Are the Mercers Being Taken for a Ride by Their Favorite Hate-Mongering Boy Toy? – Vanity Fair
Before Trump, before Cambridge Analytica, even before the Koch brothers and the Tea Party, Bob Mercer made his fortune at a hedge fund. And it’s clear how the Mercers’ political activities replicate the fundamental strategy of a hedge fund: invest in everything that has anything to do with cultural politics, from actual campaigns to troll armies ready to take over the Internet; junk anything that fails and accelerate anything that succeeds. It’s the same on an ideological level, too, as my source familiar with the Mercers’ investments summarized it. “Every American can benefit from conservatism, and we just have to figure out how to talk about it, and how to have a winning conversation about it,” was how he said Robert described it, suggesting that there were aspects of the ideology that a diverse array of people could, at some level, accept. In the best-case scenario, Milo Inc. would be the first attempt to create a conservative-leaning talent agency, pumping out books, television shows, events, and speeches; an ideological version of William Morris, as it were.
Yiannopoulos told me that he had raised $10 million back in April, though sources maintain it was less. The funding, according to this source, was intended as seed money to see if Yiannopoulos’s grand vision of creating a media company would both open a new front in the culture war and turn a profit, or at the very least, be sustainable. “Bob loves sustainability,” the source told me, adding that Milo Inc. had an investment schedule—something that Breitbart did not when it received $10 million in 2012. “It [was] enough to put behind somebody to say, ‘I have faith in you and I’m going to stand with you,’ but it’s not enough to say, ‘Oh my god, this is the next biggest thing,’” like it was with Breitbart.
But though the Mercers may have steeled themselves for revelations like the ones published by BuzzFeed, they may not have prepared for the fact that Yiannopoulos’s checkered past involves a history of financial issues. In 2013, his former site The Kernel shut down amidst a raft of legal problems, and in 2016, he drew ire for raising nearly $350,000 for a scholarship fund and never disbursing the money. Issues like this, when seen against his well-publicized extravagances, do more than raise eyebrows. “All of their money is going to Milo so he can buy a fucking $1,500 Louis Vuitton iPhone case,” said a colleague of his.
Yiannopoulos is still living high at Milo Inc.—two sources spoke of a dinner with a bottle of Champagne that cost upwards of $1,000. Macris said that while Yiannopoulos Instagrammed the $11,000 bill from the dinner after the funding came through, ordinary expenditures have been much less. A colleague mentioned that they were considering moving out of the Meme Mansion, a house where they planned on shooting a Big Brother–esque show. The house, his colleague said, is normally populated with young men playing video games.
Lavish spending is part of Yiannopoulos’s brand, yet another bird he flips at correctness and decorum. In the midst of his Free Speech Week debacle, he told a reporter that he would hold a press conference on a nearby island, arriving on a speedboat while wearing a $15,000 fur coat. While Macris acknowledged that Milo Inc. is an “aspirational brand,” he said that luxury spending only accounted for less than 0.3 percent of the budget, and the fancy dinner parties were less than 0.5 percent. “I can assure you,“ he said, “the notion that every night, he and I are guzzling thousand-dollar bottles of Champagne and jetting around to penthouse suites—maybe next year, I don’t know.”
Meanwhile, Yiannopoulos has fallen short of some of the goals he promised for his ambitious, multi-pronged company. The Dangerous Books imprint has only published one book, which Yiannopoulos has not gone on tour to promote, and Free Speech Week was a P.R. disaster. Macris insisted the company is on schedule: “In fact, we are set to publish our next book, FATWA, by Pam Geller, on November 1.”
As for social media, the world where he first made his name, some have noticed that the investments don’t match the somewhat anemic content. “If he was pumping out a daily YouTube episode or some big, well-produced content, I’d be like, ‘O.K., money well spent,’” the frustrated associate told me. “For $10 million, you better be putting out, five times a week, quality content. Instead, he has a Facebook page where he steals memes and videos that he reposts with his logo on them.”