June 13, 2024

Jeff Thomas, a model and social media influencer who was recently in a long-term relationship with billionaire Peter Thiel, said he spent much of his time with the tech mogul working to persuade him away from his increasingly aggressive pursuit of a culture war — a war that Thomas warned was blowing back on their community.

“I don’t side with him on a lot of political things, but I understand him,” Thomas told me in an interview last November. “I’m trying to influence him in ways to show him my heart, and show him how it affects myself, certain individuals, himself.”

Thomas said that he felt like he had made strides with Thiel, though his effort was cut short earlier this month, on March 8, when he died tragically. His death is being investigated as a possible suicide, according to a Miami Police Department report and sources who have been contacted by the police for information. Miami police have been in contact with Thiel, and will interview him as part of the probe, two sources with knowledge of the investigation said.

Thiel did not respond to texts or phone calls requesting comment. Most of the people The Intercept spoke to during this reporting have requested anonymity, citing Thiel’s relentless and successful effort to obliterate Gawker in retribution for outing him in the 2000s.

Thomas had met Thiel back in 2015 or 2016 at Coachella, he told me, where Thiel threw one of his legendary parties. “I was wondering why he was being affiliated with someone like Trump, and investing in him, if he’s gay,” Thomas said. But his own father was a Republican, Thomas said, and he grew up in Texas, so felt that he knew how to reach people who thought differently.

In 2017, Thiel married investment banker Matt Danzeisen. Thomas and Thiel eventually struck up a relationship in the early stages of the pandemic. But it wasn’t a typical relationship. Thomas described himself as being in a “kept” situation that made him uncomfortable. “It was stressful, he wanted me to get the nicest car, the nicest house. He wanted to kind of show his power, to kind of show that he had me in his dollhouse,” he said. “It’s not like I was his boyfriend, really, I was just kind of his friend that was there for him when he needed, you know, whatever he needed.”

But Thomas justified it to himself as a fair trade. “If I’m gonna give up the relationships I have and give up my dreams right now, during Covid, or dating other guys or pursuing people, then I’m going to get a $300,000 car and I’m going to get a $13 million home [on Franklin Avenue in Hollywood Hills]. So those are the things that I see fit for me to give up my freedom,” he said.

I spoke with Thomas while doing reporting for a profile of Thiel, which is ongoing. (If you knew Thomas or have any other information to share, send me a message on Signal or WhatsApp at 202-368-0859, or by email to [email protected]) Thomas also spoke with several Democratic and progressive activists who are working to expose what they see as Thiel’s hypocrisy. The activists provided recordings of interviews with Thomas to The Intercept. Some of the quotes in this story come from that audio.

Thomas figured that the relationship, and the house he was living in — a mansion at 8517 Franklin Avenue in Hollywood Hills listed at $13 million — could be a step toward a career in real estate. “It was something to do during the pandemic. I was kind of over my one bedroom apartment,” he said. “I did real estate in New York, and I was considering getting my license and doing investment — flipping homes and doing investment properties in LA and I figured that this could be maybe one of my first in my portfolio. … I knew I wasn’t going to be in it for the long run.”

Several of Thomas’s friends in Los Angeles said they often saw Thiel at Thomas’s home, and also saw Thomas at Thiel’s nearby home on Metz Place. (Unrelatedly, before Thomas moved in, the home was owned by leading figures in the bizarre NXIVM sex cult that was rolled up in 2021, according to property records.)

The parties Thiel and Thomas threw could get raucous, and Thiel himself would sometimes do the recruiting. Thiel, or someone using his Facebook account, reached out to one University of California, Los Angeles grad student, despite having no friends in common, and invited him to a party at Thiel’s house, describing the poolside scene. “Hot guys at a pool sounds like pretty idyllic gay activity to me,” the student responded, according to screenshots of the conversation obtained by The Intercept. They moved to a WhatsApp conversation using Thiel’s phone number.

“Well, it doesn’t stay idyllic too long,” Thiel’s account said, “but always lots of fun,” adding later, “Yeah, we know how to have some no holds barred gay fun.”

To paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld, there’s nothing wrong with no-holds-barred gay fun, and, indeed, the ability of consenting adults to engage in whatever private, victimless behavior they choose is one measure of a just society. It’s also what Thiel has been spending heavily to oppose.

Thiel, one of the biggest funders of Republican candidates in 2022, bankrolled a massive super PAC that backed Ohio Senate candidate and Thiel protégé J.D. Vance, called “Protect Ohio Values PAC.” He also put millions into Saving Arizona PAC, to support Blake Masters. Both candidates ran heavily on culture war issues, portraying themselves as fighting for an America with traditional conservative values against the libertine coastal elites.

“My, you know, former boss and mentor Peter Thiel is gay. I went to his wedding,” Masters said. “I wish him well. I don’t think the Supreme Court should have decided that case that way. … Marriage is between a man and a woman.”

Thiel’s account, meanwhile, told the UCLA student he had little regard for most swaths of America in a direct message: “Feel like the only places in US are LA and NYC and Miami … and maybe SD and DC and Chicago … but that’s really it.”

“I told him to stay out of politics,” Thomas said. “And he did, and so he didn’t support Trump in 2020. He stayed out of it. I was like, OK, great. So I did my part, I influenced him to stay out of it.”

Thiel backed Trump in 2020 but was conspicuously less supportive than in 2016, when he famously spoke at the Republican National Convention. “I felt like I did something. And then he started getting back into politics and supporting Trump again and all that other stuff. And I’m just like, well fuck, there’s only so much I can do and say to influence somebody.”

Toward the end of last year, Thomas was hyping himself up to make an exit. “I don’t think it’s very satisfying, to be honest, to be kept,” Thomas said in October. “I saw the spark in me fade away, and it was toxic, and it was unhealthy, and I’ve had multiple talks with myself this year, about getting out of it, and I’ve actually discussed to him about it, like, I can’t do this anymore. You know, my mental health is at risk.”

Thomas moved out of the Franklin Avenue house and to Miami, though he and Thiel stayed in touch. Thomas attended a New Year’s Eve party at Thiel’s Venetian Island compound on Biscayne Bay.

Thomas’s friends and family are sorting through the wreckage. “He didn’t talk much about Peter at all other than I knew he was living in a house owned by him,” said a longtime friend who knew him from Texas and also moved to Los Angeles. (Thiel does not own the property.) “I know that in November he had to leave that house, but he didn’t ever go into the details of his relationship with Peter.”

She had just texted with Thomas the Sunday before he died, she said, sharing the messages with The Intercept. He was excited about her upcoming baby shower. “I know what everyone who has experienced this says, but he did not seem like he was thinking about killing himself,” she said. “He RSVP’d to a baby shower in Dallas in May in LA and said how he was excited to be there.”

“The last time I talked to him in depth about his feelings was shortly after his birthday party in May,” she added. The party, according to an invitation, was at the Franklin Avenue home in Los Angeles. “We had talked about how he was having a hard time in a relationship. I’m not sure which relationship but he was having general anxiety about it.”

Thomas said the relationship with Thiel wore on him. “He knew I was a strong person, but there’s only so many times you can be strong and for how long, until, you know, you’re just not strong enough anymore,” he said. “I was honest with my family about the relationship. … I thought I was doing what I could to help secure my safety and be OK when it actually did the opposite of putting me into a position of something I couldn’t carry emotionally or physically or mentally.”

Matthew Thomas, Jeff’s stepfather who adopted and raised him, declined to be interviewed, saying, “I know the whole story, and I’ve talked to Peter a lot.”

The Daily Mail has published at least four articles on Thomas’s death, though has not mentioned his relationship with Thiel. In one article, the paper quotes his agent speculating he may have fallen to his death taking a selfie, though the agent was not present and there is no evidence to corroborate that. Thomas’s friends hope the Miami police investigate his death thoroughly.

Thomas’s brother, Skylar Ray Thomas, suggested the death was suicide in a Facebook post. “As you have followed through the years, Jeff traveled the world and lived life to the fullest,” his brother wrote. “What you may not know, is Jeff struggled with addiction and mental health challenges, which ultimately led to his tragic passing. While Jeff’s struggles were difficult, we want to remember him for the kind and caring person he was. He had a contagious sense of humor, a love for music, art and family, and a passion for helping others. He touched the lives of so many people, and his memory will live on in our hearts forever.”

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers 24-hour support for those experiencing difficulties or those close to them, by chat or by telephone at 988.