Speaking publicly for the first time since a 2013 arrest for his role in creating and managing bitcoin-based online marketplace Silk Road, Ross Ulbricht described his original intentions for the darknet site and appealed to the Bitcoin community to continue advocating for freedom.
“I’ve spent the last eight years watching Bitcoin grow up from in here,” Ulbricht said in a phone interview with Bitcoin Magazine from a maximum security federal prison, which premiered at the Bitcoin 2021 conference. “I’ve seen incredible innovation. I’ve seen inspiring courage. We didn’t know how things would turn out for Bitcoin back in the beginning, but over the years, I’ve been continually impressed with what you’ve accomplished… We are transforming the global economy. We have brought a taste of freedom and equality to far corners of the world. I know we can transform criminal justice, too.”
Ulbricht launched Silk Road in 2011, when he was 26, and it quickly became the most significant real-world use case for the pseudonymous, censorship-resistant attributes of the recently-launched Bitcoin project. In 2015 he was convicted of money laundering, computer hacking and conspiracy to traffic illicit items and received a double life sentence plus forty years in prison.
During the call, he explained that he had launched Silk Road without an understanding of how popular it would be or how exactly it would be used, but with a desire to leverage the unique properties of Bitcoin.
“I thought with Bitcoin, I could try and do something that actually makes a difference… Back then, I was impatient,” he said. “I rushed ahead with my first idea, which was Silk Road… That’s a 26-year-old who thinks he has to save the world before someone beats him to it. I had no idea Silk Road would work, but now we all know it caught on. It was used to sell drugs, and now I’m in prison.”
He underscored the fact that he faces a lifetime in prison because he had tried to enable a marketplace that sought to operate outside of mainstream regulation.
“The irony is that I made Silk Road in the first place because I thought I was furthering the things I cared about: Freedom, privacy, equality,” Ulbricht said. “But by making Silk Road, I wound up in a place where those things don’t exist.”
Ulbricht’s family and friends have maintained the Free Ross project in an effort to garner support for a reduction in his sentence. During the call, Ulbricht appealed to the Bitcoin community to realize the freedom-enhancing qualities of the technology by helping cases like his own.
“Bitcoin is strong,” Ulbricht said. “Bitcoin is powerful. We are powerful. And our work is not over. It’s time to wake up, it’s time to take the next step.”