Peter Thiel’s support and backing of Donald Trump hadn’t been sitting well with Cosmo Scharf for a while.
The 21-year-old had a unique tie to the venture capitalist: Scharf was a Thiel Fellow, one of the 20 or so kids a year given $100,000 to drop out of school and chase their entrepreneurial dreams.
Scharf, who received the money for his work in the virtual reality community in LA, was concerned about Thiel’s backing of Trump from the beginning. He’d been uneasy about it, but realised when he was in the shower the morning after Trump won that he just couldn’t be a part of the program because Thiel had helped him win.
“I knew for months about his general support. It always didn’t really sit well with me for a while,” Scharf told Business Insider. “The breaking point for me was realising that he did have some part, small or large, in helping get him elected and the fact that it happened changed my perspective on it.”
On Thursday, Scharf made the choice to drop out of the Fellowship program and published a Medium post announcing his decision. The money he has received thus far in the program he says he will be donating to a charity that will help climate change, a global issue that Trump has repeatedly denied. He also won’t accept any money that’s left in the fellowship’s $100,000 grant to him.
“The consequences of this election is much larger than what’s going on in America and it seems like it would make sense to put the money towards something that would save our planet,” Scharf said.
Turning it down
It wasn’t an easy decision as a young adult to turn down $100,000 but Scharf wrote in his post that he “cannot justify being associated with someone who helped a psychopathic, sexist, racist, bigoted, xenophobic, poisonous demagogue rise to power.”
Any of those words, he told Business Insider, would be enough for him to not want to associate with a person, but Thiel did more than just associate with Trump. Thiel, a Facebook board member and venture capitalist, appeared onstage at the Republican National Convention and also pledged to donate $1.25 million to the then-Republican nominee.
“Fundamentally when you put your money towards getting him elected, you tacitly condone and accept Trump’s words and his actions,” Scharf said.
While Scharf never received outside pressure from friends or family to turn down the Thiel-tainted money, he says his mum and friends accepted his decision to turn the money down. When he called the Thiel Fellowship on Thursday, they were nice and didn’t pressure him to reconsider or argue any pro-Trump viewpoints, Scharf said. The Thiel Foundation didn’t respond to a request for comment on Scharf’s departure.
Scharf says the election now motivates him more than ever to work on what virtual reality means in a larger context of the world. He believes the technology, which can fully immerse someone into a new situation, is something that can help shift people’s perspectives and change how they think for the better — and it’s now needed more than ever to bring that diverse perspective, he argues.
“There’s obviosuly a lot of factors for why Trump has won, and important reason is sort of ignorance based on lack of access to diverse thought and diverse opinions. Based on where people live, they don’t see people that aren’t like them every day. They absorb what is said in TV and on Facebook,” Scharf said.