The Banjo/Damien Patton Affair: Can You Ever Escape A Disgraceful Past? Should You Be Able To?

Damien Patton is the the 47-year-old co-founder and CEO of the rising data gathering startup Banjo. The combination of the company’s success and its founders’ inspiring life story has made him the subject of many tech media and business publication profiles, for it is the kind of gutter to boardroom story on individual bootstrapping America has always celebrated.  He has described an abusive childhood that caused him to run away from home at age 15. He joined the U.S. Navy, then worked as a NASCAR mechanic before learning the craft of crime-scene investigation.  He  learned to code, and then became a co-founder of Banjo as he raised  nearly $223 million in venture capital for the Utah-based company.

However, Americans don’t like their rags-to-riches stories to begin too deep in the gutter. The tech news outlet OneZero uncovered transcripts of courtroom testimony, sworn statements, and more than 1,000 pages of federal records revealing that before he turned to coding, Patton was a member of the Dixie Knights, a Ku Klux Klan group active in the Nashville area in the late 1980s and early 1990s,  and not a passive one. He was was involved in shooting up a synagogue, for example. Understandably, this detail was something Patton did not highlight in his inspirational speeches before aspiring entrepreneurs.

The question is, now what? What does this mean today? What should it mean?

Following the report, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes announced that the state  would cancel a $20.7 million state contract with Banjo. Quickly, Banjo moved to try to get ahead of the business and public relations disaster that is sure to come. It announced  on the company’s website that it will suspend all contracts, refrain from handling  any government data and suspend all services for government entities until an independent audit is completed by an outside, presumably irreproachable third party.

“Banjo believes that any company working with the government should be subject to audits and oversight. The audit will have direct oversight by the state and will look to ensure there’s no bias in the technology, that Banjo is not a surveillance company and that all data for the state is being handled per the contract. Banjo’s mission is to save lives and minimize human suffering to help first responders in emergency situations while not invading people’s civil liberties and rights, We are looking forward to the audit to show that we can build technology to help save lives and protect people’s rights.”

Earlier, Patton posted a statement of his own, writing, “Today, Medium OneZero posted an article that focused on a dark and despicable period in my life that I am extremely remorseful about and sorry for. I am deeply ashamed of my actions and do not hold any of these beliefs, which I find abhorrent and indefensible.” Then he added a more extensive apology:

I am deeply ashamed of this time in my life and feel sincere remorse and deep regret for my affiliation with hateful groups whose actions and beliefs are completely despicable, immoral and indefensible.  I am sorry to all those who I have hurt and offended and understand that no apology will undo what I have done.

For the last 30 years, I have worked to right this grievous mistake as a lost, misguided adolescent kid. Through service to my country, dedication to my friends of all faiths, and building a business that employs amazing employees of all faiths, backgrounds and perspectives, I have committed myself to becoming an accepting and upstanding member of my community. 32 years ago I was a lost, scared, and vulnerable child. I won’t go into detail, but the reasons I left home at such a young age are unfortunately not unique; I suffered abuse in every form. I did terrible things and said despicable and hateful things, including to my own Jewish mother, that today I find indefensibly wrong, and feel extreme remorse for. I have spent most of my adult lifetime working to make amends for this shameful period in my life.

In my teens, I dropped out of school, lived on the streets, ate out of dumpsters and raised money panhandling. I was desperate and afraid. I was taken in by skinhead gangs and white supremacist organizations. Over the course of a few years, I did many things as part of those groups that I am profoundly ashamed of and sorry about. Eventually, I was able to get myself away from this world while serving in the United States Navy. This turned my life around. While serving my country, I worked with law enforcement agencies in hate group prosecutions and left this world behind.

Since then, I have tried and failed to completely accept and come to terms with how I, a child of Jewish heritage, became part of such a hateful, racist group. One thing I have done, through therapy and outreach, I have learned to forgive that 15 year old boy who, despite the absence of ideological hate, was lured into a dark and evil world.  For all of those I have hurt, and that this revelation will hurt, I’m sorry. No apology will undo what I have done.

I have worked every day to be a responsible member of society. I’ve built companies, employed hundreds and have worked to treat everyone around me equally. In recent years, I’ve sought to create technologies that stop human suffering and save lives without violating privacy. I know that I will never be able to erase my past but I work hard every day to make up for mistakes. This is something I will never stop doing.

I think we have to rate Patton’s apology first rate by the standards of the Ethics Alarms apology scale: 

An apology motivated by the realization that one’s past conduct was unjust, unfair, and wrong, constituting an unequivocal admission of wrongdoing as well as regret, remorse and contrition, as part of a sincere effort to make amends and seek forgiveness.

Now let’s return to the question of whether any of this will be enough to save Patton’s career and his company, assuming that the independent audit finds Banjo to be everything Patton says it is.

My guess is no, for ethical reasons and unethical ones.

It is true that Americans like to at least give lip-service to the power of contrition and value of forgiveness, particularly when the one being forgiven is a relative, friend or ally. However, overt racism, especially today, is one sin that the current culture is not going to forgive, no matter what the individual involved says or does, and the time passed doesn’t matter. One of the nation’s most effective liberal Supreme Court justices, the late Hugo Black, was once a Klan member; imagine the confirmation hearings of a judge with Black’s background today.

Is this unfair, in a case like Patton’s? I’m not sure it is. The way I have always approached such situations is from the perspective of trust: given a choice between trusting a company founded by a former Klan member and a reasonably equivalent company that is not, I will regard the latter as more trustworthy and a more responsible choice every time. Indeed, I would use Patton’s case to confront Barack Obama and other so-called “Ban the Box” advocates, who claim they don’t believe that a criminal record should undermine an ex-con’s employment prospects. Really? How about Klan membership?

Meanwhile, there are groups and people who will want to see Banjo destroyed—it is unfortunate that the company formed by an ex-white supremacist is named for a musical instrument associated with minstrel shows, don’t you think? For that matter, it would also be nice if he wasn’t named “Damien,” with its satanic associations, and didn’t look like a member of the Duck Dynasty cast–and its founder sent into the metaphorical desert to wander forever. They will flex their political muscles to destroy both man and business just to show they can. Consider what any government client that hires the company is facing: boycotts, constant scrutiny, race-baiting, lawsuits and crushing scrutiny, conspiracy theories. It won’t be worth it.

Patton is finished; there is nothing he can do about it. His company? Maybe if it makes a big deal about firing Patton and grandstanding statements about how they are removing a vile blight forever. I doubt it will work. I think the company is doomed too.

All the contrition and atonement imaginable won’t lead to forgiveness and mercy with this set of facts. The hard law of business and human nature is that when trust is sufficiently shattered, it can never be restored.


Pointer: Gamereg

Source: KSL, OneZero

21 thoughts on “The Banjo/Damien Patton Affair: Can You Ever Escape A Disgraceful Past? Should You Be Able To?

  1. I’m familiar with guy who posted stupid stuff on line, jokingly. It was tasteless but at the end of the day did not hurt anybody.

    Except someone had a grudge against him, doxxed him, made the comments public and essentially destroyed his promising career. The guy became practically unemployable; from being a senior manager ended up taking short term contracts under company names where the client could not end up being associated with him. He became bitter. He has spent way too much energy making life painful for those who took away his future or try to do so to someone else (he’s even publicly exposed high-profile journalists for trying to write hit pieces in very entertaining ways.)

    But his life is done for a few stupid jokes. He’s now a hermit and whatever positive contributions he had for society are no more (unless you count mocking unprofessional journalists). Was it fair? Probably not. Should he have been fired? Yes. Should his name now live in infamy with dozens of hit pieces on the web written about him? I don’t think so.

    Do we really as a society want to dish it out on the average citizen because of a slip-up?

    On a second order effect, do we want to discourage people from fixing their ways because there will always be the danger of destroying everything they built afterwards?

    • There is a successfully implemented double standard though.

      If you’re pro-abortion Democrat, it doesn’t matter if you wore blackface as an adult, dressed in KKK robes for fun or went by the nickname “coonman.” You can not only be forgiven; you can be a governor.

  2. Those who are unwilling to pardon a child, raised by street gangs, who turns himself around are themselves behaving far worse than any racist. They are in fact as bigotted as those who sought to manipulate a 15 year old boy who sought nothing but security. Any government that bows to the small vocal bigotted minority prove themselves incapable of leading so they should step down.

    What of all the teens in urban public schools who are bombarded daily with the message from those authority figures that rule the school that whitey is racist and they are owed something? How is that any different than some neo nazi group blaming others for their shortcomings?

    • But life doesn’t, and never has, worked that way. I agree that such a turnaround is laudable and should be supported and rewarded. But I can’t say that I’d hire a reformed embezzler to work at my bank, or a reformed heroin addict as a pharmacy assistant. Would you?

      • But he’s not a convicted hacker or other computer criminal, is he? He’s not being hired to provide security at a synagogue, is he?

        • He should step away from the company and go into high schools and talk about the danger of falling in with racist hate groups. And get a haircut and trim the beard.

          • No, he will just need to grease the right wheels like Michael Bloomberg and all will be forgiven.

            Large sum “donations” to Sharpton, Jackson, Farrakhan, and BLM should do it.

          • He should step away from the company and go into high schools and talk about the danger of falling in with racist hate groups. And get a haircut and trim the beard.

            A couple of things.

            One, there are manifestations of hatred & contempt that form groups or clubs that draw people, often young people, into them. The reason this happens, the reasons these groups come to exist, must be examined fairly. If you examine the White Identity movement as it is now manifesting all over Europe, in every single European country, in Canada, in the US, and as well in the Souther Cone of South America you will find similar people, struggling with similar problems and issues: philosophical and cultural (sociological) issues and also religious and *metaphysical* questions.

            You could, if you wanted to, see all of this in the same way that you view KKK membership. But important distinctions have to be made. I will try to explain. First, there is absolutely nothing wrong, on any level, with *White identity* and *identitarianism*. There is nothing wrong either with Christian Identity (as in Poland and Romania, etc.) And there is nothing morally wrong with defining positions that involve preserving white culture, white societies, from certain processes of ‘forced blending’.

            I repeat: nothing morally wrong.

            There is though a problem with getting involved with deep currents of hatred & anger. You could be Black and attracted to militant groups, or Latino, or Asian, and find yourself in groups that inculcate these emotions. These emotions are destructive, because hating anyone is destructive. The emotion of hatred is destructive to the one who has it.

            But the underlying concerns of these Identitarian groups — in every European country, in Canada, in Australia and New Zealand, and in the Southern Cone of South America — their concerns are not disinvalidated because some people fall into hatred. You could read Jared Taylor, Greg Johnson, even Pat Buchanan and understand what those concerns are.

            With that said, this particular person could just as well lose everything he has worked for, and suffer at the hands of the *mob* as they come after him set on destroying him, and he could do his research and come to see what forces are arrayed against him. And he could then go into the High School as you suggest and teach, and demonstrate through sound and moral argument, that the forces and interests that engineer our present can be challenged! Can be counter-proposed. Can be opposed. And that it is good & proper to do this.

            But notice what you say & do. You show that you cannot think clearly in these areas. You demonstrate how powerful forces of social engineering and *coercion* function. You cannot define your own interests, I mean as a European-derived man! Therefore you see your recommendations are those of a weak, coopted man, not as an active intellectual agent.

            [ ]

            The man who wrote this song was, at one time, in a hate group. He then got out of it because he realized that the hate, as an emotion, was not enough to build anything with. You cannot build with hate, you can only destroy. He left ‘the movement’ and yet the song he wrote remains. Many other people come to the Dissident Right . . . but not with hatred. They come with love and respect for their own people and the desire to see clearly *what is being done to them*.

        • Obviously he has not been convicted of anything because he would never have gotten into the navy. The days of choice between jail or the military were long gone by the time he was eligible for military service which would have been around 1990.

      • I agree with Chris on this. The government and many businesses hire former young hackers to work on their computer security programs. Former safecrackers and housebreakers are employed by police and security firms.. In my experience as well, the “re-formed” adult person is harder on his pre-reformed young self than anyone else. Do I understand that Damien will not be allowed to continue with his business? Yes. Agree with it? No.

        We live in an increasingly unforgiving world. Most of it hasn’t been dug into yet, and won’t be. Previous generationsd – particularly if deceased and not famous – are safe from the youthful disinterments;; it’s the new ones who are under archeological scrutiny. [The Japanese saying “the nail that sticks up must be hammered down” is here with a vengeance.] Thus the (mostly) young nasties with immature amydalai who like to rip into grownups, especially grownups with any kind of power — those who are most comfortable in the new social media {aka the Bund deutscher Arbeiterjugend –, have taken control. Those who seek dirt (more every day!) will find something to complain about, and those who find will interpret those findings as strictly as the New Rules allow (stricter every day). Only the squeaky clean, especially those who are scrubbed by the media, will pass muster … until a new invention will expose their innermost thoughts.

        • Malcolm X made a similar turnaround—but he didn’t seek venture capital or get surveillance contracts with state governments. The fact that Damien didn’t reveal this part of his life—and couldn’t—put him in zugswang: damned if he did, damned if he he didn’t. I’m extremely sympathetic, but I don’t see how any large enterprise can ever afford to have an active KKK member in a prominent role, and it’s been at least several decades since one could.

    • Final point:

      If we (rightly) treat Brett Kavanugh’s behavior as a child as irrelevant when he came from every advantage because kids make stupid decisions. If we then condemn a child from awful circumstances whose stupid , albeit different, decisions we are giving a pass to the one group because of who they are.

      • My first thought reading your first reply was about Kavanaugh. I didn’t use it because the story is still being touted as true, while the accuser’s best friend (at the time) is saying that she was jealous of the better off kids and never got invited to their parties. In other words, rather than a mutual (drunken?) hookup, the whole incident may have been a lie, which puts it on a different plane.

        • Penn, one of Jacks arguments was that acts committed while young reflect the immature mind resulting from a not fully formed brain. Most if this centered around Kavanaughs rather juvenile behaviors that his detractors put on full display during his hearings

          You are absolutely correct that the accusation which was never proven is substantially different than this kids involvement with the klan.

          I used Kavanaugh only because some of his admitted behaviors as a child were excused because of his youth and what he had accomplished in what is an accomplished career.

  3. What about the murderers and felons who go to law school and then want to get admitted to state bars? I forget how Jack comes down on those. Isn’t there a convicted murderer teaching at the GLS? If people with felony records are allowed to rehabilitate themselves, why can’t this guy? Was he ever arrested or convicted of anything? He appears to have rehabilitated himself, why not give him the benefit of the doubt, particularly when we’re accused of being racist for not being thrilled about wondering whether convicted felons should be allowed to vote (for Democrats, of course)? Sheesh, these days, guys are getting released from prison because of Coronavirus! Personally, I think it’s a shame this guy is getting crucified over long ago stuff. Wasn’t Brett Kavanaugh a high school kid when his alleged malfeasances occurred? Wasn’t that considered sufficient to let him off the hook if Blasey Ford’s allegations were true?
    One thing is certain: The ZZ Top/Duck Dynasty get up is moronic and sure doesn’t help.

  4. I did not see state governments get too worked up with Senator Robert Byrd. Even today his name is prominantly displayed on many government buildings. He was a grand poobah in the klan. So should he have been trusted to sit in the Senate or should the Senate have voted for his expulsion?

    The answer is moot but because as an adult he shared similar beliefs and then did an about face on the klan he has been cleansed. So too then should this guy.

  5. There is only a statute of limitations for the judicial system not the anti-racism court of social justice warriors, he will be labeled with his earned Scarlet Letter for life. If he was an active social justice warrior he’d be grandfathered in to the fold as “evolved”.

    Let’s face it everyone; since there are anti-racism social justice warriors out there that actively search for these kind of things so they can get their life long vengeance and exert their moral superiority to destroy someone’s life; these people will not be able to let go of this. His career is likely over and the company will have to remove him or close its doors because he was engaged in racists acts as a teenager. Any good he has done since those days as a skinhead can’t be undone or considered “evolving” unless he’s a good progressive and even then, I think he’s probably done.

    Right now he will be used as a social justice political tool, held up as an example of what happens to racist even if it was only an act decades ago as a teenager. It doesn’t matter if your a saint now, it’s about power to destroy others for social justice warriors not social justice. They will use him to instill fear in the the public, fear that anything they did as a teenager can be dug up and used to destroy them as adults. What’s interesting is that after they destroy him and he’s homeless and living in the gutters then these same social justice warriors will find a reason to use him as a different kind of political tool with their tear jerking story’s of the plight of the homeless.

    Yes, he made his bed when he was a teenager but he didn’t pay the social justice price for his wrongs back then so now his past has come to roost.

    Is this vigilante style social justice 30 years after the fact, absolutely; but then again, social justice warriors rationalize everything they do.

    Is this real justice, I’m not so sure it is.


    America is in distress, And needs you! The American Christian Dixie Knights are United with many other TRUE Klans and is one of the founding groups of the UNITED FEDERATION OF KLANS , and believe in in the advancement of the white race working arm and arm with our brothers and sisters.

    We believe in restoring American culture and the Constitution that our forefathers worked so diligently to build. This country was built on hard work and Christianity. We believe in the Constitution the way it was originally written. We believe in fighting for our rights that are quickly being stripped from us on a regular basis due to the anti-American Jewish controlled media that loves to stir the cultural pot making America a cesspool.

    America needs help! Right now this country is turning anti-American right under your noses. Our children are no longer allowed to recite the pledge of allegiance or have prayer in school because it may offend someone. Merry Christmas has been replaced by happy holidays in almost all retail stores to be “sensitive” to anti Christian groups. Our military is no longer allowed to openly practice Christianity while in uniform. Meanwhile, America is making sanctuary cities for illegal immigrants and mosques for Muslims in our prison systems and places of work. This is unacceptable and the people need a voice.

    There is a great deal to be learned if you examine the aspects of America that have been pushed down. The original Klan began as a result of Yankee intervention. It was a reactionary movement and operated much as guerrilla warriors do. Wherever America (the federal America) has inserted itself with absolute control (like in Iraq) there militant resistance movements arise. It is the process of invasion that sparks the reaction. The invasion of the South became the model for many successive invasions & interventions.

    If you read what these people write, when they describe how they see the world they live in, you quickly understand that they notice the forces of *occupation*. You find something similar in Palestine. It is a will that you seem to have a very difficult time understanding. It is related to the *don’t tread on me* motto.

    All over America, and also Europe, there are similar manifestations. They always seem to arise in *ugly quarters*. You can find similar groups (though very different from this particular group of the Klan) in Sweden, Denmark, Lithuania, Romania, Poland, France, The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, England. The people that are outcast, rejected, despised — a dispossessed class. My theory is that the rot of liberalism — that is, the excessive liberalism that produces spiritual & moral rot — shows itself in *social sickness* and among certain classes of people. But as they attempt to confront the deterioration their efforts are brutal to some degree.

    Their views are generally simplistic and binary, yet they are not off the mark when they notice national policy that tends to *racial amalgamation* and, at the same time, anti-white bias and also hatred. The JQ as it is called is ever-present. Jewish interests in America today, through the vehicles of the SPLC and ADL, are doing everything in their power, and using any and all tools at their disposal, to stop *these people* from expressing their ideas.

    And that is one of the reasons *you-plural* are seeing your rights ebb away, day by day.

    If you say these things — the things I have just said — and if you make an effort to understand these people, these groups, their history, you will find that you have more in common with them than you imagine.

    David Duke, for example, is not shunned by the Dissident Right. He appears on podcasts in Europe and is sought out by people who are looking for ways to confront the ‘liberal rot’ I refer to. The things and the people to which you-plural attach a miasma of *absolute and horrifying evil*, when looked at rationally, are not that. The problem really is *you* not *them*. But of course that is such an outrageous statement and so contrary to what you think that it is like a wrench in the mind’s machinery.

  7. The JQ as it is called is ever-present. Jewish interests in America today, through the vehicles of the SPLC and ADL, are doing everything in their power, and using any and all tools at their disposal, to stop *these people* from expressing their ideas.

    And that is one of the reasons *you-plural* are seeing your rights ebb away, day by day.

    … and just when I thought you were beginning to make some sense.

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