Silicon Valley's Hidden Conservatarians

Republican techies living in the closet

April 9, 2015

Silicon Valley has long been known for its political leanings as well as for its technical innovations. But much like Hollywood, conservatives and libertarians aren't absent from the mix. Instead, as the National Journal reported, they are hiding.

They're the tech company employees, startup founders, and CEOs who vote for and donate to Republican candidates, bucking the Bay Area's liberal supremacy. Fearing the repercussions of associating with a much-maligned minority, they keep their political views fiercely hidden.

"It's a liberal echo chamber," Garrett Johnson, a co-founder of Lincoln Labs, which was started in 2013 to connect the right-of-center outsiders in Silicon Valley, told National Journal. "People have been convinced that Silicon Valley is reflexively liberal or progressive. And so their response is to conform."

Most conservatives or libertarians in the tech business choose to hide their views rather than face potential backlash from their liberal colleagues. The consequences they fear are far ranging, from the loss of income to more subtle problems.

Another Republican who founded a small San Francisco-based startup told National Journal that he's worried potential partners and investors would be turned off by his libertarian views. Recently, it seems like all of his peers in Silicon Valley have been outspoken about their opposition to the thwarted religious liberty law in Indiana, he said. He thinks business owners should be allowed to decide whom they serve, and if they discriminate against gays, people can choose not to patronize their business. He won't discuss that view, though, or debate his left-leaning colleagues on Facebook or Twitter.

"If I were to speak out about something like that, maybe one of these companies wants to buy my company one day and the CEO is like, 'Oh, I remember this guy saying all this stuff about this thing that I really disagree with.' And that obviously could have negative effects," he said. "Getting your point across isn't worth it."

With Mozilla's Brendan Eich being forced out of the company over his opposition to gay marriage just last year, many Silicon Valley Republicans see their fears as justified. Some high profile center-right techies have bucked the pressure to keep quiet in recent years. However, other conservatives in the industry consider them the exception to the rule.

A new group, Lincoln Labs, is hoping to change that perception.

Throughout the year, the organization holds meetups and hackathons to build a "sense of community, so that people don't feel like they are isolated," Johnson said. He and Lincoln Labs' other co-founders, Aaron Ginn and Chris Abrams, want to empower a true exchange of ideas within the tech community, without ostracizing any one view.

"Silicon Valley purports to be a place where the best ideas win," Johnson said. "If we are going to encourage diversity, let's not just stop with gender and ethnicity. How about ideological perspective?"

It's unclear just how many Republicans are in Silicon Valley but the number isn't zero and some are working their way out of the closet.

Published under: California