On Feb. 4, Ross Ulbricht was convicted on all counts of the charges he faced for allegedly creating and running Silk Road, a Dark Web marketplace where state-disapproved goods and services were sold. When this happened, I made six observations on the event. On May 29, he was sentenced to two life sentences plus 35 years in prison with no chance for parole. He was also ordered to pay $183,961,921 in civil asset forfeiture. This event has at least eight important observations. Let us examine them.
2. By this standard, Judge Katherine Forrest is the real criminal here. As an agent of the state, she is paid with money that was extorted from the American people at gunpoint. By sentencing a man who has victimized no one to a lifetime in a cage, she has made herself an accessory to kidnapping. For her conduct toward the jury in denying them important information that they would need in order to make a fair decision, she has endeavored to influence, intimidate, or impede petit jurors. But because she is an agent of the state, and the state has a monopoly on criminal punishment, she will not face a life sentence for these activities as you or I would if one of us behaved identically.
3. This sentence was given more for a chilling effect than for justice. Prosecutors asked Judge Forrest to “send a clear message” with a sentence for Ulbricht well beyond the mandatory minimum, and she seemed all too happy to comply. “For those considering stepping into your shoes…they need to understand without equivocation that there will be severe consequences,” Forrest said. This is in keeping with typical statist tactics: pick a few high-profile defendants, preferably those who are viewed unsympathetically by the public, and make examples of them.
4. The chilling effect has already failed to deter the trend started by Ulbricht. The caging of Ulbricht for the rest of his natural life will do nothing to stop the dozens of new websites similar to Silk Road that sprung up following Ulbricht’s arrest and the seizure of the original site. Each time that agents of the state shut one down, more are created to replace it and their owners do not make the same mistakes that got the prior website owners identified and arrested. Also noteworthy is that marijuana, which made up the majority of sales on the original Silk Road, is quickly moving toward legalization.
5. Another dangerous precedent has been set. In the previous set of observations, I discussed how this case could create a chilling effect upon website owners, as Ulbricht is being harshly punished for creating a forum where illegal activities occurred when previously, only those who actually engaged in such activities directly were targeted by the state. But there is another precedent which has been set by the life sentence against Ulbricht. Had Judge Forrest been more lenient, perhaps only using the mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years imprisonment, those who have yet to be arrested, prosecuted, and imprisoned by the state for engaging in similar activities would have some sense that they could serve some jail time and have a meaningful life after prison. With a sentence of life without parole, however, Ulbricht will likely die behind bars after serving more time there than many convicts who are sentenced to death. Those who will follow in his footsteps now have every incentive to take up arms and hold court in the street rather than submit to government agents who attempt to arrest them. After all, why not get your money’s worth and take a few costumed criminals with you on your way out if you are essentially facing a death sentence either way?
6. The state cares more about maintaining its power than about the well-being of its citizens. Reece’s razor says that whenever there are several possible explanations for a government action or policy, the most cynical explanation is the most likely to be correct. While starry-eyed state propagandists may argue that politicians want to make it harder for people to obtain substances that will harm or kill them as well as stop people from contracting for illegal services like assassinations because they care about their citizens and want them to be safe, the truth is that the rational self-interest of those who wield state power is to expand that power and remain in control of it. This is best accomplished by maintaining a boogeyman to scare the populace into supporting the state, and the creation of a site that decreases the amount of violence in the drug trade by undercutting the established cartels (and the CIA) is contrary to that goal. The idea that politicians value a rationale for government power more than the safety of their constituents are the most cynical explanations, so Reece’s razor selects them.
7. Events like this will keep happening until people put a stop to it. People will ultimately endure the level of oppression that they will tolerate. Taken to its logical conclusion, this means that a large enough and strong enough culture of resistance could end the oppressions of statism by making a place ungovernable. Applied to this particular case, it means that the War on Drugs will continue until the people refuse to tolerate it and those like Ross Ulbricht will remain caged until the people demand their release. The only questions concern which combination of the soapbox, the ballot box, the jury box, and the ammo box they will use to express this refusal, and whether the victims of the War on Drugs and the prison industrial complex will gain their freedom by pardon or by jailbreak.
8. Agorism alone will not end the state. This observation was in the previous list of six, but it bears repeating. Silk Road (and its successors) are experiments in agorism, which is the idea that a stateless society can eventually be achieved by using gray and black markets as much as possible while relying less on state-sanctioned markets. The trouble with this approach, as seen in the Ulbricht case, is that black market enterprises will eventually be revealed to government authorities, whether by an active search by the authorities, carelessness by those who run the black market enterprise, or snitching by those who run state-sanctioned enterprises. When this inevitably happens, those who run black market enterprises must either surrender to agents of the state or try to forcefully repel them. While agorism can be a positive force for freedom, meeting statist violence with non-violence will only continue to get good people like Ulbricht imprisoned or killed.