The evolution of Blake Masters

The Arizona GOP Senate candidate — who just earned Trump’s blessing — decries ‘open borders’ but once called for ‘unrestricted' immigration while praising drug smugglers as ‘heroes’

Blake Masters, an author and venture capitalist now seeking the Republican nomination in Arizona’s high-profile Senate race, has cast himself as an outspoken immigration hawk who frequently inveighs against the dangers of “open borders” amid an influx of “illegal aliens” from Mexico carrying enough drugs “each month,” he warns, “to kill every American twice over.”

“Not on my watch,” Masters declares on his campaign site, pledging to “finish the wall,” “triple” the number of Border Patrol officials and “always oppose amnesty for illegal aliens,” among other measures. “As your Senator I will fight tirelessly to end illegal immigration and secure our border.” 

While stridently worded, such hardline policy objectives are by no means unusual for a Republican primary candidate in Arizona, where border security is among the top issues. Masters’ approach stands out, however, because it is so strikingly at odds with sentiments he expressed in the mid-aughts as an undergraduate at Stanford University.

In a series of short, polemical blog posts, Masters once suggested that “illegal immigration is an ethical contradiction in terms,” argued that “‘unrestricted’ immigration is the only choice,” and commended U.S. service members who had participated in a drug trafficking ring along the southwestern border as “heroes,” among other things.

The posts, published to a LiveJournal account in 2005, when Masters was 19, were recently unearthed by Jewish Insider and have not previously been reported. The account was operated under a pseudonym, but a person familiar with the entries — who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal — confirmed to JI that Masters had written them.

Amalia Halikias, a spokesperson for Masters’ campaign, did not respond to numerous calls, text messages and emails from JI over multiple days. Masters himself did not respond to requests for comment from JI via text.

Masters, who is now 35, composed the entries nearly 17 years ago, when he identified as something of a libertarian purist whose deep skepticism of state power appears to have influenced a proudly laissez-faire approach to drug legalization, military authority, unfettered immigration and even the pretense of national borders themselves.

In one representative entry, for instance, Masters suggested that a government-drawn border is just a “line in the sand,” and said that libertarians “would have no trouble stating that ‘illegal immigration is an ethical contradiction in terms, with regards to nation-states.’”

“Does this mean unrestricted flooding of immigrants and the stereotypically ensuing anarchistic chaos? Hardly,” he explained, using the abstract jargon typical of undergraduate students entrenched in political theory. “The key to the puzzle is private property rights. Anyone can clearly see the arbitrary and even violent foundation of a nation state…after all, are we really supposed to believe that a government can draw a line in the sand, and that the people living on one side are somehow inherently different or deserving of more or less rights (i use a negative concept of rights here) than those on the other?”

Elsewhere, Masters applauded U.S. law enforcement officers involved in a widespread criminal conspiracy — uncovered by an FBI sting operation known as Operation Lively Green — to smuggle cocaine into the U.S. from Mexico. The drug bust, Masters insisted, had “it backwards.”

“For seeking a profit while conducting trade between groups of consenting adults, in the face of government oppression, these men and women arrested in the latest cocaine sting are heroes,” he proclaimed. “Furthermore, since many were members of the armed ‘services,’ the time they spent focusing on conducting this voluntary and peaceful trade was more time they were unable to spend executing a far less peaceful profession: that of a state soldier or military officer.”

The blog posts provide unique and seemingly unvarnished insight into the mind of an opinionated young political activist, once steeped in libertarian thought, who is now gaining traction in his first bid for public office while promoting a completely different message.

“Under Democrat rule, we have drug mules crossing the border freely while brave American law enforcement officers die to save their lives,” Masters said in one recent tweet. “Democrats have given up on you,” he charged in another, promising to “put an end to smuggling.” The border, he bemoaned, “is wide open” as “tons of drugs pour into Arizona.”

Masters claims to have jettisoned his libertarian views and embraced right-wing orthodoxy when he became a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump, whose policies he has championed as a Senate candidate. On Thursday, following months of speculation, Masters notched a coveted endorsement from Trump, who praised the political newcomer as “a great modern-day thinker” who is “strong on border security” and will “support our military and our vets.”

“It’s incredible to have his endorsement,” Masters said in a statement last week. “I wish everyone could know how this feels. Soon we will have a young, fearless, dynamic America First coalition in the U.S. Senate and that is thanks to Donald Trump.”

Since he launched his campaign last summer, Masters has gained prominence as a figurehead in the so-called “national conservative” movement, which hews to a style of reactionary populism that has recently gained a foothold within the Republican Party. Curtis Yarvin, the “neoreactionary” blogger who is viewed as an intellectual godfather of national conservatism — and openly favors monarchy over democracy — seems to appreciate Masters’ approach. He gave the maximum amount allowed for individual contributions, $5,800, to Masters’ Senate campaign.

Even as Masters claims to have evolved in recent years, his older writings suggest a deeper penchant for extreme and often contrarian views that seem to be a defining feature of his political self-conception. 

That he is given to significant ideological shifts — veering from an unqualified endorsement of open borders to vilifying undocumented immigrants, for example — could raise more immediate questions over the positions he is likely to adopt if elected to the Senate.

Of course, Masters first needs to advance past the August primary, where he is among five Republicans jockeying for the chance to unseat Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ), who is seen as a vulnerable incumbent. Trump’s blessing is all but certain to give Masters’ campaign a much-needed boost in the final months of the race. Polling has shown him in third place behind Mark Brnovich, the attorney general of Arizona, and Jim Lamon, the well-funded solar executive who has said he will spend $50 million on his campaign.

While Masters is comparatively under-resourced, he has benefited from at least $13.5 million in outside support from a super PAC funded by a powerful mentor, the billionaire tech investor and Republican donor Peter Thiel.

Masters, the former chief operating officer of Thiel Capital and president of the Thiel Foundation, first met his future boss at Stanford Law School, where Thiel taught a class on startups. Then in his mid-20s, Masters was so impressed that he published his notes on a personal blog, which would form the basis for Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, the bestselling book he co-authored with Thiel in 2014.

Prior to running for office, Masters — who is now known as a fierce critic of Big Tech — seems to have been an enthusiastic user of social networking sites and other online message boards. 

As recently as four years ago, for instance, he was posting his favorite book covers and children’s home decor ideas to Pinterest. Between 2012 and 2015, the Tucson native — who found success in Silicon Valley before returning to Arizona — maintained a Tumblr page, featuring personal and professional updates such as the birth of a son and a round of fundraising for a legal research and analytics startup he had co-founded.

Masters was also apparently an active commenter on web forums for gun enthusiasts and weightlifters. Back in 2008, for example, on a site called GlockTalk.com, a user named “kinggps,” who claimed to be “located in Tucson,” expressed interest in buying “a cheap 12g, an SKS, AK’s, or a good .308 bolt action rifle, among other things,” concluding, “and go Ron Paul!” — a reference to the former libertarian congressman from Texas who was then running for president. (Masters supported Paul’s campaign.)

On another site, BodyBuilding.com, a user with the same “kinggps” handle described himself as “a 6’3″ college student weighing in at 185 pounds” and “training to walk-on to” his school’s varsity basketball team — as Masters had tried to do at Stanford. (The former athlete has said he “ultimately didn’t make” the cut, but did serve as a male practice player with the Stanford women’s basketball team during his time in college.) 

In documenting his progress, the aspiring basketball star uploaded a number of shirtless selfies showing a man, who appears to have been a young Masters, flexing his muscles in front of a mirror while holding a digital camera. (The photos were removed from the site shortly after JI shared them with Masters’ campaign on Friday, though the profile page remains online.)

Photos posted to the “kinggps” account on BodyBuilding.com

While the exact meaning behind “kinggps” is unclear, Masters has long favored the moniker as an online handle, according to three high school friends who spoke with JI. It was, Masters’ old classmates said, the screen name he used for his AOL instant messaging account when he attended Green Fields Country Day School, a private school in Tucson that closed in 2019.

If the message-board comments are largely amiable and even earnest at times, Masters’ LiveJournal entries are, by comparison, contemptuous of power. 

The account was created on May 12, 2004, and last updated on Oct. 20, 2005 — two years before the site was purchased by a Russian media company. Founded in 1999, LiveJournal was once a popular blogging platform that served as an online diary of sorts where users posted confessional writing and other musings, back when the internet was a far more anonymous domain. It is now widely viewed as a repository of neglected accounts that many users have likely forgotten to deactivate.

LiveJournal was allegedly hacked in 2014, and emails and passwords associated with more than 26 million users were later leaked online. Among the accounts compromised in the security breach was “kinggps,” according to DeHashed, a searchable database that collects leaked information. The email connected with the account, DeHashed indicated, was [email protected], while the password included Masters’ initials, BGM, along with a string of numbers that seem to represent his birthday, off by one day.

The website Have I Been Pwned?, which announced in 2020 that it had obtained the data from the LiveJournal security breach, also revealed that a LiveJournal account tied to the email [email protected] had been compromised.

Though his LiveJournal account has been dormant for years, Masters seems to have used the platform as a testing ground for intellectual ventures, despite having published only four posts. Even writing under an alias, he showed interest in engaging with the limited number of readers who happened upon his blog.

“Let me know what you think,” he concluded in one entry, eliciting a comment from a fellow LiveJournal user who had recently been introduced to Masters through a mutual friend and was intrigued by the staunchly libertarian thrust of his opinions.

The former acquaintance — who confirmed that Masters was behind the blog — recalled reading and remarking on his posts during the brief period his account had been active in the late summer and early fall of 2005. The user, whose LiveJournal account is now private, was unaware their comments were still visible on Masters’ page until JI inquired about them on Monday. The comments have since been deleted.

For his part, Masters appears to have been a gruff interlocutor, if also somewhat apologetic for his unsparing tone. “Sorry if I come across as an asshole when it comes to politics,” he said in one exchange, on the merits of a series of Supreme Court rulings. “I just refuse to compromise when I’m dealing with freedom and peace. But no bad feelings. I am actually kind of normal outside the political realm, anyways.”

During his time at Stanford, where he received a political science degree in 2008, Masters was a lonely if exceedingly capable student who was known to spend time in the college library researching and writing papers for other undergraduates who paid for his services, according to two former friends from Tucson who kept in touch with him in college and said he had bragged about the scheme.

“He just thought Stanford was really, really easy and he was not challenged,” one childhood friend, who grew apart from Masters over his political views, said in an interview with JI.

In many instances, Masters’ LiveJournal posts suggested a similar attitude, as he expounded on a variety of subjects with characteristic bluster.

“I don’t care about the Supreme Court,” Masters declared at the beginning of one entry. “It just doesn’t matter. That everyone thinks it does, or should, only illustrates the degree to which people prefer to dwell on what they’re fed than actually think. But I’m bored, I’ll play along. If I did care about the Supreme Court, here’s what I’d say.”

Among his arguments was the surprising suggestion — buried in a parenthetical near the end of the post — that American democracy had been a misguided experiment. The Founding Fathers were “wrong to set up the Supreme Court (and, by extension, the entire government),” Masters argued. “To their credit, I doubt they ever imagined we were going to be conditioned to worship democracy and let things get so messy.”

Now that he is running for Senate, Masters has taken a more active interest in the High Court, alleging that Democrats are “chomping at the bit” to “pack” the bench and describing President Joe Biden’s newly confirmed Supreme Court pick, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, as a “pedophile apologist.”

While the blog posts contradict Masters’ current thinking on a range of key issues, they also demonstrate how his political beliefs have, by varying degrees, shifted from one extreme to the other over nearly the past two decades.

“That’s the biggest surprise for us, meaning anybody who knew him,” Collin Wedel, a Tucson native who said Masters had been one of his closest friends until they stopped talking because of political differences that arose during the Trump era and have continued into the Senate bid, told JI. “If he had announced that he was running for Senate on some kind of weird libertarian, we-should-have-a-gold-standard platform, I think all of us would have said, ‘Well, yeah, that was Blake.’”

Before Trump, Wedel said in a recent interview, Masters had long espoused the views of a “classic, extreme libertarian” who endorsed “open borders,” backed the gold standard and identified as an “outspoken” supporter of abortion rights. “Blake was the one who convinced me to be pro-choice,” said Wedel, who is now an attorney in Los Angeles. “I remember him arguing with me. I mean, it was Tucson, Arizona, in the ‘90s, so it was a very conservative evangelical community, and he was not that.”

“How can you control somebody else’s life or body?” Wedel said Masters had once reasoned while questioning the anti-abortion line.

Masters now says on his campaign site that he is “100% pro-life,” describing Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion at the federal level, as “a horrible decision” that “must be reversed.”

Masters’ teenage scribblings weren’t reserved exclusively to LiveJournal. In recent weeks, he has faced scrutiny for a provocative essay — published on a libertarian website in 2006 and discovered by JI — in which he referenced a “poignant quotation” from Hermann Goering, the high-ranking Nazi leader, while arguing that “the U.S. hasn’t been involved in a just war in over 140 years,” among other tendentious assertions.

In a statement to JI in late April, Masters acknowledged that he had gone “too far” when he said “that no recent American wars have been just,” but he did not address his decision to include the Goering quotation.

Speaking last month with Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who has hailed Masters as “the future of the Republican Party,” the Senate hopeful boasted that “most” of the essay — which had also cited a noted conspiracy theorist who has been accused of espousing antisemitic tropes — “holds up” in hindsight. “I explain how the state often uses propaganda to sell its wars,” Masters said on Carlson’s TV show, where he is a frequent guest. “I pointed out that that’s what the Nazis did.”

Masters, who describes himself as an “anti-progressive,” has expressed some surprise that his views have fueled controversy. But he has also often invited criticism, not least in a series of online ads whose stark imagery and alarming rhetoric have drawn national attention. In the videos, Masters has falsely asserted that “Trump won in 2020,” declared that “psychopaths are running the country” and argued that Americans “should be able to raise a family on one single income.”

Yet the revelation that Masters once quoted Goering seems to have unsettled the typically unflappable Senate candidate, notwithstanding the persistent accusations of extremism that have been directed at his campaign. Rather than bending to what he has criticized as a harmfully censorious media culture, Masters has aggressively pushed back against the “cheap journalist tactic” of “guilt by association,” rejecting the implication that he had in any way been wrong to invoke a Nazi war criminal who was known as Hitler’s right-hand man. 

Last month, Masters even threatened litigation against an Arizona Mirror reporter who wrote that he had “praised” Goering — an allegation Masters disputed as defamatory in a letter from his attorney. “Blake Masters Is Not and Never Has Been a Nazi Sympathizer,” the letter said, while arguing, among other things, that JI’s initial report had made no such claim. The Mirror article has since “been updated to change the reference to Masters’ 2006 writing,” according to an editor’s note.

Not long after Trump issued his endorsement last week, Lamon had already gone on the offensive, releasing an attack ad designed to ensure that voters would not forget the contents of Masters’ college essay.

“You think you know Blake Masters?” a narrator intones, before noting that the Republican Senate candidate had “called World War II unjust,” “extensively quoted an antisemite who believes Jews and Zionists are bent on world domination” and “unironically quoted a Nazi war criminal.”

On Friday, Masters responded in a video statement he shared with his nearly 130,000 Twitter followers. “Lamon basically calls me a Nazi, an antisemite, he implies that I somehow dislike veterans or that I support terrorism,” he said bluntly, his toddler-age son nestled in one arm. “It’s the worst.”

“As my competitors self-destruct, I’m sure these attacks are only going to increase,” Masters speculated. “They’ll interview my classmates from middle school. They’ll pore over whatever I may have written as a teenager and try to twist it all out of proportion. But I’m not going to get sucked into that kind of petty, dirty politics because I actually have something concrete to talk about — an optimistic vision to save Arizona and save this country. President Trump sure saw the difference between me and Jim Lamon.”

Still, Masters’ critics — particularly within Arizona’s Jewish community — remain convinced that the Nazi quotation was objectionable, even if his decision to mention Goering had been “the opposite” of an endorsement, as he argued at a local Republican club event.

“The overlap between conspiracy theorists and antisemites is quite strong,” Tim Eckstein, who chairs the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix, explained in an email exchange with JI. “Masters is no exception. The Goering quote is, in and of itself, not antisemitic. It is that Masters cannot appreciate that other non-Nazis have said similar things, and there is something pernicious in quoting Goering, or any other prominent member of that murderous regime. For him, it is all one big game.”

Masters does appear to delight in prodding at liberal orthodoxies. Lately, he has taken heat for blaming gun violence on “Black people” and agreeing with an interviewer who likened campaign finance law to Kristallnacht. Masters has also promoted the “great replacement” theory, arguing that Democrats want to “change the demographics of this country,” while vowing to impeach Biden over what he characterizes as the president’s egregiously lax immigration policies.

Not unexpectedly, Masters held an opposing view as a college student. “People are free to move from place to place,” he wrote in one of his LiveJournal entries, “so long as they do not violate the property rights of the owners.”

In the following post, Masters held forth on the occasional merits of both conservative and liberal viewpoints — suggesting an ecumenical outlook that now largely appears to have vanished as the former libertarian seeks the kind of political power he might once have impugned on his LiveJournal account.

“Sometimes the conservatives are morally right, and sometimes the liberals are morally right,” Masters wrote. “Sometimes everybody’s wrong.”

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