brock pierce

Sebastiaan ter Burg/Flickr (CC-BY-SA)

This crypto-billionaire is running for president with Akon at his side

He's the only candidate with Akon advising him.

Oct 9, 2020, 11:05 am*

Tech

Eamon Whalen 

Eamon Whalen

“I’ve been doing impossible things for a long time,” said Brock Pierce. A former child actor who is now one of the wealthiest people in cryptocurrency, Pierce told me that his whole life he’s been “testing the idea” of whether something is impossible, or simply, “outside of the scope of reality in its present form.”

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In November, when Pierce turns 40 years old, he’ll take on “the biggest, most impossible mission there is.” Twenty-four years after he starred alongside Sinbad as the mischievous son of fictional United States President Paul Davenport in the movie First Kid, Brock Pierce is running for president of the United States. 

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We spoke on the steps of the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul on the morning of Sept. 3, moments after Pierce’s official announcement. Pierce was clean shaven and upbeat, and had his shoulder length hair swept back under a red, white and blue trucker hat with his campaign’s logo, the letter B written with a bolt of lightning. 

“I’m not sure there’s a more dangerous job,” said Pierce, of trying to break the United States much-maligned two-party duopoly. “I’m not sure there is a bigger or bolder job.” 

Brock Pierce is, in short, the most famous man running for president you’ve never heard of, and to match, he’s assembled the most bizarre campaign team you’ve ever heard of. 

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Pierce’s running mate is a fellow tech entrepreneur named Karla Ballard, who is light on political experience but is drawing on her heritage as a descendant of the third U.S Vice President Aaron Burr. Pierce’s campaign manager is digital data activist Brittany Kaiser, the former Business Development Director turned whistleblower at the infamous British data firm Cambridge Analytica. The last addition to the team was his new chief strategic advisor, a personal friend of his, the multi-platinum Senegalese-American recording artist Akon. 

In recent years Akon has become a well-known philanthropist and an enthusiastic proponent of cryptocurrency, saying in 2018 that it could be “the savior of Africa.” The day before Pierce’s ceremony in St. Paul, Akon laid the first stone of AKONCITY, what he plans to be a futuristic utopia akin to a “real life Wakanda.” Outside of Dakar, Senegal, concept plans have it set to be constructed by 2030, and Akon plans for it run entirely on his own form of cryptocurrency, Akoin

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(There are many reasons to doubt the feasibility of the project, such as the fact that under 40% of the Senegalese population owns a cell phone that would be necessary to access Akoin, and early stills on Akoncity’s website had borrowed images from another futuristic planned Senegalese city, Diamniadio Lake City. But just like Pierce, the goal is to apparently aim for the impossible). 

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Perhaps Pierce selected Akon for his campaign because of his own crypto-utopian ambitions. Pierce moved to Puerto Rico in 2018 after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, as part of a movement of “Puertopians,” who have been said to think of the island as their own blank canvas. In an article in the New York Times, Pierce was portrayed as the de-facto political and spiritual leader of Puertopia. But, “make no mistake,” wrote the best-selling journalist Naomi Klein of Puertopians in her book The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes on the Disaster Capitalists, “the true religion here is tax avoidance.”

Pierce wanted to come home to the Twin Cities to formally announce his insurgent candidacy. He grew up in St. Louis Park, a suburb west of Minneapolis and in the early 1990s Pierce attended an audition to play a young Gordon Bombay (portrayed by Emilio Estevez) in the first two installments The Mighty Ducks film trilogy, which were set and shot in the Twin Cities. “I think everyone wants to come back and do something good for their community. The place that gave them life,” said Pierce. 

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I arrived at the plaza in St. Paul to see a crowd on the steps of the capitol building, outfitted with campaign signs and shirts, chanting “Brock the Vote.” The number of Pierce staffers outnumbered the media scrum, which included only this reporter and a handful of camera crews from local television news. 

Kaiser, the campaign manager, began the ceremony by declaring that in the midst of the Pierce campaign, she had learned that there is something “every single American agrees upon,” that can unite us all. Kaiser didn’t divulge what that was, and her own personal politics are hard to pin down. She described herself to the Guardian in 2018, as, “more libertarian these days, to be fair, but I’ve always been a far left, human rights activist.” Yet, Kaiser also took on a key role in what turned out to be an ethically disastrous company owned by the right-wing billionaire Robert Mercer, and said she used to have a spare key to “The Embassy,” the D.C townhouse that former Trump campaign manager and Cambridge-Analytica board member Steve Bannon used as the headquarters of Breitbart News.  

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After Kaiser left Cambridge-Analytica and became one of their foremost public critics, she was remorseful at what she had wrought. “To be honest, I regret not spending all those years only working for causes I believed in,” she said to the Guardian. “I’m not so interested in standing up for powerful white men who don’t have everyone’s best interest at heart.” 

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If that’s her desire, it would seem that Kaiser has chosen the wrong new job, because soon after the ceremony in St. Paul, an appellate division of the Supreme Court directed the New York State Attorney General to further investigate the cryptocurrency that Pierce created called Tether “stablecoin,” and whether it’s backers are misrepresenting the value. Then Pierce was served with securities fraud papers at his own campaign rally in New York City on September 15, reported on Twitter by the lead counsel in the lawsuit

Then in an interview with the Daily Beast, reporter Tarpley Hitt noted that Pierce’s own contributions reveal someone who shouldn’t be described as an arbiter of independence. Although he did support former Obama advisor Brian Forde’s run for California’s 45th Congressional District in 2018 (a campaign buoyed by the cryptocurrency community), Pierce’s political contributions—like most people who are worth hundreds of millions of dollars—appear to be driven by his own financial interest. That is to say he’s donated large sums of money to Republicans, including President Donald Trump, as recently as last year. 

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FEC filings show that in 2019 alone Pierce donated $50,000 to the Trump Victory PAC, $44,400 to the Republican National Committee and $17,800 directly to Donald J Trump For President, Inc. There are also past contributions for smaller sums to Republicans like Marco Rubio, Rick Perry, and John McCain. Pierce claimed to the New York Post that his contributions to Trump were based purely on getting access to lobby him on Puerto Rico relief efforts.

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More troubling for Pierce, Kaiser, Ballard, and Akon than Pierce’s political contributions and potential financial malfeasance is the fact that anyone running through Brock Pierce’s biography will quickly run into the words “child sex abuse scandal.”

* * *

Learning about Brock Pierce’s life after acting is like staring at a funhouse mirror of tech eccentricity. He doesn’t like to talk about his wealth, but he said in an interview that, “a billionaire is someone who’s positively impacting the lives of a billion people.” He had his wedding at Burning Man, and he’s been known to carry a bag full of traditional plant medicines everywhere he goes (“This idea of making nature illegal? It doesn’t sound right to me,” said Pierce.). He said he once accidentally tossed a hard drive that contained 50,000 Bitcoin, what today amounts to a few hundred million dollars. If that sounds like something someone on HBO’s Silicon Valley would do, it’s because it was. Pierce may have shared this story with the writers when he served as a technical consultant on one episode Mike Judge’s tech satire.

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But the more you look into the details, Brock’s funhouse looks more like a haunted house. 

Pierce’s first business foray was the video streaming start-up Digital Entertainment Network (DEN), a predecessor to Youtube and Netflix that was flush with investment money in the late 1990s. At age 17, Pierce moved in with his business partners Marc Collins-Rector, who was in his early 40s, and Chad Shackley, who was in his early 20s, and they all lived in a mansion in Encino, California. One of their first programs, Chad’s World, seems to have been partly inspired by their living arrangement. It featured a pre-American Pie Seann William Scott in a story about a teenage boy grappling with his sexuality who leaves home to escape a traumatic incident and moves in with two adult men in a Los Angeles mansion. 

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Chad’s World and DEN never got off the ground, because in 1999 Collins-Rector, Chad Shackley, and Pierce resigned after criminal allegations arose accusing Collins-Rector of abusing underage boys at the Encino mansion. Then in 2002, Pierce, Collins-Rector, and Shackley were arrested in Marbella, Spain and Interpol found weapons and child pornography in the house they were staying at. Collins-Rector would later end up pleading guilty to multiple charges of child enticement, serve out his sentence and flee the country for Europe, where BuzzFeed located him in 2014

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Aside from paying $21,600 to a lawyer of one of three plaintiffs in a 2000 sexual-abuse lawsuit, Pierce has made out of the DEN scandal without any criminal charges. He adamantly claims that though he was close to Collins-Rector, he was totally unaware of his sexual abuse, and refers to reporters to a document when asked about this episode in his life. 

Stories of DEN resurfaced after the death of the notorious billionaire pedophile Jeffery Epstein. When Epstein’s extensive social network began to be revealed, it came out that Pierce had attended Epstein’s Mindshift Conference in 2011 in the Virgin Islands. Pierce’s Bitcoin Foundation also had a formal partnership with the former director of the MIT Media Lab, Joi Ito, who resigned for trying to conceal MIT’s close relationship with Epstein. Pierce maintains that he had no idea who Epstein was before Mindshift, but given Pierce’s past associates, the affiliation will likely trail him. 

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In the early aughts, Pierce found his next endeavor turning virtual gold to legal tender in the Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game industry. In fantasy games like World of Warcraft, virtual weapons could be sold for real-world money. As Radar Magazine wrote in 2007, Pierce’s company Internet Gaming Entertainment (IGE) “hires gamers—thought to be Chinese nationals working in virtual sweatshops—to rack up items inside the games and sell them for real-world dollars to participants who have more money than skill. While not illegal, such deals do run afoul of game rules and are detested by many players.”

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At IGE Pierce hired a man named Steve Bannon, and they worked together closely for seven years. As the journalist Joshua Green wrote in the 2017 book Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency, it was there that Bannon saw the untapped political potential of discontented gamers. “These guys, these rootless white males, had monster power,” he told Green. Bannon’s time at IGE provided him the “conceptual framework” that he would use to “ help marshal the online armies of trolls and activists that overran national politicians and helped give rise to Donald Trump,” wrote Green.  

“I haven’t had any business with him for over a decade,” Pierce said of Bannon. “But I pay attention.” What Pierce learned from Bannon’s rise is that “the establishment is losing its power.” But for Pierce, that’s where the similarities between he and the man who built a platform for the “Alt-Right” end. Still, he couldn’t help but take a little bit of credit for Bannon’s rise. “It seems to be a regular occurrence in my life,” said Pierce. “People who work with me go on to do big things.” 

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Pierce told me he believes Akon will likely vye for elected office soon, and that he’s just one of many to be inspired by the Brock For President campaign. “Akon and dozens, soon to be hundreds of entrepreneurs, artists, business people, educators, scientists, they’re all telling me ‘Brock, I might run for office. I’ve never thought of this in my life but you’ve given me permission to think about this,’” Pierce said. Pierce’s measurement of success if whether he can spark a movement. If he can do that, he’s a winner. Even if he doesn’t get one vote.  

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But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t see a path to victory. Remember what he said about impossibility and the scope of our present reality?

In the case that the electoral college has no outright winner, the decision is made by the House of Representatives in what’s called a contingent election triggered by the 12th Amendment. It’s happened once, in 1824, but Pierce believes that if there would be a 269-269 electoral college tie between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, he could step in to unite the deeply polarized nation. That’s why he’s spent over $500,000 on payments to a ballot-access firm called Acelevate 2020, to get him on the ballot of 15 states, three more states than the biggest third party sideshow attraction, Kanye West. He thinks his best chance for an upset is in the increasingly crypto-friendly Wyoming. 

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“I talk to a lot of the top political operatives and strategists and I explain this to them, and they say, ‘who are you?’ And I say well I’m not a guy who is limited by the status quo,” said Pierce. 

“And they’re like, ‘whoa,’” he said.  

Still, it remains to be seen whether Brock Pierce For President genuinely excites anyone beyond Brock Pierce. “There is something about rapidly becoming rich from money that you literally created — or “mined” — yourself that lends an especially large dose of self-righteousness,” Klein wrote of the Puertopian movement. After witnessing Pierce’s bizarre campaign rally, it might also lend a sense of self-delusion. 

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Between his associations with convicted pedophiles from Collins-Rector to Epstein, the thousands of dollars in donations to the Republican Party, his affinity for Carribean tax havens, and formerly close working relationship with Steve Bannon, Pierce seems to have all too much in common with the types of rich guys most Americans have become all too familiar with over the last decade. 

There were three young women who had shown up late to the rally midway through Pierce’s speech and found a spot amongst the throng of “Brock Stars.” They seemed excited to be there. After the speech I approached them and asked who they planned to vote for in November. 

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“Probably Biden,” they answered. 


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*First Published: Oct 9, 2020, 7:00 am