The Mercers are into the business of getting out conspiratorial/conservative news and are helping Parler get back up and running.
When social media website Parler’s founding CEO John Matze was pushed out last month, it was at the direction of a quiet but powerful political megadonor backing the right-leaning site.
Rebekah Mercer, the 47-year-old daughter of major Republican donor Robert Mercer, is a founding investor of Parler. She increasingly pulls the strings at the company, according to people familiar with the company who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private business matters. She holds the majority stake in Parler and controlled two of three board seats as of early February — a board to which she recently appointed allies.
The social media company started garnering a name for itself last year as a friendly gathering spot for Republican politicians and pundits turned off by fact-checking and moderation on sites like Facebook and Twitter. But Parler, which publicly extolled itself as a free-speech-focused network with minimal rules, became a breeding ground for conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election. The site was knocked offline shortly after the riot at the U.S. Capitol for its alleged role in allowing the rioters to plan and egg each other on.
Now Mercer, who is credited with helping get Donald Trump elected president in 2016, is working to revive the site. It came back online last week with her new handpicked CEO, former Tea Party Patriots leader, Mark Meckler, at the helm. It’s the latest in a long line of maneuvers by the Mercer family to create an alternative media industry that pushes a version of the news that fits with their right-wing, populist political agenda — while keeping a low profile themselves.
Parler executives did not respond to multiple requests for interviews or comment. Mercer did not respond to requests for comment.
Parler surged as an alternative to Twitter and Facebook during 2020, racking up 10 million users shortly after the election, largely because of polarizing politics sweeping the nation and rhetoric from prominent conservative leaders claiming that the social media giants were “censoring” leaders, including Trump. Parler was seen as a middle-of-the-road alternative social media site — a more palatable option than small, far-right sites that have been relegated from the mainstream.
Parler gained millions of users in the weeks after the election, reaching a total of 15 million accounts by January. Parler attracted high-profile users last year, including investor and conservative pundit Dan Bongino, as well as lawmakers like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). But after Parler’s more than month-long break offline, it has been forced again to try to find its footing in a saturated market — this time without a contentious election to spur growth.
Mercer has worked with her father for years to fund and support a complicated web of foundations and companies designed in part to sow distrust of big government. The Mercers invested in data company Cambridge Analytica, the firm that spurred a long-running scandal over misuse of Facebook data. They also invested heavily in right-wing site Breitbart News and were instrumental in connecting its former CEO, Stephen K. Bannon, with Donald Trump, for whom he served in a senior adviser role until mid-2017.
Rebekah Mercer was an early investor in Parler, which was founded in 2018. Co-founder Matze approached her at the time with an idea for a social media network that would take an aggressively open-Web position, asserting that people should be able to express their own views without fear of moderation from tech bureaucracies. Mercer had met Matze when he was working in IT consulting for one of her father’s ventures, Matze told Axios earlier this month.
She was fairly hands-off for the first two years of the company as it slowly established itself, the people familiar with Parler said. She dropped in only for occasional check-ins to get status updates and provide more financial capital if she deemed it was warranted. That changed last fall as Parler rapidly gained popularity and the election approached. Mercer, who also set up the board’s governing documents through lawyers, started asserting more board accountability and playing a larger role in company leadership.
Observers of the Mercer family say her interest in Parler coincides with the family’s efforts to erect an alternative media system that aligns with their political views.
“She wants to influence the public narrative,” said Mobashra Tazamal, a senior research fellow at the Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University, who has studied the Mercers for years. “She doesn’t just give money, she is involved in every entity she invests in.”
Mercer and her father have heavily invested money in populist and conservative media efforts, such as the Media Research Center, which works on “neutralizing leftist bias in the news media and popular culture,” according to its website, and the Government Accountability Institute, a conservative think tank co-founded by Bannon.
Though she has served on the boards of many organizations, Mercer typically prefers to take a background role. Her connections have historically been tough to trace because she rarely announces her investments. She only confirmed her funding of Parler on the site last fall after media reports emerged that she was involved. At the time, she positioned herself as a founder of the company.