As a result of what was an extreme and overzealous approach to convict someone of a non-violent crime, Ross Ulbricht, founder of the online marketplace and darkwebsite known as the Silk Road, was sentenced to life in prison on Friday by judge Katherine B. Forrest in Federal District Court in Manhattan. Prosecutors described Ross as a “kingpin of a worldwide digital drug-trafficking enterprise.”
Ross was not even charged with personally buying or selling illegal drugs to anyone, and prosecutors even willfully implied (but never charged) that he had planned out assassinations on people he supposedly believed posed a threat to him. Brian Doherty noted:
None of the charges were related to either personally selling an illegal substance to anyone—Ulbricht merely ran a website that facilitated it—and none were related to causing direct harm to anyone’s life or property.
Given the amazing water-muddying the prosecution achieved by talking about, but never trying Ulbricht for or proving in court beyond a reasonable doubt, allegedly planned, but never executed, murders for hire, one wonders whether the judge allowed any thoughts of those rumors, even subconsciously, to shape her sentencing decision.
Erik Voorhess illustrated the severity of the sentence:
A life sentence was given to a man who just about single-handedly created a much safer and more convenient environment for the exchanging of goods that people want and are willing to pay for.
[Side note: For some, this is now obvious. But there are others who still believe it’s justifiable to throw people in cages for voluntarily buying, selling or consuming a substance the government has deemed dangerous and hence illegal. The merits or dangers of drug use are not the issue here. I myself have never used drugs in my entire life, and strongly advise against the use of some particularly dangerous substances. The point is that no one has any right to forcibly prevent people from putting what they want into their own bodies, nor forcibly prevent them from exchanging for what they may need or simply want to consume. What Ross did was simply give people vastly superior choices with regards to how they would achieve their ends. Anyone who suffered serious health effects after ingesting dangerous substances did so as a result of his/her own personal decision making. Just as someone who gets alcohol poisoning after a night of binge-drinking is responsible for his/her own decisions, so is he/she who voluntarily consumes a substance that would have other dangerous consequences or health effects.]
As I’ve written before, Silk Road was undoubtedly a net positive for the health, safety, and liberty of most of its customers and sellers. Of course, its benefits went to people who choose to buy or sell things the government has decided we ought not buy or sell, and thus their health, safety, and liberty is something the government is an active enemy of.
Despite a manifest inability on the state’s part to actually wipe out the supposed scourge of drug use and sale, it will continue to spend shocking amounts of our tax money in a futile attempt to at least punish and ruin a few people involved. Today Ross Ulbricht is the butterfly they have broken on their cruel, grinding wheel.
Now, consider the fact that the U.S. government made deals with Mexican drug cartels that allowed traffickers to import billions of dollars of drugs into the U.S., while also running operations in which thousands of weapons were sold into the hands of those very same cartels amidst Mexico’s extremely violent drug war that has resulted in thousands of people killed. And banks that have laundered billions of dollars in drug money have not faced the same criminal prosecutions that Ross has. All of this begs the question: does the United States government have a vested interest and hence an ulterior motive when it comes to its selective enforcement of the drug laws it imposes on its subjects?
Ross provided an enormous service to society by facilitating a peaceful and efficient alternative in a world dominated by ever-expanding, power-hungry governments.
Doherty wrote in the December 2014 issue of Reason Magazine:
Once upon a time, you could buy illegal drugs anonymously online from a site called Silk Road. The postman would show up at your door with your gas bill, maybe a birthday card from mom, and some carefully packaged pot or heroin. Even though you had never met the person you bought the drugs from, the delivery came just as you ordered it.
That’s because the secretive “darknet” site that made this possible-before being shut down by the feds in late 2013-operated a lot like any other online commerce site. Silk Road’s pages, like those at Amazon or Yelp, were dense with seller ratings and reviews, guiding buyers to vendors with good records and high-quality products. Boisterous online forums were a click away, jammed with customer-generated information about drugs, dealers, safety, and whatever else the anonymous technorati wanted to chat about.
From January 2011 to the beginning of October 2013, the FBI estimates, Silk Road facilitated 1.2 million drug deals, moving thousands of kilos of illegal substances and collecting nearly $80 million in commissions. Clients were “typically professionals in the 30- to 40-year-old range” who “want to be treated with respect,” one Silk Road dealer named “Nod” told The Daily Dot in January. The site provided a safe haven not just from the state-sponsored violence of being arrested but from the street hassle of transacting with physical-world drug dealers.
Silk Road’s 950,000 registered users were largely satisfied with their consumer experience. A May 2014 paper in the journal Addiction found that 89 percent of customers surveyed said they chose the site for its wide range of choices, 77 percent valued the higher quality of drugs available, and 69 percent preferred the convenience. A 2012 study by Nicolas Christin for Carnegie Mellon found that 96 percent of Silk Road sellers boasted a consumer rating of 5 out of 5.
Jeffrey Tucker shared a comment he read in a forum about the Silk Road, an example of how Ross and his work helped save lives:
Forrest said Ross’s actions were “terribly destructive to our social fabric.” She, like every other drug warrior in favor of keeping these voluntary exchanges illegal, prefers the transacting of drugs to stay on the black market, where the most violent criminals and gangs in society get their way and SWAT teams routinely take part in raids on homes which sometimes have nothing to do with the buying, selling or using of drugs in the first place.
Ross provided a much safer means of doing business among people making voluntary interactions, but, as a fellow libertarian and anarcho-capitalist, he also advocated it as a solution to the institutionalization of the use of force, which the state’s very existence depends on. As he wrote on his LinkdIn profile:
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. 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.
Ross pleaded with the judge, asking, “Please leave a small light at the end of the tunnel, an excuse to stay healthy, an excuse to dream of better days ahead, and a chance to redeem myself in the free world before I meet my maker.” But Forrest showed no mercy.
Not only is this a travesty in terms of justice, but it’s also a threat to all of us who dare even think about providing a peaceful solution to the problems created by the monolithic state ruling over almost every facet of our lives. The prosecutors themselves stated that they wanted the judge to “send a clear message to anyone tempted to follow his example that the operation of these illegal enterprises comes with severe consequences.” Andy Greenberg, writing for Wired Magazine noted that, in a way, radical Libertarianism itself was also on trial.
Ross, assuming he really was Dread Pirate Roberts, told Greenberg in an interview:
Sector by sector the state is being cut out of the equation and power is being returned to the individual. I don’t think anyone can comprehend the magnitude of the revolution we are in. I think it will be looked back on as an epoch in the evolution of mankind.
This tragedy is a momentous turn of events, whichever way we look at it. Ross Ulbricht is indeed a martyr, and for a while he moved the world further along the road towards a more peaceful and prosperous future. For that, we should be eternally grateful.