James Damore went from an unknown software engineer at Google to widespread internet notoriety when the technology company fired him for writing a memo criticizing diversity initiatives.
But as mainstream journalists across the globe reached out to him for interviews this week, Damore largely ignored the queries and instead selected two rightwing YouTube personalities to make his first, expansive comments on the international firestorm he has ignited.
Damore – who argued in his memo that “biological” differences between men and women contribute to the gender gap in the tech industry – gave lengthy video interviews to Stefan Molyneux and Jordan B Peterson, who both have large followings on YouTube and have espoused anti-feminist views.
The videos posted Tuesday, which quickly racked up hundreds of thousands of views, come as Damore has threatened to take legal action against Google over his termination, making him an overnight celebrity amongst the “alt-right” and other conservatives in Silicon Valley.
The podcasters provided a sympathetic audience for Damore, who also argued that Google is intolerant of rightwing viewpoints and that companies discriminate against white men with diversity and inclusion initiatives. (Google remains overwhelmingly white and male, with women occupying just 20% of the technical workforce and African Americans at 1%, according to company statistics).
Molyneux, host of the Freedomain Radio, billed as the “largest philosophy conversation in the world”, has posted videos titled Why Feminists Hate Men: What They Won’t Tell You! and Feminism is Socialism with Panties. He made headlines last year when he hosted an infamous internet troll, Charles Johnson, who was previously removed from Twitter after seeking donations to “take out” a Black Lives Matter activist. Molyneux has also spoken at men’s rights conferences.
Peterson has claimed that the “idea of white privilege is absolutely reprehensible” and “dangerous” and has criticized the concept of “safe spaces” at colleges and women and gender studies.
“If you need a safe space, see a therapist,” he said recently. Peterson, also a University of Toronto psychology professor, has faced backlash for discriminatory remarks against transgender students, saying he would refuse to use gender-neutral pronouns for trans and non-binary students who don’t identify as male or female. At the time, he slammed the “social justice warrior, left-wing radical political activists” on college campuses.
Damore told Molyneux he was inspired to write his manifesto after attending a Google diversity program he found offensive.
Damore told Molyneux he was inspired to write his manifesto after attending a Google diversity program he found offensive. Photograph: Mike Blake/Reuters
Damore initially told the Guardian he would answer questions by email on Monday, but then stopped responding to inquiries. He had a few brief email exchanges with reporters, including at the New York Times, Bloomberg and the rightwing site website Breitbart.
However he appears so far only to have given extended interviews to the two relatively obscure YouTube personalities.
It is unclear how the two secured the interview, or whether Damore had previously been a listener to either of the podcasts. Molyneux and Peterson did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Damore told Molyneux in his 45-minute long interview that he was inspired to write his manifesto after attending a Google diversity program that he found offensive.
“It was totally secretive. And I heard things that I definitely disagreed with,” he said. “There was a lot of just shaming and, ‘No you can’t say that, that’s sexist, you can’t do this.’ There’s just so much hypocrisy.”
Damore has faced widespread scrutiny this week, with journalists investigating his time at Harvard where he reportedly was involved in a sexist skit in the systems biology program. His LinkedIn profile had also said that he obtained a PhD, but a Harvard spokeswoman confirmed that he only completed a master’s degree in 2013 before starting at Google.
One former Harvard student, who was in the systems biology program at the same time as Damore, told the Guardian that it was not surprising to find out he was the author of the controversial manifesto, which was widely criticized for relying on shoddy science.
“His comments do not reflect the ability to read literature critically that a typical Harvard student develops over the course of actually completing a PhD,” the former classmate said.
Damore’s views, the source said, made him an outlier in the department, which values diversity.
“It’s pretty unusual someone would have those opinions and be stupid enough to voice them,” the former classmate said. “Part of me worries that he got into some dark corner of the internet.”