Thomas Peters has been involved in online organizing and digital grassroots for more than a decade, first through his “American Papist” blog, then as a communications director and consultant who went on to launch two software companies.
Peters is perhaps best known for his political activism and advocacy for Catholicism – debating topics related to life, family and religious freedom; pro-life issues and pro-family activism; and the future of social media and youth activism.
While Peters excels at blogging, writing, and speaking, he admits, “I’ve moved from just writing, to writing and wanting to have an impact, and … one of the biggest areas for potential in politics and community is new media.” That’s where his software business comes in; Thomas’ most recent contributions were two apps that facilitate political engagement and commitment.
Background and Early Education
Thomas Peters grew up in Southern California, the eldest of six siblings in a devout Catholic family. He was homeschooled in a co-op with other children, where his dad, a canon law teacher, taught Latin. “I grew up thinking it was not abnormal to grow up with debates about Mormon baptism or Church documents being dinner table discussion.” Homeschooling enabled Thomas to spend more time on his passions: technology, theology, politics, culture, and chess.
Peters recently hit back at a Washington Post article in which it was claimed that homeschooling holds kids back:
Well said, Thomas!
Not Your Average Catholic
From 2001-2005, Peters attended Ave Maria College in Ypsilanti, Michigan, where he graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy. (It’s now Ave Maria University, having been relocated to Florida.) In 2007, Peters graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Master of Arts in Bioethics/Medical Ethics from Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. He completed his second master’s degree in 2009, at Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., where he studied Theology/Theological Studies.
Peters began his American Papist blog in 2006, which became one of the most popular Catholic blogs in the world. (However, his blog has been on hiatus since 2013.) The award-winning blog featured daily news and commentary on matters related to Catholicism and politics, as well as funny pictures of the Pope. Peters was one of a handful of Americans invited to the Vatican’s first-ever Bloggers’ Meeting in Rome, and he was a frequent guest on television and radio broadcasts.
From 2008-2010, Peters served as Communications Director for the American Principles Project, in which he built and ran websites and social channels promoting their work. From 2010-2017, he assisted the team at Catholicvote.org with strategic advice while leading multiple projects, including recruiting and managing a small team of bloggers and freelance writers.
Peters has appeared in dozens of TV, radio and online media outlets over the years, discussing current topics such as the intersection of faith and conservatism, pro-life and pro-family activism – as well as writing and speaking about the future of social media and online organizing, and traveling around the country to encourage young social conservatives.
Major Life Changes
Thomas married his fiancée, Natalie Zmuda, on April 19, 2013 – with security standing by! At the time, Peters was a high-profile advocate for the protection of traditional marriage, and there were multiple threats from same-sex marriage activists threatening to disrupt the ceremony. Despite the negative effects of his popularity, he asserted, “I’ve never regretted a minute I’ve spent defending marriage, and it’s thrilling to me to see so many people still bravely and brilliantly defending marriage today.”
Three months after the wedding, Peters was in Newburg, Maryland when he decided to go for a swim in a river. The newlywed dove off a dock and in one split second, the course of his life was changed forever. He doesn’t remember what happened, but he nearly drowned and suffered a severe spinal cord injury, having hyperextended his neck and fractured his C5 vertebrae.
Peters wrote, “For six weeks in Baltimore, nurses and doctors battled infections and secretions to heal the damage my lungs had suffered from ingesting filthy water.” The surgeons fused his fourth and sixth vertebrae and implanted a titanium cage to help strengthen his neck. It was six more weeks before he was in a medically stable condition to be able to be transferred to a rehabilitation center in Washington, D.C.
After six weeks in rehab, Peters was allowed to go home to a new, handicap-accessible apartment. Thomas is now wheelchair-bound, but he is focused on becoming more independent. In spite of injuries that were supposed to leave him paralyzed from the neck down, he can move his arms, his left hand, and his torso. He is also learning to move his right hand. He even had an opportunity to try adaptive skiing with the Kennedy Krieger International Center for Spinal Cord Injury in 2017.
Peters wrote, “People will say that accidents like mine should call into question God’s mercy or even His existence. But for me, the fact that I survived my injury is the greatest evidence I have ever experienced of God’s mercy and providence. I believe God allowed my accident to happen and that He chose to help me survive that accident and every day gives me the opportunity to be blessed through it.”
“The accident has taught me to be more humble and realistic about my own efforts and contributions. Before my accident I took pride in my self-reliance, and my ability to contribute to the causes I care about, and I still do, but since the accident I have gained a far greater appreciation for the fact that everything I do and am is because of the Lord.” He emphasized, “I certainly didn’t bring myself back from the brink of death.”
“I still have so many things to look forward to, including reclaiming some of the old activities I enjoyed before my injury,” said Peters. Meanwhile, he remains committed to work harder than ever to positively impact the culture. “Everyone has something unique to offer the world, and I’m here to do that for every day I’m on this beautiful earth,” said Thomas. He proudly states on LinkedIn: “I have 12 years experience in political and online organizing, social media advocacy and causing the right kind of trouble.”
Not one to let grass grow under his feet, since his life-changing injury Thomas Peters has found new ways to direct his talents.
In 2014, he launched uCampaign.co with $150,000 in start-up capital from a well-known conservative businessman. “I founded uCampaign to give Republicans winning technology,” said Peters, “since the center-right has severely lagged its Democrat counterparts in producing good technology for campaigns and elections.”
The fully customizable online platform enables clients to launch and operate their own custom smartphone apps, making it easy for individuals and groups to engage their supporters, free from the political censorship imposed by Silicon Valley giants.
“What Facebook is trying to do is put people in more and more small groups, were they can feel free to communicate. We’ve created that exact same thing,” stated Peters, “but the difference is, the organizations (using the app) have access to their supporters directly, and don’t have to pay Facebook as the middle man.”
Peters recalled, “Obama’s 2012 reelection smartphone app was ahead of its time, but by 2016, the smartphone app my company uCampaign built for Trump turned in more results and had a bigger impact than Clinton’s smartphone app, and for far less cost to the campaign.” Peters says that his app is not solely a millennial toy for saring messages, watching videos, filling out surveys, playing trivia games, earning points and unlocking badges, but was designed for ease of use to span generations from 18 to 60.
uCampaign has powered the official smartphone app of over 50 organizations in 12 different countries – and it even played a part in UK’s Brexit referendum by powering the “Vote Leave” app. Clients include the UK Conservative Party, Canadian and Australian Conservative Parties, the National Rifle Association, the Susan B. Anthony List, the Republican National Committee, Ted Cruz for President, Rand Paul for Senate, and Donald J. Trump for President.
In 2017, Peters launched RumbleUp.com, a scaleable peer-to-peer (P2P) texting platform, after he heard that Hustle, the premier P2P texting platform on the left, was dropping its Republican and center-right clients, telling them they were not welcome on the platform anymore. Thus, RumbleUp was born to cut through the noise and annoyance of advertising and instead engage people in personal conversations.
An app may not be quite as good as shaking hands or talking to people face to face, but it’s better than phone calls, email blasts, and traditional mail. RumbleUp works well for political fundraising, polling, and get out the vote efforts, because the response rates are high. Plus, the ability to review entire text chains and measure positive or negative sentiment in replies provides a deeper understanding of voter psychology and opinions on a range of topics. “That’s where the gold is,” Thomas acknowledged.
The RumbleUp app has been utilized by over 400 clients including state parties, national committees, statewide, congressional and local races, ballot initiatives, PACs, IEs, 501c4s, non-profits, advocacy groups, member organizations, and for-profit companies, as well as drumming up support for Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. Whatever the campaign or cause, the app is a turnkey solution for creating a private social network of supporters.
It looks like Peters was in the right place at the right time to make a real difference in the political arena. Particularly since the coronavirus pandemic grounded most 2020 campaigns, text messaging has now emerged as the primary method for establishing relationships with voters and encouraging turnout. The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), which uses a customized version of RumbleUp called GOP Envoy, has had several candidates, challengers, and incumbents inquire about the platform and integrate it into their campaigns. Peters declared, “2020 is going to be the year of the political text message.”
Thomas has been regularly tweeting about the coronavirus pandemic on his Twitter page. As you can see from the following tweet, he hasn’t lost his sharp and biting wit:
You can follow Thomas Peters on Twitter at http://twitter.com/americanpapist
In the video below, Peters discusses how his apps inspire participation in politics.