Disappointing. That was what Justin Aguilera thought of the turnout at a rally in downtown San Jose last month to support President Donald Trump’s bid for reelection.
Aguilera says a “silent majority” of Republicans claim to be Democrat in Silicon Valley just to avoid “confrontation and harassment.”
“There’s a lot of people that are scared. They really are, they won’t go out there,” said Aguilera, 32. “If you don’t have passion in something, and you can’t stand for something, what can you represent?”
This is the predicament he says conservatives face living in Silicon Valley, what many view as a liberal stronghold in the United States.
In San Jose, local GOP leaders say people fear losing their jobs by sharing views in contrast to the liberal ideologies of prominent tech companies.
“People who work there are afraid to voice their opinions,” said Shane Patrick Connolly, the chair for the Santa Clara County Republican Party.
Connolly, who advocates and fundraises for Republican politicians in Silicon Valley, says that the fear of being openly conservative affects more than just dialogue.
“The vast majority of money goes to Democrats in this area,” Connolly said. “The Democratic Party takes in a lot more money than the Republicans.”
He believes part of the reason there’s less money for conservatives is that people are afraid to contribute because their names would be disclosed on donor lists per campaign finance law.
“They’re afraid there’s consequences for their jobs,” Connolly said. “A lot of people who (say) ‘well I would come to one of your events, I would donate, but I don’t want my employer to know. It’s like they belong to some sort of secret society.”
But when it comes to the letter of the law, San Francisco attorney Harmeet Dhillon has fought to protect conservatives expressing views deemed unfavorable by their institutions — especially in the liberal bastion of Silicon Valley where simply sporting a red MAGA cap could easily make you a target.
“There are several career and social consequences for sharing conservative viewpoints,” Dhillon said. “They have a certain viewpoint and punish people for being conservative.”
Dhillon, who is on the Republican National Committee, is litigating several high profile cases alleging discrimination toward conservatives that have resulted in job loss and injury.
After James Damore was fired from Google for sharing a memo which said that there was a disparity between male and female tech workers for biological reasons, Dhillon filed a civil suit against the tech giant alleging discrimination.
The lawsuit alleges that Google discriminated against white and Asian male job applicants while hiring and shaming employees who shared viewpoints the tech giant perceived as conservative.
But Dhillon says many conservatives conceal their views in the workplace.
“In my law practice I’ve encountered people that quote-unquote pass as a ‘Bernie bro,” Dhillon said. “People can not be themselves at work.”
However, tech executives are not uniformly liberal. In 2016, former PayPal executive Peter Thiel stood out as an open supporter of Trump. But despite Thiel’s openness about his views, Connolly says not every person in the Silicon Valley workforce has the same ease and the fear of workplace retaliation is what he feels pushes conservatives into the closet.
“Some of the rank and file engineers and coders aren’t as secure as Peter Thiel,” Connolly said. “The folks that are the rank and file workers of the industry or area don’t necessarily have that.”
Outside of the workplace, San Jose drew the ire of many Republicans for numerous reported assaults against people attending a Trump rally downtown.
“When you ask a conservative today, ‘would you like to go to a political rally supporting the president? Most people would say no,” Dhillon said.
Dhillon has also filed a lawsuit against San Jose police alleging that they failed to provide adequate protection for attendees of the rally.
“The cliche was it must be easier to be out of the closet as a gay person in the Bay Area than it is to be a conservative,” said Connolly, who is openly gay. “And there’s some truth to that, especially being someone that’s both.”
Connolly believes he has been excluded from parties and other social events because of his politics and who he chooses to support. Both Connolly and Aguilera say that Republicans in San Jose don’t always fit one stereotype.
For example, Aguilera is a Latino millennial who proudly supports Trump. That raises more than a few eyebrows in Silicon Valley.
“Latinos are far more conservative than people think,” Aguilera said.
Aguilera admits that he had voted for Barack Obama during the 2008 election, and that he decided to vote for Trump in 2016.
“It just felt like (Obama) wasn’t there for the American people,” Aguilera said. “He’s just a good presenter, he’s a good salesman, saying this is what we’re doing, but there’s no solution.”
Aguilera explained that he hopes that Silicon Valley can move past the traditional party lines to become more inclusive. Part of that change, Aguilera said, comes from younger people running for and winning political office.
Aguilera himself unsuccessfully ran for Congress against Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) for Congressional District 19, last year.
He says he prefers to avoid confrontation when it comes to speaking out about his conservative values. Aguilera hopes Republicans living quietly in Silicon Valley, who are fearful to share their views, can be more open.
“It’s just sad that a place that we live in that’s so diverse, that you’re scared to go out and show who you are,” Aguilera said.
Contact Mauricio La Plante at [email protected] or follow @mslaplantenews on Twitter.