Late on Tuesday night, just hours before he would depart the White House for the final time, President Trump pardoned a raft of dubious characters including Anthony Levandowski, a former Waymo engineer and Uber executive who was sentenced to prison after being found guilty of taking Google designs for autonomous vehicle technology to Uber.
In a statement, the White House revealed the pardon was “strongly” supported by a long list of powerful people, including Peter Thiel and Palmer Luckey, both big names in the tech industry that have long supported Donald Trump and his policies.
Peter Thiel is, of course, the billionaire venture capitalist who believes monopolies are good and that universal suffrage was a mistake, has a totally normal interest in transfusing the blood of young adults to improve his body’s ability to rejuvenate, attends dinners with white supremacists and nationalists, and who took down Gawker. He’s a co-founder of Palantir, the surveillance company that frequently paints itself as a champion of liberalism for working with Western militaries—ignoring their own histories—while loudly advocating for tech nationalism and proudly working with immigration authorities to terrorize, detain, and deport migrant families.
Palmer Luckey, founder of Oculus VR, is an acolyte of Thiel’s whose far-right politics came under scrutiny after he was caught donating to a group circulating racist memes online. Like Thiel, Luckey also runs a surveillance company named after an artifact from the Lord of the Rings universe; Anduril is solely focused on contracts with the military, but especially border projects to also help immigration authorities terrorize, detain, and deport migrants.
During his trial, Levandowski was represented by Ismail Ramsey, Miles Ehrlich, and Amy Craig of the Ramsey & Elhrich law firm, the latter two of which are named in the letter as supporters of the pardon. There’s also Ryan Petersen, a tech executive who, in 2016, expressed “remorse” about taking money from Peter Thiel after learning of the investor’s support for Donald Trump. There are more Thiel acolytes here: Blake Masters, the chief operating officer at Thiel's capital firm, President of the Thiel Foundation, and co-author with Thiel of Zero to One; James Proud, former Thiel fellow and founder of a doomed start-up that wanted to disrupt sleep.
The Uber-Waymo dispute was a legal drama that spanned years and resulted in Levandowski being sentenced to 18 months in prison in August of this year for theft of trade secrets. His stint in prison was held off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Levandowski was a high-profile engineer at Google before leaving to found the self-driving company Otto, which he sold to Uber in 2016. Google sued Uber for the theft of trade secrets arising from the sale, and Levandowski caught a criminal charge due to taking Google-patented technology with him when he left. In addition to getting prison time, Levandowski had to pay millions to both Google and Waymo, in addition to fines.
The White House’s pardon statement says “Mr. Levandowski has paid a significant price for his actions and plans to devote his talents to advance the public good.”
It’s worth noting that for all of the years of litigation, the criminal charge, and now the last-minute presidential pardon from a departing authoritarian, Uber’s work on self-driving cars that Levandowski went down for amounted to nothing. Last year, Uber sold off its self-driving division.