiel. He’s a multi-billionaire, meaning $100 amounts to .00001% of his wealth by a conservative estimate. But if that example of absolute Fiscal Alpha Maleness wasn’t enough for you, don’t worry, because things only got more combative from there.
After a brief and boring interlude of opining on Bitcoin and Ethereum, Thiel offered his thoughts on why crypto was lacking mainstream adoption. If you asked anyone else that same question, they’d likely offer opinions backed by tangible evidence: that the world’s already buckling technological infrastructure can’t support an energy-sucking Bitcoin wallet in every pocket, or that these currencies are too volatile to be useful for everyday transactions. But if you ask Peter Thiel, the lack of mainstream appreciation is the result of the utter failure, intentional ignorance, and desperate maneuvering of the world’s banks.
“Bitcoin is the most honest market in the world. It’s the most efficient market,” Thiel said, “It is telling us that the central banks are bankrupt, that we are at the end of the fiat money regime.”
According to Thiel, Bitcoin’s slow adoption is also due to the fact that Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell is too ungrateful to the gods of digital finance to see the opportunities it presents.
“I think the central bankers—Mr. Powell, people like that—should be extremely grateful to Bitcoin,” Thiel went on, “Because it’s the last warning they’re going to get. They’ve chosen to ignore it, and they will have to pay the consequences for that in the years ahead.”
Thiel himself isn’t known as an especial Bitcoin bull. He said in the very same Miami address that he wished he had bought into the cryptocurrency earlier. In the same vein, Powell has not made a particular enemy of Bitcoin. The regulator has expressed that he has no plans to ban cryptocurrencies and even agrees that they could very well make electronic payments cheaper and faster.
Why Thiel is going after Powell now may have something to do with the Paypal founder’s preferred presidential candidate. After secretly bankrolling a lawsuit against Gizmodo’s former owner Gawker Media, resulting in the company’s bankruptcy, the tech investor was one of the only prominent members of Silicon Valley to publicly endorse Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign. Trump nominated Powell to his post but would go on to cultivate a bitter feud with him. Trump railed against Powell as “a fail” with “no guts, no sense, no vision” whom people were “VERY disappointed in” at every turn. The day before the keynote, The New York Times reported that Thiel had joined forces with Republican megadonor and alt-right funder Rebekah Mercer to finance political candidates who were more radically right-wing than the reigning Republican Party.
Instead of breaking all that down though, Thiel cast Bitcoin in do-or-die, us-vs-them terms.
Bitcoin, he said, “is a movement, and it’s a political question whether this movement is going to succeed, or whether the enemies of the movement will succeed in stopping us.” The last five minutes of his talk were, of course, dedicated to dunking on these enemies, which he called the “gerontocracy.” In order, the Old Men of Finance on Thiel’s shitlist are:
- Warren Buffett, who is “enemy number one” and “a sort of sociopathic grandpa from Omaha,” according to Thiel
- JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon and the rest of the “New York City banker boys”
- BlackRock CEO Larry Fink
Judging by sympathetic attendees’ tweets, it seemed few were concerned about framing crypto’s growth as a cultural and political war. In fact, they welcomed it. Perhaps they knew what was coming. Eric Weinstein, a managing director at Thiel Capital, wrote of the address, “Peter Thiel making a clear declaration in Miami: the Financial Gerontocracy has declared war on Bitcoin as a revolutionary youth movement for good reason. It is thus time the revolutionary youth should understand their enemies & return fire.”