Robert Mercer (pictured) started his career as a computer scientist and went on to become joint CEO of Renaissance Technologies, “a hedge fund that makes its money by using algorithms to model and trade on the financial markets”. The company specialised in automated share trading. This has made him a billionaire and he has since donated 10s of millions of dollars to Republican election campaigns and ultraconservative causes, including the Heartland Institute, a think tank that specialises in climate denial.
Mercer was one of the largest donors to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. In 2016 the Washington Post “named him one of the ‘top 10 most influential billionaires in politics,’ alongside Rupert Murdoch, the Koch brothers and President-elect Trump.” Mercer donated millions of dollars to the conservative PAC, Make America Number 1, chaired by his daughter Rebekah. In this way "Mercer seems to have bought more influence over Trump’s campaign than any other donor".
Mercer also owns 90% of Cambridge Analytica, which has been described “as a central node in the alternative news and information network”. Guardian reporter, Carole Cadwalladr, found evidence suggesting Robert Mercer and Steve Bannon, vice-president of Cambridge Analytica, were “on a strategic mission to smash the mainstream media and replace it with one comprising alternative facts, fake history and rightwing propaganda”.
Mercer donated $10 million to help fund Breitbart News, a hugely popular right-wing news website started by journalist Andrew Breitbart who has since died. Steve Bannon subsequently became its controversial executive chairman,
The site now has 2 billion views each year and is “the biggest political site on Facebook. The biggest on Twitter”. It “regularly hosts anti-Semitic and Islamophobic views, and is currently being boycotted by more than 1,000 brands.” It launched a UK version of its website in 2014 in time for the general election. Its editor, Raheem Kassam, had been a chief adviser to Nigel Farage, leader of Ukip.
Breitbart News is also “credited with serving up fake and hyped-up articles to incite Trump’s base”.
Mercer also funded the Government Accountability Institute (GAI), co-founded by Steve Bannon. GAI claims to be able to do the sort of long-term investigative journalism that modern mainstream media outlets are no longer able to afford.
Reference: Carole Cadwalladr. ‘Robert Mercer: The Big Data Billionaire Waging War on Mainstream Media.’ The Guardian. 26 February 2017.
In 2015, Steve Bannon described to Forbes how the GAI operated, employing a data scientist to trawl the dark web (in the article he boasts of having access to $1.3bn worth of supercomputers) to dig up the kind of source material Google can’t find. One result has been a New York Times bestseller, Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich, written by GAI’s president, Peter Schweizer and later turned into a film produced by Rebekah Mercer and Steve Bannon.
Stories like this are reported by the mainstream media and dominate the news agenda, displacing other news (‘strategic drowning’).
The Mercer Family Foundation, chaired by Rebekah Mercer, gives millions of dollars each year to conservative causes including think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and the Manhattan Institute (both of which have Rebekah on their boards), and the Cato Institute, Citizens United, right-wing media organisations such as the Media Research Center, the Government Accountability Institute (GAI), and Breitbart News, and a variety of climate denial groups such as the Heartland Institute and the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (OISM).
Reference: Sue Halpern. ‘How He Used Facebook to Win.' The New York Review of Books, 8 June 2017.
Robert Mercer’s daughter, Rebekah, served on Trump’s transition team and has stayed on as a Trump adviser. She now runs Making America Great, a pro-Trump advocacy organization largely funded by her father that is dedicated to creating influence campaigns to push what has been called a nationalist—anti-immigration, anti-government —agenda. Its day-to-day director is Emily Cornell, who stepped down as Cambridge Analytica’s senior vice-president for political affairs to take the position.
© 2017 Sharon Beder