Editorial: The Point: Hillary Clinton targets Robert Mercer's weaponization

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Robert Mercer, center, with his daughter Rebekah, left, and wife...

Robert Mercer, center, with his daughter Rebekah, left, and wife Diana at the Lincoln Center in Manhattan in April 2014. Credit: PatrickMcMullan./Sylvain Gaboury

Daily Point 

Where did Mercer's millions go? 

The name of Long Island multimillionaire Robert L. Mercer hasn't been in the news very much since the 2016 presidential race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. But clearly, Clinton hasn’t forgotten Mercer. 

In the current issue of The Atlantic, Clinton calls Mercer a “right-wing billionaire” whom she blames for largely funding Cambridge Analytica, “the notorious data-mining and online-influence company” run by Trump loyalist Steve Bannon that aimed a lot of hateful rhetoric her way. 

Clinton, the former New York senator and U.S. secretary of state, connects some of the current “weaponization of loneliness” in society to the effort backed by Mercer in 2016. 

According to Clinton, Bannon at Cambridge Analytica tapped into “an army of what he later described as ‘rootless white males,’ disconnected from the real world but highly engaged online and often quick to resort to sexist and racist attacks.” She says this online trend has metastasized many “socially isolated gamers into the shock troops of the alt-right” today, filled with conspiracy theories and hate speech. 

“Like many others, I was too slow to see the impact this strategy could have,” Clinton said of this movement, fueled with Mercer’s money. “Now the surgeon general is telling us that social disconnection is not just a problem at the margins — not just the usual 'angry young men' — but is in fact an epidemic sweeping the country.” 

The Point wanted to find out what Mercer thinks of Clinton’s comments, but the longtime resident of “Owl’s Nest,” his Head of the Harbor home, couldn’t be reached. We left messages at phone numbers associated with Mercer but to no avail. Some news accounts have said Mercer has withdrawn from the political spotlight since his involvement in Trump’s first campaign. 

Available records, including tax documents, also show Mercer has apparently withdrawn from a well-known Long Island institution — The Stony Brook Foundation — which he helped fund with his former business associate, Wall Street billionaire James Simons. For many years, Simons and Mercer were colleagues at Renaissance Technologies, the remarkably successful East Setauket firm, until the two parted ways in recent years. 

The nonprofit Stony Brook Foundation, created in 1965, has been a huge source of private backing for Stony Brook University, part of the New York State university system. It has raised over $1 billion in gifts, largely to fund merit and need-based student scholarships. Mercer was previously a backer of the foundation, but available tax records show that the last time he contributed money was in 2015, when his family foundation donated $2.099 million. That same year, the Mercer Family Foundation, overseen by his daughter Rebekah Mercer, also gave money to numerous conservative-leaning groups as well as other nonpartisan organizations like Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and the Museum of Natural History. By 2020, the bulk of the Mercer family donations — nearly $20 million — went to a dark money fund called Donors Trust that keeps secret where its money is going. But a Stony Brook Foundation spokeswoman confirmed that Mercer hasn’t been involved with the foundation since 2015. 

— Thomas Maier thomas.maier@newsday.com