Ross Ulbricht is an American with some controversial ideas. He doesn’t like the way the government controls people through taxes, he doesn’t believe in explaining to The System what you do for a living, what you spend your money on or where you keep it. His life’s philosophy made him quite popular among his friends. He was seen as a visionary, a smart man with nothing but a desire to change the world, and he certainly did it with Silk Road on the Dark Web.
Ross Ulbricht wanted to build a community of people willing to help each other. He realized that someone somewhere had what others somewhere else needed. The only inconvenient was putting them in touch without the state noticing, mainly because people sometimes want to buy things the government doesn’t want them to have.
That’s when Ross Ulbricht came up with the Silk Road website, a safe place for you to buy or sell pretty much anything you need. Except for assassinations, child pornography, and stolen goods.
A Spicy Mix: Tor, Bitcoin, and Drugs
Originally, the Silk Road was a marketing channel that connected Asia with Europe. It was called like that because the most commercialized product was silk. It is of historical significance because it connected the world economically for centuries.
Ulbricht took this name for his website. The new Silk Road basically had the same functionality as the original Silk Road, only that the merchandise was somewhat different: heroin, LSD, marijuana and other drugs.
Silk Road used the Tor Network to not be discovered by law enforcement. Basically, the browser allowed to cover his computer’s IP with multiple layers, so that whoever wanted to locate him (or any Silk Road user) through it, would go through a nightmare of false data. Transactions were made with Bitcoin, a digital currency of anonymous character. Ross Ulbricht had the potential to become the Pablo Escobar of the 21st century. Purchase, sale, and distribution were completely invisible and in one place.
The site was very simple. If you were a buyer you only had to access it through a Tor browser and register. If you were a seller you had to pay a sum of bitcoins to create a profile, just to make sure that the sellers weren’t spies and sold “quality” merchandise.
Ross Ulbricht: A Dangerous Ideology
The Silk Road founder didn’t necessarily seem like a bad guy. He truly believed that people had the right to choose what to do with their lives, whether that meant to use drugs or buying guns to protect themselves. His futuristic vision of the world was one where we didn’t need a Big Brother watching us from above because we would be able to solve our own problems and have access to food, clothing, health, and peace without paying a single penny to the government.
And that’s more or less how the Silk Road community worked. They were honest sellers and buyers. The site became so popular that 99% of the transactions were rated positively and word spread so much, that The Economist and Forbes even reviewed it. It attracted so much public attention that even the value of Bitcoin significantly increased in mid-2013 caused by the number of buyers. Business was growing and going strong… until Ross Ulbricht made a rookie’s mistake.
The Fallen Empire of Silk Road
The FBI agents on the case were desperate to take the Silk Road website down. They were trying even the silliest moves, and one was successful. One of the agents thought that, before launching the website, Ulbricht had to do some publicity. So he checked any online record of Silk Road before 2011, its founding year.
He stumbled upon a Bitcoin forum, where someone named “Altoid” had asked for help building a sells site and left his email for anyone who could help him… the address was [email protected]
Police then started checking on Ulbricht’s every move. They followed his steps so closely that they noticed one of the regular buyers on Silk Road had received a job offer from Ross Ulbricht. The user was “chronic pain” and he was supposed to help other sellers whenever any inconveniences occurred with customers.
The FBI found the man behind “chronic pain”, charged him with seemingly fake charges of cocaine possession and forced him to help them with the investigation. They took around $350k from Ulbricht’s account through “chronic pain”, expecting Ross would make another mistake… and he did.
Another undercover agent infiltrated Silk Road as a seller. He had made friends with Ulbricht, had offered a hitman to make the $350k’s thief pay. Ross knew it had to be “chronic pain”, so after some deliberation, and very much against his original believes, he accepted the offer and ordered his assassination.
The Fall of Ross Ulbricht
The FBI faked the death of “chronic pain”, so now, Ross Ulbricht had an attempted murder charge on his back. A year later, fully sure Silk Road’s founder was Ross Ulbricht, the police staged his detention at a public library he was using to control the site.
The strongest proof of his crime was Ross Ulbricht’s journal. He had kept a detailed digital track of every thought and transaction. Ross was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of freedom in 2015. He’s currently held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York and is slowly running out of chances to ever get freed.
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