Ross Ulbricht

Silk Road's Founder Is in Jail for Life, but the Dark Web Only Grows

Making popular things illegal rarely diminishes their use.

|

Ross Ulbricht was a quiet nerd—an Eagle Scout who never cursed.

Then he became a libertarian, and he decided, "I want to use economic theory as a means to abolish the use of coercion."

By coercion, Ulbricht meant force.

He viewed laws against drugs as coercion—government force that stops people from living the way they want.

So he created a website called Silk Road. Silk Road let people buy and sell contraband—mostly drugs—using bitcoin. The site became successful quickly. It soon carried a billion dollars in transactions.

Because Silk Road didn't use dollars, it was also private, said Ulbricht. "The State is unable to get its thieving murderous mitts on it."

But he was wrong. Ulbricht slipped up, using his real name in an internet forum, and the FBI found him and jailed him.

A jury, looking at his former website, convicted him of things like "conspiracy to traffic narcotics." He was clearly guilty of that.

But then Judge Katherine Forrest said that because "Silk Road was a black market of unprecedented scope" she would sentence Ulbricht to "double life plus 40 years, without parole."

That's a longer sentence than many murderers get.

My former Fox colleague Bill O'Reilly applauded it.

"We all agree here," he told his TV panel. "Life in prison without parole! Any other wiseguys want to do it, that's what you are gonna get."

Give me a break. Locking some people up forever will not stop sales of drugs.

Americans should have learned that from our last attempt—Prohibition.

Making popular things illegal rarely diminishes their use. People still buy the banned items, but now they buy them from criminals. Violence increases. Sellers, instead of resolving disputes in courts, settle them with violence.

The illegal activity doesn't go away. It just becomes more dangerous.

What we saw during alcohol prohibition, we now see in the drug market.

What did government accomplish by closing Silk Road? Nothing lasting. Other illegal sites opened. Today, they offer more contraband than Silk Road ever did. Silk Road had 12,000 listings. Now several sites carry more than 100,000 listings.

"So I guess they weren't scared by Ross's life sentence, as the judge said," says his mother, sarcastically.

But law enforcement still brags about brief successes. "The dark net is not a place to hide!" crowed Attorney General Jeff Sessions after one bust. "We will use every tool we have to stop criminals from exploiting vulnerable people."

"Our critics will say we shutter one site, another site emerges, and they may be right," says Andrew McCabe, who recently stepped down as Deputy Director of the FBI. "But that is the nature of criminal work. It never goes away."

Never. Ever.

But the criminality would go away if we just legalized drugs. Today, there are no shootouts over alcohol sales.

But what about sketchier products—like hackers selling people's credit card information?

"Silk Road had some rules at least, like nothing that harmed or defrauded," says Ulbricht's mother. "No child pornography was allowed."

Also, the drugs were high quality. The FBI made more than 100 purchases from Silk Road and concluded that the drugs had "high purity levels."

Still, I find it hard to sympathize with Ulbricht because police also have charged him with hiring a hit man to kill someone.

Ross's mom believes that threat was faked, possibly by law enforcement agents themselves.

No one was actually killed, and the government didn't charge Ulbricht with murder-for-hire in the trial that jailed him for life.

A typical sentence for murder-for-hire when no murder occurs is about 10 years. But Ulbricht got much more than that. Was the sentence for damage Ulbricht allegedly did, or because the State resents its inability to control this sort of online trade?

"He was a libertarian," says his mother. "Believed in free markets and volunteerism. He's not a dangerous person."

No American is safer because Ross Ulbricht is in jail for life. He is just one more casualty of our futile war against drugs.

COPYRIGHT 2018 BY JFS PRODUCTIONS INC.

NEXT: If a School Cop Threatens Your 13-Year-Old with Child Porn Charges for Sexting, Get a Lawyer

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. But then Judge Katherine Forrest said that because “Silk Road was a black market of unprecedented scope” she would sentence Ulbricht to “double life plus 40 years, without parole.”

    No comment.

    1. Oh, I’ll comment. Paraphrasing G.K. Chesterton, It’s terrible to contemplate how few judges are woodchippered today.

      1. Watch what you say around Reginald FitzUrse, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy and Richard le Breton.

      2. Logged into my novelty account to say this. I would never suggest that anyone make violent actions toward anyone, but if these corrupt judges were to trip and fall into a woodchipper, the United States would be a freer country.

    2. It would be hard to state it more clearly that the judge wanted to “set an example”. I fail to see how this isn’t grounds for some sort of appeal when the law is applied so far out of whack from equally.

      1. You would also think lefty judges would use Ulbricht as a poster child for protecting civil liberties like drug use.

        We know that lefties are all talk about civil liberties and keeping the Police and Nanny State fed is more important to the cause.

    3. No comment.

      Hey, that’s my line.

      1. There will always be a special place for you here, Rhywun.

        Also, this.

    4. That’s a longer sentence than many murderers get.

      Heh, in a way Ulbricht is a murderer: he murdered the fairy tale that the government is in control. They’ll get very vindictive when that happens.

    5. There’s no woodchipper big enough.

      1. I hear they have them in hell. A special part of hell.

        1. A place in hell where you get run through the woodchipper every day? Jesus Christ, Zeb. That’s even worse than that place in hell where they make you drink IPAs every day.

          1. Don’t bring IPAs into this.

            1. Looks like someone doesn’t understand that preferences are ordinal, not cardinal. All I said was that getting run through the woodchipper is worse than drinking IPAs. Do you not agree?

          2. and deep dish?

          3. You think small. Every day? How about every 30 minutes?

    6. This comment intentionally left blank. 🙂

    7. My friend, Leonard Pickard, is doing double life, no parole, for the conspiracy to manufacture LSD (the Kansas Silo bust). The guy’s in his 70s, for fucksake, hardly a menace to society and, in all probability, will die in prison.

      Fuck the drug war.

    8. Start earning $90/hourly for working online from your home for few hours each day… Get regular payment on a weekly basis… All you need is a computer, internet connection and a litte free time…

      Read more here…….. http://www.startonlinejob.com

  2. Streisand Effect on dark web drug sales.

    1. That’s not what the Streisand Effect is, brotato. Other dealers aren’t setting up darkweb sites because Forrest handed down a ridiculous, draconian sentence.

      1. I should have clarified. More customers are visiting the dark web now because the media told them where to get any drug they want.

        1. Maybe. That was probably inevitable, though, given technological trends.

          1. Also, the dark web just means it’s not indexed by search engines. It’s not as spooky as people make it sound.

            1. Wait, no. That’s deep web. Dark web is a part of the deep web.

              1. Right, dark web is on Tor hidden services, which have no central server for the feds to raid. The “search services” tend to be manual directories with volunteered links, just like the very old days of the web, if you’re old enough to imagine an internet pre-Alta Vista.

                The authorities hate it. They can’t even find the sites if they don’t want to be found.

                1. You guys can’t fool me. The dark web is where hackers sit watching random math equations fly around multi-colored screens. And every math equation represents a pedophile waiting to steal my identity and my children.

                  1. Shhh! Don’t talk about such filth in public!

                  2. y = |sin(x)| + 5*exp(-x^100)*cos(x) from -3 to 3

                    1. y = |sin(x)| + 5*exp(-x^100)*cos(x) from -3 to 3

                      *unzips pants*

                      Go on…

                    2. Applause

                      (Doesn’t work on mobile, probably).

                    3. Correction: Doesn’t work on reason. My bad for getting your hopes up, non-nerds.

  3. “Still, I find it hard to sympathize with Ulbricht because police now also have charged with hiring a hit man to kill someone.

    Ross’s mom believes that threat was faked, possibly by law enforcement agents themselves.

    No one was actually killed, and the government didn’t charge Ulbricht with murder-for-hire in the trial that jailed him for life.”

    I’m not sure I understand the first sentence there. Are you saying that Ulbricht is now being indicted with hiring a hit man? Or are you saying that this is what law enforcement agencies initially said in a press releases before Ulbricht was tried?

    If he’s being indicted and tried on the charge of hiring a hit man, I’ll be interested in seeing the evidence against him.

    1. If he is charged with murder-for-hire plot, maybe this time the court will allow evidence of the investigators themselves being indicted for stealing, fraud, money laundering, obstruction of justice, and lying. Later to be convicted on some of those charges.

    2. If he’s being indicted and tried on the charge of hiring a hit man, I’ll be interested in seeing the evidence against him.

      There’s the rub. They used the accusation to smear him, then backed off on actually charging him with anything. It’s one of the reasons the whole case smells of bullshit- if they had something on him for hiring-for-murder, they absolutely could have/should have charged him with that. The fact that they didn’t exposes their sham.

  4. Way to go, Stossel. Good luck ever appearing on Fox again.

    1. I was thinking the same thing. This is a touchy topic for such a well-known libertarian, but I’m proud that he isn’t afraid to kick up some dust over this case.

      At the very beginning of Silk Road, dark web enthusiasts on the clear web were confident that it’d somehow get shut down, but that it’d be like cutting the head of a hydra. The “example” they make of the first person would strengthen security of later markets, give the whole industry publicity, and sprout 8 more in response to the one that was removed. It was 100% obvious that this was the inevitable result.

  5. This article doesn’t mention that there is a huge credibility problem in the Justice Department’s case against Ulbricht because two federal agents were convicted of trying to extort Ulbricht–information that wasn’t shared with Ulbricht’s defense lawyers before or during his trial and, hence, wasn’t heard by the jury before Ulbricht was convicted.

    Does it need to be said that one of the job’s of a jury is to weigh the credibility of testimony and evidence?

    Preet Bahara argued before the appeals court that none of the evidence used to convict Ulbricht was collected by the agents who were convicted for extorting Ulbricht, but for all I know, maybe the evidence of being charged with hiring a hit man was the result of their work. Maybe the reason Ulbricht wasn’t indicted for that was because those were the agents who collected that evidence.

    Regardless, any evidence that has been presented by the Justice Department against Ulbricht is suspect in my mind because–at least–two of the agents who were investigating him threatened to frame him. How can we look at any of the evidence or charges against Ulbricht without weighing how credible the evidence against him is in light of the fact that federal agents tried to blackmail him?

    Whether Ulbricht is guilty of anything remains an open question in my mind.

    Regardless, I’m convinced that he did not receive a fair trial.

    1. Certainly the punishment is cruel and unusual.

      They did initially allow the sale of firearms, but banned them after Sandy Hook?? (or some other shooting). It certainly demonstrates that he has principles, although I’m sure Mr. Ulbricht is aware that there are myriad places to illegally purchase a firearm.

    2. Preet Bahara. Now THERE’s a man who should be homeless, begging for change on a corner somewhere.

  6. “We will use every tool we have to criminally exploit vulnerable people.”

    FTFY Jeff

    1. It’s not criminal if the government does it.

  7. “…crowed Attorney General Jeff Sessions after one bust. “We will use every tool we have to stop criminals from exploiting vulnerable people”

    Sure thing, Jeff. But, can you just clarify who is who? Are drug dealers on the dark web the criminals who are exploiting vulnerable people (white dudes using bitcoins to buy drugs on dark web)? Are buyers the criminals who are exploiting vulnerable drug dealers? Is Ulbricht the criminal who is exploiting vulnerable users of the dark web?

    In mutually agreed transactions between consenting adults, it’s really hard to find the exploited vulnerable person.

    1. Why do you hate our children?

      1. Have you ever interacted with children?

        1. OK, you have a point.

    2. Whomever the government says is vulnerable is vulnerable!

  8. What that witch did along with Preet trying to bully Reason and its commenters is an abomination and showed exactly what kind of low character they are.

    A big middle finger.

  9. Ross Ulbricht was a quiet nerd?an Eagle Scout who never cursed.

    Then he became a libertarian

    Uh-oh. Another good kid gone bad. *SMDH* /sarc

  10. “He was a libertarian,” says his mother. “Believed in free markets and volunteerism. He’s not a dangerous person.”

    Anyone who believes in that shite is, by definition, a dangerous loon who must be killed or locked up for life. Otherwise they might convert others to these dangerous ideas. Can’t have people actually think they’re free. /The State

  11. I applaud the sentiments of ending the war on drugs and of reducing violence by allowing legal trade, but this guy’s method was stupid. It was inevitable that he would get caught. If his goal was to trade his life for the sake of making a statement, then I guess he accomplished that. If he thought he could personally change the system by circumventing it, that was never a possibility.

  12. I’m sorry for Ulbricht. But it shows that you need to pick your battles carefully.

    1. True, but he’s a martyr, and he knows it.

  13. Arrogant, power-addicted hard-asses who never learned about unintended consequences are busy trying to make life as miserable as possible for the people they supposedly represent and are allegedly trying to protect.
    We would all be better off with a little less of their “protection racket”. Or better yet, a LOT less.

    1. Tar, Feathers, Fence Rail

      Tree, Rope

      Wall, Blindfold, Cigarette

      Woodchipper, Compost Pile

      All have a political use. All that is required is the will to use them.

  14. Where’s Tony? He must have something really positive to say about this subject. How will I get through the day without knowing Tony’s viewpoint.

    Tony?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.