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Op-Ed: Why Ulbricht Needed to Get Life

Which side are you on?

Whilst life is a spectrum of grey, rather than being black or white, formative years can, in some instances, give us a clue as to which side we’ll end up being on or who we’ll be. There are plenty of kids who enjoyed reading and became writers or lawyers, and others who enjoyed vinegar and baking soda volcanoes to such an extent that we end doctors, lab techs, pharmacists (or perhaps, with a couple of years of organic science behind them, and looking at a way to retire early, meth cooks). Your path may’ve been chosen for you, coming from a family of brick layers or bakers. Some of us grew up with something of a white knight complex. Perhaps a military movie’s leading man or woman in uniform made an impression on us during our teens, perhaps a cop let us hold their hat (or loaded gun) as a child. Others found themselves consistently rooting for the bad guy; maybe we really liked the idea of being Tony Montana, a Bond villain, or Hank Scorpio from The Simpsons, for as long as we can remember. Most grow out of it and lead normal lives. Maybe it was at the careers fair, maybe it was upon getting into college, but people’s paths change. Some will learn about it in a practical manner, only to find the drudgery of policing, or the various pitfalls of full time crime, are far removed from what media had us believe. For those who did take it further, perhaps it was in the first week of the academy, or during one’s first visit to central booking. There’s a certain mystique to playing cops and robbers on an epic scale, and some people persist with it.

Cops and robbers on steroids

The realities of the lives that those who traverse the far ends of the spectrum of the social contract and play both amongst and beyond the norms codified into society’s laws – the dogged investigators, and those wholesale violators, who aren’t merely cogs in the wheel of organizations, but are the driving forces – can be very cold, and very hard. When you go from street level drug dealer to regional organization boss to a national, or indeed, international facilitator of crime, the stakes go up exponentially each time you ratchet up, in terms of the rewards, the risks, and the pressure you can expect. I know a good many on both sides of the fence in a professional capacity, and have witnessed the interplay in and out of court when all the games which precipitate a court battle have concluded. Some hate each others’ guts and take everything personally; guys who like to talk themselves up, either on the violator’s side, or the investigator’s side, are part of the game, and it rarely does the relevant side any favours as far as the opposition’s opinion. Ulbricht went so far as to court the mainstream media, so he had very much thrown down the gauntlet to his silent pursuers. Some pretend the other party doesn’t exist, and some get along in the professional context, understanding that each has their role, and that its not personal. But we’re not talking about the finer points of court room etiquette and professional (dis?)courtesy. Ulbricht, in his alter ego as DPR, issued a major challenge to the world at large, and in due course, that challenge was met. He paid the price of admission, and took the ride, all the way to its conclusion.

Some follow their dreams, and there is a price to be paid.

If you have a dream, the bigger it is, the harder you’ll work, and the more you’ll sacrifice to make it reality. You don’t become a world-class athlete overnight; you will need to sacrifice and sacrifice some more to get there, both the opportunities that you are foregoing now, and aspects of the future while you’re at it. Even if you get to the apex of a sport in your own country, you don’t win an Olympic gold medal unless you work harder than everyone else (unless you’re name’s Steven Bradbury. It seems that Ross Ulbricht had a dream, and he followed it all the way. What he conceived in his mind and how it played out are probably somewhat divergent, but he got the attention of the senate, and was targetted as the figurehead of a cutting-edge, technology facilitated criminal threat which had not been seen before on a similar scale. And now, having been found guilty by a jury, as of Friday, he’s doing two life sentences as a result.

The problem is for LE is, running a DNM is an achievable dream

We’ve all seen it happen again and again since the original Silk Road – market after market has stepped up to fill the vacuum, some more resilient than others. Why? Because this ain’t the Mafia – A proficient coder with a touch of egomania, an unbridled capitalist bent, mixed with a dash of ruthlessness or apathy toward the laws they’re breaking, can acquire the remaining skillsets needed to become the next DPR with an ease which one does not see in the traditional criminal hierarchy. If you have the capacity to code and maintain a TOR site, you could, in this day and age, potentially be the next DPR. The dizzying highs of facilitating international drug trafficking, the intoxicating power of ordering the deaths of those who cross you, could all be yours without the years it would take you to approach it from the traditional pathways. He created the organization anonymously, and in (what at the time seemed to be) a manner beyond the reach of law enforcement.

One of the primary, underlying motivations of Ulbricht’s two life sentences is a concept known in law as ‘general deterrence’ – essentially, “kill the chicken to scare the monkey”, seek to intimidate others against pursuing a similar course of action. Without spending hours philosophically debating the federal sentencing guidelines and the submissions made by both sides as to how sentencing should have played out for Ross Ulbricht, there is one point which is undeniable. Whether you regard Silk Road as a resounding demonstration of the fallacy which is the war on drugs, a harbinger of doom which may well have facilitated your innocent children’s descent into Reefer Madnes had it been left unchecked, or just a solid place to source your MDMA, Ulbricht achieved what he achieved as the ‘kingpin’ of a ‘drug empire’ (do forgive the hyperbole) in an astonishingly short timeframe, and with limited specific expertise or skillsets. No multiple years spent as a foot soldier, dealing on the street, in a larger organization, looking to rise through the ranks and get indoors. None of the ducking and weaving from competitors and law enforcement, which results in a high rate of attrition through incarceration or death.

General deterrence winning the day

Can two life sentences for this kind of conduct be justified on this basis? If we were ignoring the various other aspects considered in the Ulbricht trial, it wouldn’t be as quite easy to say yes – obviously, a good deal of other materials came out at trial, the spurious murders for hire all being a big part of the story. Right now, law enforcement world wide is up against a wholly new animal, and the aim is to disrupt all those who issue a challenge, and put Ulbricht’s head on a pike is part of the game plan; for just as easily as you too maybe the next DPR, the Government would like you to pause and consider that, you too, may just as easily spend the rest of your life in a federal penitentiary.


  1. Thank you Mr Government Loser.

    • I think what he’s getting at is humanistic free will: not so much that Ulbricht, in his opinion, needed to get life; it was, from how I interpret it, saying the government needed him to get life for deterrence.

      And the accomplishments of which he speaks surely implies that whether or not Ulbricht deserved life in prison [regardless of seeing it through or outside of government perspective], he did accept the consequences when he went for the dream – that was his point, I’m thinking.

      Maybe trying too hard to be balanced; maybe even leaning toward the government’s side, a bit, but even so….

  2. wilkins micawber esquire

    Ulbricht’s mistake was “running” SR from a country like the US which has a totally corrupt justice system wide open to political prosecutions!

    the “message” sent by TPTB in this particular case is that they need little or no evidence to put you on ice for good; especially if the prosecution has political over-tones;

    will be interesting to see if Ulbricht’s totally bogus “conviction” gets turfed by the SCotUS….

    hope-fully, it will….and soon!

    • it’s not really that other countries are any better in their judicial system. It’s only because they, unlike our government, generally couldn’t care less about having this online [aside from Tor being part of the mix], so they wouldn’t, a: extradict, and/or b: prosecute, themselves.

    • I am sure that Russia may be more accomadinting, however they love to steal peoples bank accounts and credit cards more. Now North Korea on the other hand.

      I can totally see the Hermit Kingdom running not only the most Epic of markets but they likely have been already and we have been using it all along and all the markets are ran by Kim. Here me out.

      It is common knowledge that the Kim family Sire, Kim Il Sung was born when a Unicorn farted on a Mountain and a rare quadruple rainbow appeared, EPIC, right? No there is more… He invented the internet, not Al Gore so it stands to reason he also invented TOR.

      The second Kim to rise and lead the Majestic Hermit Kingdom plays golf and gets a hole in one every time, without fail, also invented the Hamburger and iPad as well.

      But here is where it is proven how epic the Kim’s really are. The third Kim to rise and begrudgingly tale on the task of ruling over such a place cured Ebola, Aids and Cancer in his spare time using Ginseng, just last month.

      Now you tell me. Is it not after all that a near certainty that Kim Il Jung is not running the Inter-tubes the Dark Inter-tubes and Dark markets?

  3. Mike Le Critique

    Silk Road was unique. On the day of Ulbricht’s sentence there were some 30 Darknet sites operating. Discuss.

  4. The law might have been trying to send a clear message to DNMs but the reply has been rather positive with the ascension of many more DNMs :D

  5. tl dr We see what side you’re on, author

  6. What does DNM mean ?

  7. Why post this old Jew’s nonsense? Bunch of rambling nonsense. The deterence thing is a fallacy. You get life for murder, has that stopped murders?…

    • Kyle

      no but executing them does. You can say: well Ulbricht didn’t murder anyone. He still tried with the intent and as far as he knew, he had done so. This counts in the legal process – I’m not saying I like or don’t like it; just explaining the way it works in courts.

      • brunwald

        The death penalty as practiced in most of the world does not measurably impact serious crime rates. At the very least, you can say there is substantial debate with in the academic community as to the efficacy of using the death penalty as a deterent to crime.



        • The death penalty doesn’t have a significant effect on murder rates because most murders are a result of unplanned, spontaneous events spiralling out of control rather than carefully planned and deliberate attempts to kill.

          Turns out few murderers even think about the consequences beforehand because they are either too angry to make good decisions or because they aren’t actually planning to kill anyone.

          But arguments against the effectiveness of harsh sentences for murder don’t apply to crimes that require a significant amount of planning and premeditation. Nobody wakes up in the morning as a normal citizen and finds themselves in jail for running a darknet drug empire by the end of the day. These sorts of crimes, ones that require forethought and planning, are most definitely affected by harsher sentences as perpetrators do weigh risks and rewards before making a conscious decisions to act.

          The question of whether or not we should be making examples out of people and whether or not victimless commercial transactions should be among the crimes eligible for such “lessons” are good ones and should be where people focus their efforts if they want to fight the injustice in Ulbricht’s.

      • Ulbricht hasn’t even been charged with attempted murder much less convicted of it. The judge in his case would have needed a conviction on those charges to justify factoring that into his sentence justification. So no, that is not the way the courts look at it. They looked only at the banned commercial activities being conducted on SR and his sentence is due solely to that.

  8. Aside from the international implications & the “murder for hire” allegations (which were all dropped btw), what is the difference between what DPR did & what Craigslist currently does? You can buy all of the drugs (& a lot more hookers) on CL now & nobody blinks.

  9. Obviously the punishment is excessive but what you take from it is what counts; do you cower, fretful of the consequences or do you push back and resist?
    It’s only everything that’s already happened in the past but with different parameters, even though the results are the same.

  10. What Ross did was an awesome achievement! As has been noted already, silkroad became huge very fast, and thus Ross became international quicker than has ever been done before. He created a place where consenting adults were able to transact with each other safely, compared to the streets, or anywhere for that matter. I know there may have been some kids that used the site to get drugs, but that happens every where…so dont start bringing up children and how they were hurt, because that shit is getting old and really shows that all other aspect of the argument for drug prohibition fails on its face. Ross should’ve done things differently, but look at the bullshit the court and the government (btw the massive amount of resources spent on one man is astounding) pulled throughout the trial. Our dumbdowned public which the juries are pulled from tend to do what the courts tell them to do and then defer all culpability to the court when they vote guilty of a defendant who actually did not commit a crime. The murder for hire shit was not substantiated and shouldnt have been brought up at all. The agents (government thugs) were corrupt as fuck (yeah I know…there’s a surprise right). Which as long as they work for govt, I’m sure that stealing bitcoins and making up bullshit on the investigation’s timeline under oath to the court is just routine actions that’s allowed to happen. Ross should not be givin a new trial!! No, what should happen is Ross should be let free and an apology should be publically given, along with compensation for the time he has had to waste in this whole ordeal. I hope that happens and it couldnt happen soon enough. All of us need to understand that a life (yes your life) is a real, tangible, and valuable thing, and it belongs and is owned to the person who lives that life (ie…you own your life). Right now its so ingrained into the average person that government knows best for you, a crime is when you disobey the govt, and that govt is trying hard to keep us safe. And this is how we have all turned ownership of our lives over to a group of shitty ass folks called govt. Fuck that stupid song “This is my land, this is your land”…and start singing “This is my life, this is your life” and however the rest of it would go. Fuck govt!! They can lick these nuts…Ross keep your head up and always know that you have moved us closer to freedom here in the USA. You wont have to do life, you will be out way before then…Im sure it will be some years, but you will be free again!!

    • KnightMirror

      Damn, dude. Thank you for posting this. Sadly, people will continue to just not give a fuck, and do not give a fuck until it is themselves or someone they love that is being put on trial. The justice system and laws governing society has bred a sick pathology deeply ingrained unto the subconsciousness of our population as a whole. It is they/we who are guilty of choosing the comfort of complacency by refusing to confront this dissonant cognition from resonating.

  11. No murders, multiple corrupt agents involved proven and on trial for stealing Silk Road/Ross’ Bitcoin, while they tried to entrap him with some wild, childish, corrupt and likely booze or drug fulled “Murder For Hire Internationally” baloney, come on now… This should be an easy case for many Appeals Lawyers.

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