Criminality, Counter Economics and the Silk Road, or We’re All Illegalists Now!
At this point in time, it seems of little doubt to most that Ross Ulbricht was none other than a Dread Pirate Roberts (DPR). According to files obtained by the feds off of Ulbricht’s computer, it also appears that he is the first DPR. Moreover, it appears that the first revolutionary drug market kingpin was an utter failure at securing his anonymity. Rather than by an any means necessary approach, Ulbricht advertised his website online and kept tabs on his computer of his escapades. In 2012 when federal agents appeared at Ulbricht’s residence to inquire on packages ordered from his own creation, he did not see this as justification enough to clear out his residence as soon as possible and move to Russia the next day. Instead, he stayed planted in San Francisco confident in his ability to evade law enforcement.
While it’s naïve to assume the story of the DEA and FBI aren’t distorting the truth in their favor, they are almost certainly lying about the details of a series of assassinations allegedly commissioned by Ulbricht, it is also naïve to assume that Ulbricht is not who the feds say he is. With the arrest of Ulbricht, soon after came the seizure of the Silk Road’s servers and Ulbricht’s personal effects, linking him almost certainly with a DPR identity.
Many see this story as implausible. How could the mighty DPR fumble the anonymity ball so much, stay so content in his uneasy status as a resident of the American empire? But I see this not as implausible, but as inevitable. Market solutions are imperfect and unstable things, especially in the face of an all-out war against them by the single largest police force in the world.
The War on Drugs is not a euphemism for aggressive public policy. Since its inception, it has acted as a literal war on drug users, sellers and producers. SWAT raids, invented for the purposes of hostile situations, are used to bust down the doors of hundreds of Americans every year. Billions and billions of dollars are sunk into arming local police departments, which have transformed into military bases equipped with tanks, rockets and innumerable assault weapons. Even those who are not invested in the drug world are affected by this militarization. Innocents gunned down police officers are nothing more than collateral damage which police are only held responsible for in the most brutal cases, and never to the fullest extent possible.
Being that the drug world is literally under siege by a domestic military operation, it is beyond anyone’s imagination how markets like the Silk Road could keep their doors open without a serious injection of class consciousness. All those involved in the drug community are criminals. Whether or not we are all revolutionaries is up for debate. We are criminals first and foremost. When you buy an ounce of pot from your friend, you are in no uncertain terms worthy of being pumped full of bullets in the view of most police and even many citizens.
Those employing the Silk Road must keep aware of this fact. Many imagine Silk Road to be something of a revolution, and I’d largely agree with that analysis. But the state does not see you as revolutionaries. To them, drug users are of the same class as rapists and killers. Those engaging in such activities ought to adjust their activities in accordance with this.
With this in mind, I think a strong case can be made for why those who get into running these markets ought to have a past as a criminal. Idealism is great, but is also blinding and very often naïve. DPR failed because they were too optimistic, because they saw themselves as something other than just a drug kingpin. Of course, their actions do constitute one of the most revolutionary acts of our time. While many of us are happy in talking about counter-economics, it’s rare that someone takes the initiative to start up a project as massive and dangerous as the Silk Road. For this we owe DPR much as an entrepreneur, flawed as their tenure was in perspective. But I believe that many of the pitfalls of a young and inexperienced person with law enforcement tactics is ultimately what led DPR to their and the first Silk Road’s demise.
If we are to believe the DEA and FBI, Ulbricht bought into at least one totally bogus assassination scheme, and was involved in two others they are not elaborating on. It’s my opinion, and the opinion of many who have analyzed this case, that all these so-called assassination attempts were nothing more than entrapment to attain definite charges to tag on to the DPR’s identity. But all of these attempts were in fact rather obvious law enforcement schemes that they knew would work, because they already had a trace on Ulbricht’s identity from his posts on the clearnet advertising the Silk Road during its inception. The feds not only had a track on him, but since they knew Ulbricht had no history with law enforcement, they knew he was naïve.
When you are turned from a citizen into a career criminal by the state, it is a natural reaction that your class will inevitably encounter and have to deal with non-state criminals. Whether it be the Cartels, whose products are all over the Silk Road and other markets, or the Mafia protected gay bars that were a necessity from the 20s to the 60s due to the act of homosexuality being a criminal offense, criminals will mix together. And it’s not obvious that the results are undesirable. As mentioned, the Mafia acted as protector to gays and also to drug users for many years. They created legal bastions of excess. They didn’t do it cause they gave a shit about gays or drug users, but because they were in it for the money. They were in it for a living, not as a revolutionary project. Ulbricht could not even muster the sense to get the hell out of America AFTER the feds had spoken to him about packages originating from Silk Road vendors sent to his goddamn home address. This is not a man with good criminal sense, and that is what a criminal enterprise needs
It is not my intention here to be provocative or to endorse all elements of criminal culture. The Mafia was as patriarchal as it gets despite their enabling of peaceful, public queer-mingling. Still, it must be noted that the queer community was much more interested in social liberation than bland democratic reformism when they were still considered criminals. It’s my opinion that being on the wrong side of the law can be freeing. When you are a criminal, you are also very much an outcast from society. If you are a drug user, you must be careful to hide it. But very often those engaging in nonviolent criminal activity do not see what they are doing as morally heinous, and many are forced to the well-informed conclusion that law cannot possibly be morally dictating.
Unfortunately, criminal life is also violent. Often, this is because of the State, but much of it is cultural. It’s sadly true that there is no, or at least little, honor among thieves. Criminality is as encouraging of dishonesty as it is of independent thought.
This is also why counter-economics matters. The Silk Road is the ultimate counter-economic institution at this point in our history. It is fueled by a decentralized currency which is quickly rising to prominence due to its use in purchasing illegal items and services. One of the great benefits of counter-economic strategy is that it naturally normalizes nonviolent illegal behavior. It undermines criminality, it refuses to acknowledge undue guilt for one’s actions. As of now, those who are in the businesses of illegal drugs are of the criminal class. We must acknowledge this and come to terms with the reality of such a life. We must also work to undermine the cultural norms that allow for such lawful discrimination. Through freeing ourselves now through counter-economic activity, we free ourselves from the social restraints that made us into criminals. So get involved, become a criminal, join the Silk Road and smash the state for fun and profit!