billionaire Republican mega-donor, credited with helping propel Donald Trump to power, announced on Thursday he was selling his stake in Breitbart News after being accused of fuelling the rise of the alt-Right.
In a memo sent to employees of his hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, Robert Mercer denied that he was a white supremacist and dissociated himself from the views of Milo Yiannopolous, a Rightwing provocateur.
“I was mistaken to have supported him, and for several weeks have been in the process of severing all ties with him,” wrote Mr Mercer, according to Buzzfeed News.
Mr Mercer’s deep pockets and stake in Breitbart News, the conservative news service, made him a key player in last year’s election. His close relationship with Steve Bannon, who served as Mr Trump’s chief strategist at the White House, also meant the campaign had access to his data analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica.
However, he has come under increasing pressure for views expressed by contributors and staff at the news site.
In particular, it emerged last month that Mr Yiannopoulos was filmed in April 2016 singing America the Beautiful at Dallas karaoke bar as his audience raise their arms in Nazi salutes.
His critics say Mr Mercer’s move is too little, too late.
Rick Wilson, a Republican strategist and a prominent figure in the Never Trump movement last year, said the site had already unleashed dark forces.
“The damage of Robert Mercer’s money to promote white supremacists, anti-Semites, conspiracy theory lunatics and the whole jetsam travelling behind the sewer barge of Donald Trump, that damage is already done,” he said.
In his memo, Mr Mercer distanced himself from Mr Bannon and said his intention had only ever been to stimulate debate by highlighting the hypocrisy of political correctness.
“I have great respect for Mr Bannon, and from time to time I do discuss politics with him,” Mr Mercer wrote. “However, I make my own decisions with respect to whom I support politically. Those decisions do not always align with Mr Bannon’s.”
He also announced he was stepping down as co-chief executive of Renaissance Technologies, the $50 billion hedge fund.
Investors had come under pressure to withdraw their money as controversy grew over the role of Breitbart in stoking the hard Right.
Matt K Lewis, a conservative commentator and author of Too Dumb to Fail, a recent history of the the Republican Party, said others had distanced themselves from Mr Yiannapolous in February when he resigned from Breitbart over comments he made appearing to defend paedophilia.
“Robert Mercer has probably done more than any single person to destroy the conservative movement and now, because it has become irrefutable that Milo and Breitbart were tied to white supremacists, he wants to salvage his reputation? I’m sorry you don’t get to do that,” he said.
In recent weeks, Mr Mercer has been accused of fomenting a civil war within the Republican Party. He is backing Mr Bannon in putting up a slate of insurgent candidates in primaries to challenge members of Congress they believe are too centrist ahead of next year’s mid-term elections.