John Matze, who was fired last week as CEO of Parler, said his former company, which purports to champion free speech, is trying to muzzle his.
Shortly before an interview with USA TODAY, Matze said he received a written warning that he violated the terms of his confidentiality agreement by making disparaging statements and disclosing inside information to the media that could have “serious and material adverse effects on the business or reputation of the company.”
Matze denies this.
“That’s not the vision I had for the company,” Matze told USA TODAY. “These people just want to censor me. Obviously, my statement about their vision not aligning with mine must be true considering they are trying to stop me from speaking my mind.”
According to Matze, Parler terminated him without severance and, in the email, indicated to him that it was stripping him of his equity in the company.
The company could not be immediately reached for comment.
How Trump’s speech went over on Parler:When Trump started his speech before the Capitol riot, talk on Parler turned to civil war
Conservative political donor and Parler investor Rebekah Mercer, daughter of hedge-fund investor Robert Mercer, previously said she and Matze started Parler “to provide a neutral platform for free speech, as our founders intended” and in response to the “ever increasing tyranny and hubris of our tech overlords.”
In a memo to Parler staffers obtained by Fox News, Matze wrote: “On January 29, 2021, the Parler board controlled by Rebekah Mercer decided to immediately terminate my position as CEO of Parler. I did not participate in this decision.”
Parler’s chief policy officer, Amy Peikoff, responded with this statement to USA TODAY: “Mr. Matze’s characterizations of the events and circumstances surrounding his termination from the Parler CEO position have been inaccurate and misleading.”
Parler is one of the social media platforms used by supporters of then-President Donald Trump to plan and chronicle the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., asked the FBI to investigate Parler’s role in the Jan. 6 attack.
Parler sued Amazon in federal court, claiming the web hosting service breached its contract.
But in a preliminary ruling, the federal judge in the case sided with Amazon, saying it was Parler that violated the terms of a contract by not removing violent and hateful speech flagged by Amazon.
Matze made his case in the press, saying Facebook, Twitter and Google’s YouTube were also used to organize support for the “save America” and “stop the steal” rally in Washington.
According to a ProPublica review of videos and other posts, Parler appeared to play a major role in the Capitol siege. A USA TODAY text analysis published this week showed that calls for civil war intensified on Parler as Trump urged his followers to march on the Capitol.
Disagreements over how to regulate that kind of speech on the platform pitted Matze against Mercer, according to Matze. He urged Parler to crack down on Neo-Nazis and any other domestic terrorism groups that incite violence, but he says his position was met with silence by Mercer.
Still, he says the blame heaped on Parler is misplaced.
“I don’t believe that any of these changes would have changed the outcome of the 6th,” he said. “I believe that would have happened with or without social media due to growing political extremism.
“People would have still gathered, they would have still been upset and they would have still heard his speech, and they probably still would have stormed the Capitol,” he said. “I think this is a failure of leadership really, in general. And it’s not just President Trump, but he is largely responsible for that.”
Launched in 2018, Parler positioned itself as a nonpartisan, free speech alternative to Facebook and Twitter with fewer restrictions on what people can say.
Matze and Jared Thomson named it after the French word “to speak.” Investors include Mercer and media personality Dan Bongino.
Parler took off during the contentious election cycle, surging from fewer than 1 million users to 15 million in January as users defected from Facebook and Twitter over their handling of Trump’s unfounded claims of voter fraud and their suspensions of the former president’s accounts.
As the social media platform grew, so did infighting over the platform’s future, according to Matze.
Parler has been
offline for nearly a month but was close to being restored when it ousted him, Matze said.
When the platform is back up and running, he says he’s not sure he will remain on it.
“I definitely want to troll for a bit on it,” Matze said. “I want to see if they’ll ban me.”