Meet Thor Halvorssen, Neocon Scam Artist Who Heads Bogus Human Rights Foundation
[Note: This story was posted earlier today at Byline.com, but was pulled after Thor Halvorssen complained — thank you, Thor! — through his attorney. Caving to a degenerate sociopath will only embolden him, so I am disappointed that Byline.com pulled the story. Byline.com does not pay me, I raise money from my readers at its site. You can learn more about me and support my work by clicking on this link.]
With backing from his filthy rich, right-wing Venezuelan family and help from a credulous American press corps, Thor Halvorssen has become one of the best-known human rights advocates in the United States and internationally. The New York Times has said he “champions the underdog and the powerless” while Buzzfeed raves that he “possesses a burning desire to right the countless injustices of this world … and he does not care if those injustices are being committed by the ‘right-wing’ or ‘left-wing’ regimes.”
In his spare time, the gallivanting Halvorssen runs the Oslo Freedom Forum, which he describes on his LinkedIn page as the “TED of freedom fighting.” (Presumably that is meant to be a good thing, though personally I’d rather watch paint dry on a horse’s ass then attend a TED event, though I deeply regret missing Sarah Silverman’s talk.) He also heads something called the Moving Picture Institute (MPI), which suggests Halvorssen has artistic talent.
It’s quite a dashing reputation, but it’s all a myth. “Thor’s only interest is in self-hagiography,” one source said of Halvorrsen. “He’s a joke.”
This principled champion of the downtrodden lives a life of extreme luxury and people who know him well described him to me as a “slippery little prick,” a “sociopath” and a “freak.” Halvorssen is said to take Human Growth Hormone supplements and has paid in advance to have his body cryogenically frozen.
A regular on cable news shows, Halvorssen has residences in multiple American states, including a lavish apartment in midtown Manhattan and a palatial estate in Hollywood. Meanwhile, he trots the globe making passionate but empty pronouncements on human rights. Just last week his group, the New York-based Human Rights Foundation, issued a report, “A Call to Action on the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda.” (Which is precisely as boring and pointless as it sounds, based on skimming the first paragraph.)
In regard to his moviemaking, Halvorssen, according to this IMDb profile, is a producer and actor “known” for films such as “The Singing Revolution” and “Hammer & Tickle.” But he has no artistic vision or smarts. One person in the movie industry told me that the MPI’s modus operandi was to take money from filmmakers to promote their work, but a quid pro quo was that Halvorssen be given a producer’s credit, which is a hugely valuable commodity in Hollywood.
That’s a massive conflict-of-interest: Halvorssen could (and did) take money to promote bad movies and would refuse to promote good movies if the filmmakers wouldn’t buy him off with a producer’s credit. “Halvorssen uses the MPI to glorify himself and to get rich,” this person said. “If you refuse to go along he turns nasty and vindictive.”
In regard to his human rights advocacy, Halvorssen is a right-wing troglodyte who generally attacks official “enemies” of the United States, or comes up with moronic campaigns — like denouncing Urban Outfitters for selling T-shirts with the image of Che Guevera. (Urban Outfitters caved; please visit thechestore.com.) For example, he opposes the North Korean dictatorship — now that takes courage!!!! — by floating balloons filled with America propaganda into the country, which does absolutely zero to promote democracy in Pyongyang but gets Halvorssen into the Voice of America. (For more on his fraudulent North Korea work, see this CounterPunch article.)
All this makes Halvorssen a useful tool and idiot of the U.S. government. During the Bush years the State Department lobbied hard (but unsuccessfully) to get consultative status for his human rights group at the United Nations, according to this Wikileaked cable.
Halvorssen is extremely shady about who funds his work but much of it comes from right-wing foundations. He also gets cash from his family, which is part of the rancid old oligarchy that ran Venezuela until the now deceased Hugo Chávez was democratically elected in 1999 and put an end to centuries of Spanish colonialism and white-dominated misrule. (Incidentally Halvorssen’s true last name is Halvorssen Mendoza but he is so Euro-identified that he doesn’t even use the latter on his group’s website, apparently so he can try to pass for Norwegian.)
While he raises much of his money from his right-wing fellow travelers, he also preys on the vanity of dimwitted liberal billionaires in Silicon Valley, like Google founder and Obama supporter Sergey Brin. Meanwhile, he tries to hide his financial tracks — and reduce his taxes — by setting up shell companies to run businesses that can’t be traced to him, a well-placed source told me. At least one of his shell companies is registered in Florida.
I’m told that for years Halvorssen was a business partner with Charles Johnson — who the Washington Post has called one of the most famous trolls in the history of the Internet — in an opposition research company. Earlier this year Johnson, an eccentric libertarian provocateur, was permanently suspended from Twitter after trying to raise money to “take out” a civil rights activist named DeRay McKesson. Johnson declined comment for this story.
One of Halvorssen’s alleged specialties is falsely editing Wikipedia pages and inserting bogus charges to smear his clients’ enemies. And on top of all this, multiple sources have told me that Halvorssen has been repeatedly trashed on drugs at human rights and other political events, and that he publicly brags about having sex with teenagers. (Let me emphasize, Halvorssen declined comment about these and almost all other charges made in this story.)
Before going further let me happily confess that I have loved Hugo Chávez since 1993, when I traveled to Venezuela after he had been imprisoned following an unsuccessful coup d’etat the previous year. Everyone should listen to the amazing speech he gave after the coup failed, in which he took responsibility for the uprising and said that he was calling off the overthrow of the government “for now.” And to anyone dumb enough to trust American media coverage of Chávez and his successor, Nicolás Maduro, you are a serious idiot.
Halvorssen is especially dishonest and delusional when it comes to Venezuela. He, not coincidentally, is a direct descendant of the country’s first president, Cristóbal Mendoza, and his family is one of the most powerful in Venezuela. The clan has historical interests that include construction, paper mills, banking and insurance.
His father, Thor Halvorssen Hellum, was also a one-time CIA informant and served under Carlos Andres Perez, who was impeached for corruption. But Perez is best known for ordering in 1989 the murder of hundreds if not thousands of people who protested a sharp hike in bus fares and other neoliberal austerity measures prescribed by the best and the whitest in the U.S. government and the International Monetary Fund.
Halvorssen portrays his parents as “freedom fighters,” especially his now dead father, but it’s hard to trust anything he says because he is so fundamentally dishonest. It reminds me of what Mary McCarthy once said of Lillian Hellman, “[E]very word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.'” And anyone who served under the murderous, thieving Perez, in whatever capacity, is no freedom fighter.
Thor Jr.’s story is that Thor Sr. was heroically battling the Medellin Cartel. I have my doubts. (Also, apropos of cocaine trafficking, the Netflix series “Narcos” is entertaining, but it’s American propaganda and by the end of the first episode I was rooting enthusiastically for Pablo Escobar vs. the DEA.) In any case, by the time he turned thirty-four Thor Sr. was already at “the helm of telephone giant CANTV,” which was “considered one of the most prestigious political appointment in the country’s economic sector,” according to this article, and that would make him, by definition, a propaganda specialist.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Halvorssen attended the Bryanston School, a British prep school. He then — again, according to his LinkedIn profile — got both his B.A. and Masters at the University of Pennsylvania between 1993 and 1997, an impressive feat in the unlikely event that it’s true.
Halvorssen launched the Human Rights Foundation in 2005, with the stated goal of ensuring “that freedom is both preserved and promoted.” The group, which has an address at the Empire State Building, took in about $5 million combined in 2012 and 2013, according to this non-profit filing to the IRS. The filing also shows that the group invests in financial derivatives, though it doesn’t say how much.
Halvorssen gets paid about $90,000, which is pretty modest though it’s not like he needs the money. And, also according to the filing, an undisclosed share of his business and residential rent is partly covered by the Human Rights Foundation.
So who’s paying for Halvorssen’s sweet life? “In the spirit of transparency, we choose to publish the names of our donors,” says the group’s website. “However, we respect any request from donors who wish to remain private and we do not publish those names.”
But there’s nothing transparent about this funding. The list provided on the website is alphabetized by the first name of the donor, which makes it difficult to figure out, and there are no amounts listed by individual donors’ names. So, for example, there’s no way to know how much Halvorssen donates from his own pocket or how much comes from the Harry Halvorssen Fund or from the Foundation for Democracy in Russia or, to take one more example, from the Thiel Foundation.
Peter Thiel, who at one point was an intimate companion of Halvorssen’s, controls the latter. He’s also a hedge fund manager and co-founder of PayPal and Palantir, which, according to this article, “has created a data mining system used extensively by law enforcement agencies and security companies.” There is also a single listing for “Anonymous,” which means the Human Rights Foundation might have one secret donor or it might have one hundred, there’s simply no way of knowing. (Note: This article by Max Blumenthal reveals that the Human Rights Foundation has also taken huge sums of money from many right-wing foundations.)
Several months back, in his only comment to me for this article other than a few lunatic proclamations on Facebook (before he mysteriously Unfriended me), Halvorssen admitted that he took money from Oscar Mendoza, a right-wing Venezuelan banker and relative. He also admitted that he only disclosed the names of Mendoza and other donors after the government of Norway, which funds him as well, demanded that he be more transparent.
Last week, Halvorssen wrote an article in the Daily Beast — which is basically a neo-con Pravda, but a wee bit more subtle — in which he moaned that his cousin, Leopoldo Lopez, had been unfairly thrown in jail by the Venezuelan government. Lopez probably didn’t get a fair trial — this is what Amnesty International has to say — but frankly the only reason I care is that it attracts negative attention for the Venezuelan government. Lopez is a clown so why not just let him out so he can fade into the obscurity he so richly deserves?
And curiously, people who know Halvorssen have told me he never talked about Lopez and his other Venezuelan-based relatives, and that he never expressed pride in the country. His love for his homeland is apparently most clearly worn on his sleeve when he can make phony, emotional pleas about their alleged suffering that lead suckers to fund his various enterprises.
Frankly, and this is a minor digression, I wish Chávez had been more like the great Union General William Sherman who during the Civil War literally torched the South, killed countless enemy soldiers and civilians, and thereby broke the back of the Confederacy. But the democratically minded Chávez was more moderate — I guess there’s a time and a place for everything — and, sadly, didn’t summarily execute senior members of Venezuela’s old white-dominated elite, who view the country’s non-white citizens in much the same way that Southern slaveholders viewed Africans as chattel.
Anyway, I honestly don’t care who people sleep with or what drugs they do, but I do care if they misrepresent themselves and if they are stone-cold hypocrites. And that describes Halvorssen to a T. Halvorssen should be honest about who funds him, stop abusing his non-profits, and make it easier to keep track of his interests.
He should also stop attacking people for doing the same things he does. For example, he invites his neo-con cronies to the fluff-filled Oslo Freedom Forum — and his non-profit pays the bills for at least some of them — and then they write nice things about him.
But recently, the Human Rights Foundation went after the Argentine football star Lionel Messi, for going on what Halvorrsen claimed was a richly-remunerated junket to the African nation of Gabon. Messi flatly denies it — and even though I detest Messi because he choked in the final of last year’s World Cup and in my view is a loser, and because I love Neymar and Brazilian football — I trust him more than I trust Halvorssen.
Oh yeah, a final disclosure: I really and truly don’t like Halvorssen. He is, to cite multiple sources, and I am paraphrasing here, a dirty little liar.