The Silk Road Lives On

While Its Founder Rots in Prison

The Story

In 2011, Ross Ulbricht, a twenty six year old idealistic libertarian from Texas, developed the Silk Road website with the hope that it would serve as an empowering platform for individuals to securely, anonymously and safely obtain and sell illegal substances. While small at first and only catering to small-time drug dealers interested in shuffling around mushrooms and pot, it grew quickly into an enormous online drug emporium. The site, while embracing the quintessentially libertarian ideals of returning power to the individual, was also operating under extremely illegal pretenses.

The Sentence

In 2015, Ross Ulbricht was sentenced to serve two consecutive life terms in prison, without the possibility of parole for the trafficking and distribution of narcotics; a truly draconian punishment. One of the accusations initially brought against him was for soliciting murder; a suggestion he “demonstrated a willingness to use violence…soliciting six murders-for-hire in connection with operating the site, although there is no evidence that these murders were actually carried out,” according to prosecutors.

The Results

In her final statements, the judge demonstrated her utter contempt for Ross. She mentioned how privileged he was, why it made no sense for him to commit these crimes, and why, due to the high profile nature of this case, it was incumbent upon her to show the world that this type of brazenly criminal behavior would not be tolerated. The decision to send Ross away to prison for life without parole was made very deliberately as an effort to deter all other wannabe cyber criminals from starting their own online drug emporiums. The judge gambled with his life, hoping that this extreme punishment would yield long term results— and prevent Silk Road 2.0.

Conclusion

The fact is that, in the case of Ross Ulbricht, draconian punishment didn’t effectively deter criminals from engaging in the exact same criminal activities that Ross engaged in online. It has effectively just pushed them down deeper, forced them to adapt but did not expunge them from existence. The dark web’s marketplaces are still alive and well; now they’re just harder for law enforcement officials to detect. The excessive punishment bestowed upon Ross Ulbricht was simply a showy act, a virtue signal, an emotional response from a judge who clearly didn’t understand that what Ross invented wouldn’t simply disappear. Like it or not, people will always want to consume intoxicating substances and will find ways to get them. For daring to invent an entirely new (arguably much safer) way to buy and sell drugs online, Ross got two consecutive life terms with no possibility of parole. In this case, the system only succeeded in robbing a young man of his life, his potential, and the chance for reform.

free minds = free people

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store