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Opinion

Garry Tan’s tweet isn’t the danger—his push to kill liberal San Francisco is

A man with glasses and a beard stands in a dim, desaturated setting with graffiti in the background. The image is grainy with a ghostly visual effect.
Source: Illustration by RJ Mickelson/The Standard; photo by Noah Berger for The Standard

The post on X appeared at 12:25 a.m. Saturday and got 391 views before it disappeared. In a drunken rant that won’t soon be forgotten, tech centimillionaire Garry Tan spewed online death threats at several progressive San Francisco supervisors and their supporters. “Die slow,” he snarled. Later, he added, “And motherfuck our enemies.” 

After a torrent of criticism—even from the tech industry—Tan apologized and deleted the tweet, acknowledging that his screed was inappropriate and inexcusable. But, as some pointed out, Tan’s toxic rage didn’t just disappear with his deleted post and could enable more dangerous threats—harkening memories of Dan White’s reactionary rage ending with his assassination of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk in 1978.

Sure enough, a couple of days after Tan’s tirade, Supervisors Dean Preston, Aaron Peskin, Hillary Ronen and Myrna Melgar—all targets of his rage—received threatening letters stating, “GARRY TAN IS RIGHT! I WISH A SLOW AND PAINFUL DEATH FOR YOU AND YOUR LOVED ONES.” Two supervisors have filed police reports

Beyond these death threats, Tan’s rageful post raises bigger questions: When reactionary millionaires and billionaires preach abstinence and accountability for homeless people struggling with substance addiction, where is their accountability for spewing hate and rage while imbibing from their fancy indoor liquor cabinet? 

Tan’s eruption illustrates a broader reactionary movement afoot in San Francisco, which, armed with massive finances from rich tech and venture capital leaders, is directing dangerous and misplaced abuse at progressives.

Their agenda includes repealing district elections that give less-wealthy candidates a fighting chance in favor of far more costly citywide elections; criminalizing homeless people rather than ensuring they get housing; requiring drug testing for general assistance recipients; spending more money on policing and incarceration and punishing drug addicts, despite all the failures of the war on drugs.

There are two fundamental problems with this well-heeled, coordinated effort to push San Francisco to the center-right.

First, their blame-the-progressives narrative is profoundly misleading and shortsighted. Here are just a few city policies enacted by the progressives they love to hate: A living wage ordinance; universal local health care; free public transit for kids; initiatives that have provided housing for thousands of homeless people; anti-eviction protections and other safeguards that keep many renters from becoming homeless; and harm-reduction efforts that have saved hundreds of lives.

The suffering on San Francisco’s streets is brutally real. Research consistently shows the situation is caused principally by insufficient affordable and supportive housing, skyrocketing rents, medical and education expenses, personal debt and inadequate treatment for mental illness and substance abuse. Meanwhile, San Francisco is home to the highest income inequality in California, amid its bevy of millionaires and billionaires.

The second problem with Tan and his rich allies who are financing and fueling this reactionary rage: their opaque, largely unaccountable networks of dark money that amplify their narrative and fund their political takeover.

Some of their money is out in the open. Tan, for instance, has donated to the coffers of centrist supervisor candidates Trevor Chandler and Bilal Mahmood, District Attorney Brooke Jenkins and Mayor London Breed, among many others. Since 2015, Tan has spent more than $450,000 on local campaigns. 

Less transparent are the millions of dollars that Tan and many other wealthy benefactors have pumped into a growing array of centrist local groups, many with similar names, pushing to drive out progressive representatives and policies. Tan, for instance, has poured $50,000 into GrowSF, the tech-financed group that’s spearheading a “Dump Dean” campaign to oust Preston. 

Along with GrowSF, this network includes: 

  • Committee to Fix SF, to which San Francisco Standard Chairman Michael Moritz has contributed nearly $1 million so far this year
  • Neighbors for a Better San Francisco, which raised $3.1 million last year, including $875,000 from Kilroy Realty and $200,000 from private equity leader Paul Holden Spaht. It has already raised another $2 million since January
  • Families for a Vibrant SF, which is spending to help elect centrist candidates to the Democratic County Central Committee. Top funders include Ripple CEO Chris Larsen, who gave $150,000 and former Twitch CEO Emmet Shear, who gave $100,000

Tan hosted a party for many of them last November.

San Francisco’s politics are drowning in this tsunami of corporate-interest money, despite the electorate’s consistently strong support for campaign finance reform. These groups and committees spend their riches on a host of local campaigns and sometimes even donate money back and forth, the city’s Ethics Commission data shows

Flowing from a mix of Democratic and Republican billionaires, tech industry and real estate interests, this money is dominating San Francisco politics. And the campaign gold rush for elections this March and November is just starting. Tycoon and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg just plunked down $200,000 to a committee supporting London Breed’s reelection. And mayoral candidate Daniel Lurie’s mother just gave a rather generous $1 million donation to a committee supporting her son’s bid.

Make no mistake, this goes far beyond an angry death-wish post on X. Tan and his wealthy allies in the tech, venture capital and real estate sectors are creating a money-fueled political machine aimed at erasing decades of progress toward economic equity, tenants’ rights, campaign finance reform and protections for homeless people by removing progressive lawmakers and reversing policies. 

In a rather Orwellian video, Tan told the Network State conference in 2023, “We need our own parallel media. We need our own machine. … We have a parallel media now, with Elon’s Twitter or X. Getting a parallel media was a key piece, and it wasn’t done through voting; it was done by building.”

Tan went on to say, “Voting is important, but it just replaces the elected officials. … We need to replace the unelected parts as well.” He proposed a network of “parallel media and businesses” as “a possible recipe for reforming San Francisco and building the alternative tech political machine. And if it works in SF, it will work everywhere. And the cool part about it is, this is just getting started.”

Tan’s scary post had it half right: He doesn’t want progressivism to die slowly. He wants to kill it fast. This wouldn’t just harm progressives, however—it would erase the vital work they’ve done to at least alleviate harm and suffering. Now there’s a scary thought.

Christopher D. Cook is an author and award-winning journalist who has written for Harper’s, the Atlantic, the Los Angeles Times, the Economist, the Christian Science Monitor and Mother Jones. www.christopherdcook.com.