Parler Founders' Denver Past Presents Ugly Challenge to DU

The opportunities for President Donald Trump to use the Parler app as an alternative to Twitter appear to be dwindling.
The opportunities for President Donald Trump to use the Parler app as an alternative to Twitter appear to be dwindling. Photo by Brandon Marshall/ (cached)
After Twitter permanently banned President Donald Trump from Twitter on January 8 following a riot at the U.S. Capitol by his most rabid supporters two days earlier, many expected the Tweeter in Chief to shift his angry and aggrieved rants to Parler, the go-to app for far-right commenters looking to dodge what they view as the censorship of more mainstream services. But Parler has now been kicked off Amazon, Apple and Google in the wake of reports that it hosted violent threats in the lead-up to the chaos in Washington, D.C., on January 6.

Parler describes itself as "an unbiased social media focused on real user experiences and engagement. Free expression without violence and no censorship." But it has evolved into a free-floating platform for racism in general and white supremacy in particular, replete with extremism of the sort that sprang to life last week in Washington. And its origins can be traced back to Denver.

Parler's founders, CEO John Matze and CTO Jared Thomson, both attended the University of Denver.

Matze and Thomson clearly take pride in their academic tie to DU, which is prominently featured on their LinkedIn profiles, both of which feature the words "Parler — University of Denver."

click to enlarge The LinkedIn profiles of Parler founders Jared Thomson and John Matze. - LINKEDIN
The LinkedIn profiles of Parler founders Jared Thomson and John Matze.
The DU connection has been briefly noted in previous Parler profiles. A July 2 Fox Business post about "alternative social media site Parler, [which] seems to have sprung up overnight" states that both Matze and Thomson "studied computer science at the University of Denver," with Matze's graduation date listed as 2014 — four years before Parler's launch.

Similar references appear in a November 2020 item about "the people with the power at Parler." The piece notes that "since the US presidential election on November 3, the social media app has shot to the top of app stores and over 4.5 million new accounts have been registered on the platform."

The moves of Apple, Amazon and Google will likely put an end to that explosive growth — and now, attention is turning to the University of Denver, thanks in part to Jess Davidson, a former DU student body vice president whose past achievements include a stint on the Ending Violence Against Women Advisory Council at the Biden Foundation following an internship at the Obama White House's Office of Public Engagement for Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to the president.

This weekend, Davidson's tweeted this about Matze:

Westword reached out to DU on January 10 to get its response to Davidson's query, among other questions. The school responded with this statement: "The University of Denver condemns any and all calls to violence, insurrection, or sedition. We are grounded in the tenets of free speech and First Amendment rights, but those rights end when they incite the populace to violence or to harm others. Those we condemn unconditionally."

In the meantime, Parler posted a statement late on January 9 revealing that the service "will be unavailable on the internet for up to a week as we rebuild from scratch" but asserted that "we have many competing for our business." However, Matze told Fox News during a January 10 interview that "every vendor, from text message services to email providers to our lawyers, all ditched us too, on the same day."

This post has been updated to include a statement from the University of Denver.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts