Ross Ulbricht Not the First Admin of Silk Road

Ross Ulbricht, now on trial for masterminding the online drug exchange The Silk Road,

Ross Ulbricht is actually a libertarian economic theorist

Ross Ulbricht’s LinkedIn Photo

may not have been the first administrator of that site or even the first to use the alias “Dread Pirate Roberts”, according to a text file posted to Pastebin on October 2, 2013, which describes the history and evolution of online drug markets including Silk Road. In the film The Princess Bride, Dread Pirate Roberts is a pseudonym used by multiple people who take on the same mantle of a masked crusader as the others before him retire or die and replace their predecessor in the role.

Journalist Mike Power (@mrmichaelpower) brought the Pastebin file to public attention on Twitter last week. The file was posted to Pastebin at 11:53 AM CDT on October 3, 2013, two days after Ross Ulbricht was arrested. A lengthy history of the evolution of online drug exchanges, the article makes no mention of Silk Road’s seizure by the FBI or Ulbricht’s arrest and appears to have been written at an earlier date. It concludes its history of the movement with the statement, “…we are in the era of SR [Silk Road], and I think we are already close to unstoppable.

The author refers to “the original DPR [Dread Pirate Roberts]“, suggesting he was writing at a time when he knew or believed that Silk Road was being operated by a subsequent administrator under the same Dread Pirate Roberts alias.

If this is true, Ross Ulbricht may not be the “mastermind” behind The Silk Road at all.

The anonymous author of the document writes:

“I remember actually reading about the idea for SR from the original SR admin on the bitcoin forum prior to him making the site, but the council on BBS essentially came to the idea of a public drug site at the same time as and independently of the original DPR. We also had a massive history and honestly were kind of miffed that some noob was trying to steal the glory (sorry DPR!).

…it used to be about the community and about fighting for our rights and protecting our people, and that is why I have a ton of respect for DPR now because he is on the same page as I am even if he is making a grip of cash at the same time). …

Anyway the rest is history, I ran OVDB for a good bit, but the media blew SR the fuck up, Ene got busted by homeland security, tarpaulin got strung out on heroin and scammed a bunch of people, it just wasn’t worth it for me anymore. DPR had a business model and a reason to keep running his site, SR went from a thousand members to tens of thousands to a hundred thousand from all the media attention and OVDB only had a few thousand at its peak. I decided it is better for us to just get behind Silk Road…

So I think right now we are in the era of SR, and I think we are already close to unstoppable, but I think there will be one more era in the future.”

Silk Road 2.0 Busted

Nov 6, 2014 – The FBI in cooperation with multiple US law enforcement agencies has taken down Silk Road 2.0, arresting numerous individuals including Defcon, the site’s administrator, according to DailyDot.

Defcon was arrested in San Francisco, the same city from which previous admin Ross Ulbricht was operating the original Silk Road. Ulbricht described the site as a model of his libertarian economic beliefs and a free and safer market for street drugs. The site operated with an eBay-like feedback system that could exclude dishonest sellers. The site’s web presence also purported to protect individuals from the dangers of buying drugs on the street.

The U.S. government seems to disagree, or, more likely, not give a damn about the safety of drug users. The U.S. has fought harm reduction,  needle exchanges, opiate substitution therapy, and provides sparse to no free screening to addicts for communicable diseases that could affect the general population, which is a serious concern given the lack of needle exchanges and harm reduction approaches.

Numerous other drug trade and black market sites were also busted and shutdown in this operation. Read the full article here.

Silk Road Online Drug Bazaar was a Libertarian “Economic Simulation”

FBI claims Dread Pirate Roberts is actually a libertarian economic theorist

The FBI claims this pirate is actually a libertarian economic theorist

The FBI claims Ross William Ulbricht, 29, of Austin, Texas, ran an online drug market called the Silk Road using the alias Dread Pirate Roberts. Ross Ulbricht had this to say about his economic philosophy:

“I want to use economic theory as a means to abolish the use of coercion and agression amongst mankind… I believe violence, coercion and all forms of force by one person over another can come to an end. The most widespread and systemic use of force is amongst institutions and governments, so this is my current point of effort. The best way to change a government is to change the minds of the governed, however. To that end, I am creating an economic simulation to give people a first-hand experience of what it would be like to live in a world without the systemic use of force.”

Dread Pirate Roberts, by the way, is a character in the film The Princess Bride, who is not just one man, but a series of individuals who periodically pass the name and occupation of pirate captain to a chosen successor. The world seems to contain more than one radical libertarian willing to dress up their greed as a political ideology, so, you never know—maybe Ulbricht is just the latest captain of the Silk Road. Life imitates art.

Ulbricht hails from Texas, home of lots of other radical right wing libertarians, like perennial presidential contender Ron Paul. Cody Wilson deserves a mention, even if he considers himself an anarchist. Wilson is using 3-D printers to make assault rifles and isn’t breaking any laws. Regardless, libertarians want to give you some serious freedom. Or, at least, sell it to you.

Now, you may not be willing to view the Silk Road as anything but a for-profit endeavor. I’m sure that’s what the FBI thinks, not that they care one way or the other. But let’s imagine it really was an attempt to change the world.

Ross Ulbricht is actually a libertarian economic theorist

The FBI claims this man is actually a pirate from a 1980’s adventure film

The problem specifically with Silk Road is that it will take more than a radical “economic simulation” to achieve freedom from the injustices of the War on Drugs (Albricht’s quote didn’t get this specific, but it stands to reason if you ask, “freedom from what?”) Not to mention the fact that improving drug consumers’ shopping experiences (in what still amounts to a black market) doesn’t significantly improve drug safety. Having a feedback system and a more normalised shopping experience may have ensured that bad sellers got fewer customers, but the black market of Prohibition still guarantees the existence of toxicity, additives, and the poor manufacture of substances designed for human consumption. Drugs require control, safety—regulation, perhaps; which is anathema to many libertarians. The main problem then is the law, not the economy.

Second are cultural perceptions of drug use, and here Silk Road might have had some impact. Anything that lessens the stigma and risk of the black market has the cultural potential to change people’s minds about what it means to use drugs. But power (law) usually trumps culture (attitudes toward drug use). It’s a two-way street, and culture can change law, but only when cultural forces reach a critical mass. Normally, power dominates culture. And Dread Pirate Roberts is up against one of the great empires of our times, which puts his ability to effect cultural change there at a significant disadvantage.

As for the notion that laissez-faire economics leads to a more free society, let’s take a case Ulbricht himself mentions in the same LinkedIn comment: slavery. Slavery in the United States was certainly first and foremost a financial institution, but it didn’t end because of market changes. In fact, global market changes and rules restricting the U.S. market did very little to force change. It took a civil war to eradicate the market, and the culture of racism slavery created in the U.S. only shifted gradually over the following one hundred years.

To change unjust laws that correspond to social norms, you must first change what people believe. A social movement, not an economic simulation, is required to end the Drug War.

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