253 minutes with …Jeffrey Wernick
New York magazine|February 15–28, 2021
The 65-year-old Parler investor is caught up in a technological, legal, and political debacle of the highest order.
BENJAMIN WALLACE

In the summer of 2019, Jeffrey Wernick, then a 63-year old investor and self-described anarcho-capitalist, was living above a hotel in midtown Manhattan and hosting regular lunches at Fred's at Barneys, where he’d extol bitcoin and rue the sunset of free speech in America. It was at one of these gatherings that he got to talking with John Matze, 26, the libertarian who had recently founded Parler—a Twitter alternative for conservatives fed up with what they considered to be the suppressive policies of mainstream social media.

Wernick doesn’t particularly like social media (“It’s antisocial,” he told me), but he appreciated Parler’s purity: The platform showed posts in simple chronological order with rather laissez-faire content moderation. A few months after the encounter, Wernick invested in the start-up and became a strategic adviser. “I thought it would be really perverse if the World Wide Web existed without there being a real public forum,” he said. “The town square has been hijacked by private actors, and a public square no longer exists.”

Wernick, who has a shaved head and has been photographed wearing both fashionably thin and fashionably chunky eyewear, was speaking by phone from California at a moment when it’s quite easy to imagine a world without Parler. Since some of its users were in the insurrectionist crowd that stormed the Capitol on January 6, the social network has borne nearly fatal consequences. Apple and Google removed Parler from their app stores, Amazon Web Services booted the company from the cloud, and smaller tech partners it depended on, like Okta and Twilio, also severed ties. Parler, whose app had surged from about 12,000 downloads a week to 268,000 in the three days after the riot, now exists as an unusable, static website. Recently, Parler’s controlling shareholder, Rebekah Mercer, fired Matze, leaving Wernick as one of the few grown-ups remaining in the effort to get it back online. As we spoke over a series of calls, he sounded remarkably calm for a sexagenarian swept into cleaning up a technological, legal, and political debacle of the highest order.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM NEW YORK MAGAZINEView All

Wang Off Duty

The designer Alexander Wang was famous for his partying. Now, he could become infamous.

10+ mins read
New York magazine
March 1-14, 2021

The Hierarchy of Tragedy

In this British series about the AIDS crisis, doom confers importance.

6 mins read
New York magazine
March 1-14, 2021

The Power Grid: David Freedlander

Cuomo, Wounded Amid the governor’s scandals, his enemies are ready to unleash a decade of resentment.

6 mins read
New York magazine
March 1-14, 2021

The newest fashion trend in New York is— unironically, hyper-speciically—New York itself.

A FEW MONTHS ago, I met up with a friend who works in fashion for a socially distanced walk through Prospect Park. I noticed she was wearing a Yankees cap. Three years ago, she would have been dripping in Dries. “These days, it’s all I want to wear,” she said. I’m pretty sure she can’t name anybody on the team.

10+ mins read
New York magazine
March 1-14, 2021

The Fresh-Faced Veteran

Youn Yuh-jung’s heart-shattering performance in Minari is likely to get an Oscar nod. She’s been doing this too long to care.

10+ mins read
New York magazine
March 1-14, 2021

The Knickerbocker Bar & Grill

The neighborhood fixture has been dark for a year, but there’s hope yet for fans of T-bone steaks and supercolossal booths.

9 mins read
New York magazine
March 1-14, 2021

The Group Portrait: Working Wave After Wave at Elmhurst

Approaching 365 days in a hard-pressed hospital.

3 mins read
New York magazine
March 1-14, 2021

Speak, Memory

A disorienting close-up on a mind that’s beginning to fray.

4 mins read
New York magazine
March 1-14, 2021

Artist Emily Mason's 4,700-Square-Foot Studio Is Just As She Left It

She painted there for 40 years.

2 mins read
New York magazine
March 1-14, 2021

Fresh Pasta, Frozen Feet

Braving the elements for a taste of Rome off the Bowery.

2 mins read
New York magazine
March 1-14, 2021