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Bitcoin’s Forgotten Hero: Ross Ulbricht & The Long Silk Road

The story of a man who should be at the forefront of what it means to be a libertarian.

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By Spencer Kellogg | USA

I want to use economic theory as a means to abolish the use of coercion and aggression amongst mankind. Just as slavery has been abolished most everywhere, I believe violence, coercion and all forms of force by one person over another can come to an end. (DPR)

This past month, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies saw a parabolic rise in price speculation due to a massive wave of new users and the promise of serious mainstream adoption. With a total market cap surging over half of a trillion dollars we can safely say that crypto has officially arrived. While some celebrated the feat with “I told you so” calls to loved ones and others with cocaine parties on the roofs of newly acquired Cambodian penthouses, I couldn’t help but think of the man that everyone seems to have forgotten. The slim Texan who stood on the philosophical shoulders of Satoshi Nakamoto and Milton Friedman seemed like your average, run of the mill San Franciscan transplant in the age of the tech boom. At home, however, under the name of Dread Pirate Roberts, he was busy actualizing the ideas of absolute economic freedom and personal liberty for the powerless. Alone, and through the alleged safety of the decentralized anonymous browser Tor, he built a free marketplace in the image of the world’s greatest ever trade route and then went about showing the masses how they could have it for themselves. So much of the success of Bitcoin as a commodity and practical application can be traced back to its early uses on the dark web marketplace Silk Road. There, under a guise of privacy, users bought illegal drugs, opened an armory to trade guns and even participated in Austrian Economic influenced bookclubs to discuss the underlying free-market ideas of their collective enterprise.

Silk Road was founded on Libertarian principles and continues to be operated on them. It is a great idea and a great practical system… It is not a utopia. It is regulated by market forces not a central power. No one is forced to be here. The same principles that have allowed Silk Road to flourish work anywhere human beings come together. The only difference is the state is unable to get its thieving murderous mitts on it.  (DPR)

The FBI called it “the most sophisticated internet site in the business of selling hard drugs including heroin, cocaine, and LSD” and at its height, The Silk Road generated over 1 billion dollars in adjusted sales. Today Ross Ulbricht, or Dread Pirate Roberts, sits in a maximum security prison in Colorado serving 2 life sentences plus 40 years for charges of fraud, tampering and a plot to kill. Much of the true story of what transpired in those final, paranoid filled days as the feds closed in on DPR is mired in mystery. While the government accused Ulbricht of hiring a hitman to kill an outed seller on the site, friends and family believe this was an orchestrated set up to make Ulbricht appear to be a violent mastermind and strengthen the case against him ever seeing freedom again. On the welcome page for The Silk Road, for example, Ulbricht had outlined some basic rules that all users were expected to follow. True to his philosophy of non-aggression he outlawed the sale of child pornography and hired assassinations. He believed in the freedom of the individual but made it abundantly clear through his messaging that use of force against another human being was totally unacceptable. His writings on the site belayed a soft natured man who was fond of the liberty documents that have preserved our civil society and distrustful of the forceful, oligarchical governments and corporations that have streamlined existence and freedom into the arbitrary choice of Pepsi or Coke.

The US government did everything in their power to grind The Silk Road to a halt. While our media and politicians worked in hysterical tandem to denounce the site as a violent, lawless zone for big-time drug crime, it could be argued that the Silk Road did more to curb than accentuate the worse aspects of drug culture. By providing an open free market for sellers and users to trade on the shadow web, much of the physical gang violence associated with the distribution of those very drugs was immediately removed. Furthermore, as in any free market, there was an abundance of choice and the sellers who offered good quality product rose to prominence while buyers came to count on potent and safe drugs from the top-rated sellers. I witnessed first hand the efficiency of this model as strong, cheap ecstasy flooded my college campus during The Silk Road’s heyday. Every week, packages would ship into the university mailbox and students would run with glee to pick up the ambiguous looking loot. The entire campus that spring pulsated and loved to the electric rhythm of those cheap blue pills. No one died. No one went to jail. The price was fair and the product was even better. The local government had no idea. We laughed and played to our heart’s content. We danced until the moon fell far away into the looming dawn. Our inclinations and desires, all our own. And then one day, The Silk Road, its founder and the reality of that undisturbed liberty went offline forever.

What we’re doing isn’t about scoring drugs or sticking it to the man, it’s about standing up for our rights as human beings and refusing to submit when we’ve done no wrong. Silk Road is a vehicle for that message. All else is secondary.  (DPR)

On October 1st, 2013 Ulbricht was arrested in a San Francisco Public Library, his laptop still logged into The Silk Road. The trial was considered one of the great shams in the history of our judicial system with a prejudiced court sentencing Ulbricht to more than 2 centuries of prison time. Controversially, while sitting in a prison cell, Ulbricht’s accounts were logged into and his Bitcoin seized by the feds opening a fair debate regarding the supposed privacy of the blockchain and the rights of property ownership as defined by our constitution. What would our founding fathers think of this situation? They were men who feared the paternalistic and coercive force of centralized power and they believed that an active citizenry was key in upholding and defending the fundamental roots of our democracy. Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Who decides what that happiness entails? Men like Jefferson and Henry believed that the free citizens of this country should have every right and power to engage in trust-based contracts without the watchful eye and demonstrative power of the all-consuming state. They also believed in freedom of currency and would be rolling in their graves if they knew the power of our Federal Reserve and the worthlessness of our FIAT engineered money. If alive today, I believe our founders would want to know why our government is in the business of punishing non-violent citizens by sitting them in a cold grey cell for exploring their most singular and rightful property – their own consciousness. And I imagine they would rightfully point to a for-profit prison system that has grown in exponential size while enriching the coffers of the state and the courts while breaking individuals and communities of free thought apart.

The absence of a voice of political support for Ulbricht during all of this is telling of the agreement on both political aisles that Bitcoin and its emerging markets are challengers to their power and wealth. Make no mistake, the book was thrown at Dread Pirate Roberts because he was a tangential threat to comfortable existence. To them, Ulbricht represented a new form of market and culture that dared to stand alone outside the control they assert through force. Here, the Libertarian Party was and still remains dismally quiet as an alternative. The government’s case (or lack of one) against Ross Ulbricht should be the rallying cry for the Libertarian Party and Libertarians across the country. Sadly, as with much of the idolatry of the Libertarian Party, the leadership seem concretely behind on the subject of digital currency and its intrinsic relationship to the principles set forth by Rothbard and Mises. Ulbricht is rarely mentioned and only the hard-line rebels of the membership promote his freedom and the practice of his agorist principles. In reality, Dread Pirate Roberts should be the face of every poster that the LP prints and his words in the paragraphs of every letter they write. He alone, with nothing more than a computer and internet access, accomplished more in half a decade than the entire Libertarian Party has even attempted in 45 years of scamming members money to fund their next lame duck ‘campaign’. But the Libertarian Party has never been about action and their tepid intellectualism continues to dismiss those thinkers who are ready to put the ideas of Mises to the test. Men like Samuel Edward Konkin III, Hans Hermann-Hoppe, and Adam Kokesh are disregarded and met with outright disdain by the lily-white cabal and Ulbricht has become synonymous with the fringe of the party when he should be at the ideological center. In one of Ulbricht’s messages to his users, he laid out one of the most cogent and important arguments for advancing Libertarianism I have ever read:

For years I was frustrated and defeated by what seemed to be insurmountable barriers between the world today and the world I wanted. I searched long and hard for the truth about what is right and wrong and good for humanity. I argued with, learned from and read the works of brilliant people in search of the truth. I found something I could agree with whole heartedly. Something that made sense, was simple, elegant and consistent in all cases. I’m talking about the Austrian Economic theory, voluntaryism, anarcho-capitalism, agorism etc. espoused by the likes of Mises and Rothbard before their deaths and Salerno and Rockwell today. From their works, I understood the mechanics of liberty and the effects of tyranny. But such vision was a curse. Everywhere I looked I saw the State, and the withering effects it had on the human spirit. It was horribly depressing. Like waking from a restless dream to find yourself in a cage with no way out.

But I also saw free spirits trying to break free of their chains, doing everything they could to serve their fellow man and provide for themselves and their loved ones. I saw the magical and powerful wealth creating effect of the market and the way it fostered cooperation, civility and tolerance. How it made trading partners out of strangers or even enemies. How it coordinates the actions of every person on the planet in ways too complex for any one mind to fathom to produce an overflowing abundance of wealth where nothing is wasted and where power and responsibility are directed to those most deserving. I saw a better way, but knew of no way to get there.

I read everything I could to deepen my understanding of economics and liberty, but it was all intellectual, there was no call to action except to tell the people around me what I had learned and hopefully get them to see the light. That was until I read “Alongside Night” and the works of Samuel Edward Konkin III. At last the missing puzzle piece! All of the sudden it was so clear: every action you take outside the scope of government control strengthens the market and weakens the state. I saw how the state lives parasitically off the productive people of the world, and how quickly it would crumble if it didn’t have its tax revenues. No soldiers if you can’t pay them. No drug war without billions of dollars being siphoned off the very people you are oppressing.

For the first time I saw the drug cartels and the dealers, and every person in the whole damn supply chain in a different light. Some, especially the cartels, are basically a defacto violent power hungry state, and surely would love nothing more than to take control of a national government, but your average joe pot dealer, who wouldn’t hurt a fly, that guy became my hero. By making his living outside the purview of the state, he was depriving it of his precious life force, the product of his efforts. He was free. People like him, little by little, weaken the state and strengthen the market. (DPR)

When I think of Ulbricht, I think of a man who loved people and wanted more than anything, a peaceful society without the use of force to weaken and disenfranchise peaceful people. He was obviously well read in the foundational ideas of our country and his Silk Road was a rubber meets the road moment that few have thought of let alone attempted. He brought disparate factions together using free market strategies to promote peace and harmony. Ulbricht was a true American patriot who had the courage to walk into that grey territory of real freedom and lead where others cowered before the crushing weight of the state. At his trial, Ulbricht told the judge that he did not build the site out of greed but that: “I wanted to empower people to make choices in their lives and have privacy and anonymity.” As we all enjoy the reformation of economic power that cryptocurrency has ushered in, let us not forget the original hero of Bitcoin:

Ross Ulbricht, Dread Pirate Roberts of The Silk Road.

(for more information on the case and how you can help, please visit Free Ross)

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  1. He didn’t deserve the sentence he got that’s for sure

    Reply

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