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Little about Palmer Freeman Luckey's outward demeanor screams dangerous political provocateur.
The 24-year-old creator of virtual reality headset company Oculus Rift, whichFacebook bought for $2 billion in 2014, could at best be charged with murdering a dress code. Luckey favors flip-flops and T-shirts at work, and was barefoot for a 2015 Time cover shoot.
Sportsfile/Corbis via Getty Images
And yet that laid-back California vibe masks right-leaning political views that have gotten Luckey into hot water of late, as some in the largely liberal tech sector call for the engineer's head while developers vow to stop building programs for Oculus.
On Thursday, The Daily Beast reported Luckey had donated $10,000 to Nimble America, a conservative non-profit with a mission to develop memes to attack Hillary Clinton. One was a billboard outside Pittsburgh that featured a distorted image of Clinton with the caption, "too big to jail."
On Friday night, Luckey, whose net worth is $700 million, took to Facebook to apologize for actions that were "negatively impacting the perceptions of Oculus and its partners." Luckey explaining that he contributed because he thought Nimble America "had fresh ideas" on communicating with young voters. He denied Daily Beast's claim that he was a founder of Nimble America.
Luckey added that he considered himself a Libertarian and a fan of Ron Paul, and that he would be voting for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson for president. "I am committed to the principles of fair play and equal treatment," he wrote.
Outcry over Luckey's support for the meme-generating, anti-Clinton group puts parent Facebook again in the uncomfortable situation of deflecting queries on the political actions of those close to senior management.
In May, Facebook board member Peter Thiel was discovered to have spent $10 million to secretly back a lawsuit against Gawker Media that resulted in the blogging site's bankruptcy. Other tech leaders lambasted Thiel for being anti-free speech, particularly given Facebook's huge influence over news distribution. Facebook distanced itself from Thiel's action, saying he did so on his own.
Facebook and Luckey did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
Luckey hasn't been nearly as vocal about his politics as fellow Libertarian Thiel, who spoke at the Republican National Convention. Still, insights into Luckey's views can be gleaned from tweets he has liked. These include alt-right comments on topics ranging from immigration to Gamergate, according to news site Motherboard, which compiled a list of Luckey's liked tweets.
For example, on September 12, Luckey liked a tweet by right wing blogger Mike Cernovich that criticized Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for speaking at a gender-segregated mosque.
A few days later, Luckey liked a tweet by Nicole Edelman — aka Nikki Moxxi, a woman Luckey allegedly has been dating for years who is known for tweets mocking SJWs, or social justice warrior protesters. (Ridiculing "SJWs" is a shared trait of Twitter users who often mocked female video-game critics who complained video games were sexist during the vitriolic online controversy known as GamerGate.)
Edelman's tweet linked to a Trump campaign press release accusing Hillary Clinton of promoting "birther" claims against then candidate Barack Obama in 2008.
Hitting a little Twitter icon shaped like a heart is not the same as stumping for a point of view. But in aggregate, Luckey's liked tweets might explain why the multi-millionaire would toss what is for him mere spare change at an organization that echoes his views.
By his own accounts, Luckey's world view was formed in fairly shielded environment. Raised in Long Beach, Luckey was home-schooled by his mother. His father worked for a car dealership.
When he met with with USA TODAY in 2014 to discuss the yet-to-be released Oculus Rift, Luckey spoke about spending most afternoons parked in front of the six-monitor computer set-up in his bedroom, talking with fellow nerds about video games. Many of the staffers at Oculus are friends Luckey met on gamer forums.
Luckey loved to dabble with electronics at home, often with little regard to his own safety. "I got shocked a lot," he told Rolling Stone for a May profile. "Looking back, it's honestly a miracle I am not dead."
While at California State University-Long Beach, he interned at USC's mixed reality lab. That move that would seal his future, as Luckey would go on to create a rudimentary virtual reality headset that instantly rendered more complex and costly variants obsolete.
While Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has not yet weighed into the matter, Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe wrote on his Facebook page: "Everyone at Oculus is free to support the issues or causes that matter to them, whether or not we agree with those views. It is important to remember that Palmer acted independently in a personal capacity, and was in no way representing the company."
Others dug a little deeper. Nonny de la Pena, a virtual reality veteran whose interns at the University of Southern California's mixed reality lab included Luckey, wrote on Facebook that "feeling dismayed barely describes my sentiments."
De la Pena added that while Luckey "has the right to offer political support to anyone he wishes, as a woman working in technology who has faced many disparaging remarks, who also had amazing but undocumented grandparents from Mexico, and who has witnessed her mother subject to racist comments firsthand, the things Trump says sicken me."
Veteran tech blogger Richard Scoble wrote a short treatise on Facebook arguing that Zuckerberg should fire Luckey, not so much due to his political views but rather because Oculus under Luckey's watch is inferior to the HTC Vive headset. "Luckey hasn't done a good job for you," writes Scoble, noting that Luckey has spent time engaging people on Reddit instead of running the company. "Get some management that understands how important this market is."
The quality of Oculus Rift aside, a number of VR programmers have responded to Luckey's conservative donation by announcing that they would stop developing for Facebook's VR device.
"Hey @oculus, @PalmerLuckey's actions are unacceptable," read a tweet from VR game developer Tomorrow Today Labs. "NewtonVR will not be supporting the Oculus Touch as long as he is employed there."
While Scruta Games and a few other VR companies expressed similar sentiments, such stances often are met with blistering criticism. In responding to Tomorrow Today Labs' stance, WolfLoot tweeted "Ur anti-freedom," while Scott Malcomson wrote, "What 'actions'? Voting for someone you don't like? Grow up."
Luckey has yet to say more publicly. In past interviews he's come across as a decidedly young, newly minted corporate titan possessed of a intense passion no matter what the topic.
Chris Dycus, an Oculus hardware engineer, told Smithsonian magazine in a 2014 article that Luckey was "enthusiastic about everything. Like, go ask him why McDonald's isn't actually that bad for you, and you'll get talked to for an hour."
Perhaps the only hint of Luckey's sense of conviction came from Iribe, who told USA TODAY: "He's fun to work with, opinionated when he believes in something and pushes forward forcefully."