The firing of a Google programmer who authored a controversial memo criticizing the company’s diversity initiatives has become a cause célèbre for many on the right.
They see the case of James Damore confirming their suspicions that Silicon Valley suppresses conservative viewpoints and are turning their fire on his former employer.
Damore’s internal memo became public when published by Gizmodo last Saturday. Titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” it argued that Google’s initiatives to close its workforce gender gap were misguided because the disparity was more a result of biological differences between men and women than biased hiring practices or sexism.
Women are underrepresented in professions like coding, Damore argued, in part because they are more susceptible to “neuroticism,” leading to higher levels of anxiety and a low tolerance for stress.
The memo sparked a firestorm of controversy, reopening long debates about sexism and diversity in the tech industry. Google fired Damore on Monday.
But conservatives and activists on the right from many stripes have been rallying to Damore’s defense.
Wesearchr, a crowdfunding site that supports alt-right causes, launched a fundraiser for him that has raised $40,000 as of Friday afternoon.
Some GOP lawmakers also took to Twitter to show their support for Damore and scold Google.
“I am very troubled by @google’s treatment of James Damore,” wrote Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.). “You shouldn’t lose your job for telling the truth!”
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said in another tweet that the firing violated Damore’s First Amendment rights.
And on Friday, New York Times columnist David Brooks, seen by many as a voice for moderate conservatives, called for Google CEO Sundar Pichai to resign. Brooks argued that Damore’s memo presented valid points and was being unfairly mischaracterized by the media.
“He could have wrestled with the tension between population-level research and individual experience,” Brooks wrote in his column about Pichai. “He could have stood up for the free flow of information. Instead he joined the mob.”
A Google spokeswoman declined to comment to The Hill for this story.
For his part, Damore has welcomed his newfound prestige in right-wing circles.
He’s been retweeting messages of support sent by alt-right figures on his newly created Twitter account, which goes by the handle @Fired4Truth. His Twitter picture shows him wearing a shirt that says “Goolag” in lettering similar to Google’s logo.
He recently retweeted a post criticizing Pichai from Katie McHugh, a journalist who was fired from Breitbart in June after she tweeted an anti-Muslim comment following a terror attack in London.
And on Friday, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Damore likened Google to “a cult” and said he had been fired because of bad publicity after his memo was leaked.
“In my document, I committed heresy against the Google creed by stating that not all disparities between men and women that we see in the world are the result of discriminatory treatment,” he wrote. “When I first circulated the document about a month ago to our diversity groups and individuals at Google, there was no outcry or charge of misogyny. I engaged in reasoned discussion with some of my peers on these issues, but mostly I was ignored.”
Conservatives have seized on the controversy, saying it shows how their viewpoints are increasingly being censored in the workplace, academia and media.
And the firing is also red meat for those who see Google and Silicon Valley as a whole as too cozy with Democrats.
Conservative media outlets seized on emails published by WikiLeaks last year that showed Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google parent company Alphabet, had been collaborating closely with Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. To many on the right, the episode built on what they saw as a cozy relationship with the Obama administration.
Google, though, has been working in recent years to overcome that perception and improve their standing among Republicans. That effort has become even more aggressive since President Trump took office.
Since January, federal filings show Schmidt has given $63,600 to various Republican campaign committees, and he has reportedly met privately with administration officials and GOP congressional leaders. According to The New York Times, the company also hosted a lavish party in January for Republican lawmakers at the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building.
Google has also been ramping up its lobbying efforts. Its most recent disclosure form showed that it spent a record $5.9 million on federal lobbying in the second quarter of the year, bringing its sum for 2017 to $9.4 million.
The company has compelling reasons to be in the GOP’s good graces. In June, it received a record $2.7 billion fine from the European Union for antitrust violations, and Google’s critics have called for a similar crackdown in the U.S.
Under most Republican administrations, Google would likely have little to fear.
But Trump in his campaign promised at times to take a tougher stance against corporate giants, and others in his White House have also floated a harder line on Silicon Valley.
The Intercept reported last month that top White House strategist Stephen Bannon has argued that Google should be regulated like a public utility, akin to how telephone companies are treated.
Google’s more immediate concern is how to respond to the outcry over Damore’s firing and tamp down the controversy.
Google had planned an internal town hall on Thursday night, where Pichai would take questions from employees on diversity and directly address the firing.
But the company canceled the town hall at the last minute, after some employees who had submitted questions had their names publicized, according to reports. In an email to employees, Pichai said some Google workers had raised questions about their safety.
Groups on the right, though, are showing no signs they will let the story fade.
Right-wing activist Jack Posobiec and a coalition of free speech groups are organizing marches against Google next week to protest Damore’s firing.
“We are going to raise awareness about Google’s one-sided bias and campaign against dissenting opinions and voices,” Posobiec told The Mercury News on Thursday.
He said the marches could take place in many cities where Google has offices.
“It saddens me to leave Google and to see the company silence open and honest discussion,” Damore wrote in his op-ed Friday, delivering a warning to his former employer.
“If Google continues to ignore the very real issues raised by its diversity policies and corporate culture, it will be walking blind into the future—unable to meet the needs of its remarkable employees and sure to disappoint its billions of users.”