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It was a typical couple of days for Wilson, all about managing an itinerant revolutionary's life: running companies and websites, massaging far-flung collaborators and recalcitrant machinery, and-always, constantly-fending off or complying with demands and requests from an irritable government.
Wilson received a letter from the IRS the day I arrived. It contained advice on how he ought to craft his pending request for 501(c)3 nonprofit status for Defense Distributed. While Wilson sees his goals as being bigger than defending the Second Amendment, he's contemplating defining the charitable class his nonprofit serves as an "unorganized militia." It might be useful, he thinks, to "make an American legal argument that will be understood by that regime in its own grid." Then he adds, "But you know, it's really about anarchism, the transcendence of the state, that's what it's about."
Wilson is vexed that the IRS frowns on nonprofits dealing with open-source anything. He has come to understand that if anyone uses his open-source designs to make something to sell for profit or for any other nonexempt goal, his nonprofit exemption could be at risk. Which defeats the entire point of open-source philosophy.
The IRS also wants Wilson to explain in detail his issues and dealings with ITAR. Exactly as the post-Marxist philosophers taught him, he has willingly thrown himself into the maw of a totalizing system that wants to see, know, measure, shape, and protect every aspect of human existence.
And then there's the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). To cover his ass as a weapons maker, he sought- and received-a firearms manufacturer's license in his own name. This leaves him open to snap federal inspections of his gun-making space, which is a tiny corner of a warehouse outside Austin. The second day I was with him he received copies of the forms that he has to file with the ATF within a couple of days of making each individual gun.
Wilson's life is considerably more enmeshed with the federal government than that of most anarcho-left-libertarians. By acting forcefully in the world, you just "make yourself a bigger object of regulation," give the government one more way to get information out of you, try to control you. It's like Wilson has turned himself into a living example, acting out his crises in the public eye, just to say that he told you so. Or you could say that, like the plastic he experiments with, under pressure and heat from the government Wilson has not yet cracked. He has expanded.
Edward Snowden, the whistleblower and fugitive, was stuck in the Moscow airport that day. While we were in Wilson's apartment-a RepRap tabletop 3D printer on the kitchen counter, a rifle leaning on a brightly colored quilt in one corner, another rifle in another corner-he kept his eye on his laptop, watching that story unfold. What went right with Snowden, he wondered?
Wilson mentions a David Brooks New York Times op-ed deriding Snowden for not having gone to the right colleges or institutions to make him behave as he ought. As a fellow enemy of the state, Wilson loves it. "No one believes me, but I say, look, in the end we go to Russia or China."
That the game he's playing might eventually make him an international fugitive is never far from his mind. During our two days, he made the occasional sideways comment about how he's going to "keep moving while they let me move," and how "I'm on a multiyear process before I'm even in jail, so in the meantime I'm building up DefCad," which is his business website, a clearinghouse, search engine, and discussion zone for people interested in computerized weapons design.
Wilson spent time in Shanghai in 2008, as a student. His activism on behalf of both 3D weapons and the decentralized nonstate currency Bitcoin-which seems to interest him even more than 3D guns for its disruptive possibilities of helping human beings act and transact freely while evading the totalist carceral eye of the state-had him gallivanting around Europe earlier this year with crypto-anarchists and Occupy Wall Streeters, shady criminals and bigshot financiers. (For more on Bitcoin, see Jerry Brito, "Bitcoin: More than Money," page 34.)
He came back from one such European jaunt in February with a nest egg of $15,000 to support his gunmaking activities. "There's money for trouble out there," Wilson explains. He still has affection for America though: Despite it all, he thinks the U.S. is one of the few countries where he could still be walking around free after what he's done.
By early summer, DefCad was throwing off enough advertising revenue to keep Wilson going. As he contemplates a likely future of legal actions against, or in defense from, the federal government, the provocateur is cannily keeping his eye out for fundÂraising opportunities and communities of affinity he can call on during inevitable times of trouble. Wilson has formed alliances or received help or guidance from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Second Amendment Foundation, the Institute for Justice, and Peter Thiel's Founders Fund, among others.
Despite the endless bureaucratic hassle, Wilson is cheery and reflective, not angry or frustrated. There hasn't been a roadblock in his path that he didn't in some way foresee, and none of them have yet have set back his goals. "This has been a continuous process of different levels of authority figures trying to stop it from happening and thus allowing it to happen," he says. "Of course we are going to succeed-because you all are trying to stop me. That seemed natural and ended up being true."
Wilson made The Liberator white on purpose, to make it look bizarre, otherworldly, registering to the mind as "not a gun." It's a piece of plastic, actually 15 pieces of plastic formed into one small inanimate thing in the palm of my hand. "It's crazy to say that this tiny thing threatens national security," he says.
But the state is inherently "hostile to things that can't be observed, tabulated, put in registries, become objects of expert knowledge," he says. "They conflated what we're doing with just wanting to get through airport security. No, we wanna get through your sense of security. We did challenge the security state to become real, and it couldn't. If there's a metal-detector-proof gun, OK, become real, stop it. But there's nothing they can do in any real sense. It's all theater.