Welcome to the story of Ross Ulbricht, a man who went from a college student exploring libertarianism to the mastermind behind the infamous Silk Road.
So without further ado, let’s jump right in.
Ross’s story began on March 27, 1984. Growing up in Austin Texas he had a surprisingly normal upbringing. He was a boy scout growing up and was described as being a compassionate child.
After graduating from high school in 2002. Ross would receive a scholarship to attend the University of Texas. During this time, he started to explore more libertarian views.
Supporting popular political philosopher Ludwig von Mises and other well-known libertarian politicians such as Ron Paul. After graduating, in 2006 he would pursue his master’s degree in materials science and engineering from Pennsylvania State University.
Despite his achievements, Ross struggled to find a regular job. As a result, he launched his day trading operation. However, this quickly failed.
But this didn’t stop Ross from pursuing other business ventures and he would go on to found an online book store known as Good Wagon Books with his partner Donny Palmertree.
This company would see huge success in 2010 when Donny resigned and handed the company over to Ross. However, this was short-lived and it was shut down in 2011 after a catastrophic accident that led to bookshelves collapsing in one of its warehouses.
During this time was when Ross discovered Bitcoin, a new digital currency free from government control it piqued his interest immediately. After all, he was a die-hard libertarian.
Stating in his LinkedIn profile that “my goals have shifted. I want to use economic theory as a means to abolish the use of coercion and aggression amongst mankind.”
This led to the creation of Silk Road. An anonymous drug market that ran on the tor network which uses data encryption and masks users’ IP addresses by routing traffic through various intermediaries.
Under the guise of the anonymous username “Dread Pirate Roberts”. Ross started with the selling of just 10 pounds of psilocybin mushrooms, but this demand rapidly increased and website traffic increased exponentially.
At its peak, the site had over a million registered users and was estimated to have generated over $213 million in sales with over $13 million going to Ross thanks to commissions.
However, the success of Silk Road was short-lived. In October 2013, Ulbricht was arrested by the FBI and charged with multiple crimes, including drug trafficking, money laundering, and facilitating criminal activity.
The FBI had been tracking Ulbricht for months, using various tactics to uncover his identity and gather evidence against him. Police managed to infiltrate the site and become an admin uncovering insider information on operations.
They found that Ross was active during Pacific time, narrowing his location. Not to mention, by mid-2013 they linked his username “Dread Pirate Roberts” to a username from the forum stack overflow that was connected to his real name.
On May 29, 2015, Ross was found guilty on all charges and was sentenced to double life in prison without the possibility of parole. He was also ordered to pay a total of $183 million in restitution.
The judge in the case stated that Ulbricht’s actions through Silk Road had caused “harm and destruction” and that he needed to be punished to the fullest extent of the law.
Following Ulbricht’s arrest and conviction, Silk Road was shut down and its assets were seized by the government. The site’s reputation and legacy, however, continued to live on, inspiring others to create similar darknet marketplaces.
In the years following his arrest, Ulbricht has become somewhat of a folk hero to some, who view him as a martyr for the cause of individual freedom and privacy. To others he is a hardened criminal. I hope you found this article useful and thanks for reading it.
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