Late in January, Y Combinator CEO Garry Tan started tweeting out death threats aimed at local politicians.
“F— Chan Peskin Preston Walton Melgar Ronen Safai Chan as a label and motherf—ing crew,” Tan tweeted in the early-morning hours of Jan. 27, naming members of the city’s Board of Supervisors.
“And if you are down with Peskin Preston Walton Melgar Ronen Safai Chan as a crew f— you too,” he wrote in a since-deleted post. “Die slow motherf—ers.”
Tan also posted a picture of what he said was his private liquor cabinet. Responding to a user who suggested Tan was “hammered” while writing the post, Tan said, “you are right,” and “motherf— our enemies.”
Tan apologized the next day, while deleting the posts, saying there was “no place, no excuse and no reason for this language and this type of speech.” Sam Singer, a spokesperson for Tan, told Fortune, said “Garry Tan made a terrible, terrible mistake in quoting rap lyrics and referencing members of the board of supervisors. He withdrew the tweet and apologized to the supervisors for his lack of judgment.”
The post was a reference to a Tupac Shakur track, Hit ’Em Up. One of hip hop’s most famous “diss tracks,” it was a little over five minutes of expletive-laden fury that fueled the East Coast-West Coast rap rivalry in the 1990s and, according to Mission Local, contributed to Shakur’s shooting death in Las Vegas just three months after the song’s release.
Tan has been a loud and pugnacious commentator on the state of San Francisco, weighing in frequently on X and recently pushing to get more tech entrepreneurs involved in politics.
But despite Tan’s regret over his Tupac tribute, he clearly still feels strongly about urban crime in his city. “San Francisco, to some extent, has gouged its own eyes out,” Tan told the Wall Street Journal earlier this month, while hosting a gathering of political donors in his condo. And Tan is not alone.
The revolt of the tech millionaires
Indeed, wealthy tech executives dragging California politicians over the coals is nothing new. Sequoia Capital founder Michael Moritz has pilloried the city’s drug issues and housing costs, writing a Financial Times editorial recently describing “open-air drug markets and homeless encampments.” Tech investor Nat Friedman last year said he moved out of the city after a break-in to his home by “two meth addicts.”
Moritz and Friedman have poured money into an effort to start a new city in nearby Solano County. Tan, on the other hand, is part of a group of wealthy residents spending heavily to move the city’s politics in a moderate direction.
“For the last several decades, San Francisco politics in the Democratic Party has been controlled by progressive left-wing activists,” Singer, Tan’s spokesperson, told Fortune. “Their policies have led to a rise in violent crime, in burglaries, in car thefts, and a significant threat to public safety.”
Tan has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to the 2022 recall of San Francisco’s progressive district attorney, Chesa Boudin, and several members of the school board, according to Mission Local. The gathering at his condo was “part of the evolution of a new San Francisco that is turning the page on the failed leftist politics of the past,” Tan told the San Francisco Standard. He is also on the board of a group called Grow SF, which is focused on cracking down on drug crime, cleaning up the streets, and building more housing, according to its site.
But plenty of locals object to this overt show of power from an influential CEO who is estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Five supervisors whom Tan called out in his rap-fueled tweet told local media they received threatening letters at their home, saying “Garry Tan is right! I wish a slow and painful death for you and your loved ones.” Several of them filed police reports after receiving the letters.
Tan is taking particular aim at supervisor Dean Preston, donating $50,000 to a political action committee called “Dump Dean.” Preston, the sole democratic socialist on the board of supervisors, has attracted criticism from the right and admiration from the left for his backing of higher taxes on luxury properties as well as a proposal to tax vacant properties in the city.
Preston told Fortune while he’s received threats before, “calls for my death are a new level of toxicity from a tech executive, and are offensive and dangerous.”
“Tan’s taking a page from Trump — encouraging political violence against those he demonizes,” he said. “No person who cares about civility and decency should have anything to do with him, candidates should return his political donations, and the media should stop normalizing his toxicity.”
Preston previously told the Journal that tech millionaires’ political fundraising was “a cynical effort to control the city” and “buy political power and reshape the rules for their own economic benefit.”
Singer, meanwhile, said that while the tech industry was backing the effort, it was “being driven by neighborhood and community leaders.” Subscribe to the new Fortune CEO Weekly Europe newsletter to get corner office insights on the biggest business stories in Europe. Sign up for free.