Druglord, Genius, or Saint? What Kind of Man, Really, Is Silk Road’s Dread Pirate Roberts?

(Originally published November, 2014)

As many of you must know, the US government (and I’m not certain of all the agencies involved) has charged a young man named Ross Ulbricht with being “Dread Pirate Roberts” (DPR), the “drug kingpin” behind the Silk Road online bazaar. You probably do not know, however, that he goes on trial in two months.

I also suspect that many of you saw the government’s well-publicized hit man allegations. Supposedly Mr. Ulbricht was into murder for hire. Funny thing, though—those allegations evaporated by the time formal charges had to be filed. It makes you wonder whether those allegations were always strictly for show (read “character assassination”). It made me wonder, at least.

Adding another turn, it seems pretty clear that the FBI flatly lied about its evidence. As I read it, this supposed evidence should be inadmissible.

So, we have a big trial coming in January, minus the murder charges that were so well publicized, and probably involving fabricated evidence.

On the other hand, we have Chucky Schumer (senator from New York, where this trial will take place) standing behind it all. So you have to wonder how much political clout has been dedicated to a conviction. But even so, if a jury is involved, even senatorial power doesn’t lock in the desired result.

So, this shapes up to be very interesting. Through it all, however, one question stands unanswered:

What Kind of Man Is This Dread Pirate Roberts?

First of all, we don’t really know that Ross Ulbricht was DPR. We’ll have to see what happens at the trial on that question. But whether Ross is or isn’t, who is this person? He took his name from the cult classic film The Princess Bride, but that only tells us that DPR has a sense of humor.

While I never used Silk Road myself, I do have contacts who did, so I asked them about DPR. Here’s what I received:

I read everything he wrote from the first month onward … He was really quite a model citizen, and described the meaning of his actions anytime he was making a change or implementing a new policy. He said we were doing this to honor the part of ourselves shared by every hero of the past who fought, and sometimes died to protect liberty. Started a book club where people read and discussed Mises, Rothbard, etc. He took a very laissez faire approach.

The archive of the Silk Road forum seems to be gone, but quite a few of DPR’s posts were collected and published by Andy Greenberg at Forbes. Here are some of the man’s thoughts:

On DPR’s Book Club:

I started this club because I think the pursuit of truth is one of the most noble human endeavors. Debating these issues is critical for us to construct a world-view that is grounded in reason and can guide us forward. Assuming great success for Silk Road, how easily could it become another blood thirsty cartel seeking profit at all costs? We must maintain our integrity and be true to our principles, the opportunity to make a lasting difference is too great not to.

On the American Founding Fathers:

First off, I can’t applaud them enough for what they accomplished given the circumstances. It’s easy to critique centuries later, supported by the wealth their system allowed to emerge. But I wonder how things would have happened differently had the constitution been 100% voluntary. As in, here are the rules our members live by and how those rules are amended. If you want to be in the club, you must pay your dues and follow the rules, but if you want to go it alone, or join a different club, we won’t bother you unless you bother us, and you are free to go at any time.

On Guns:

We believe that an individual’s ability to defend themselves is a cornerstone of a civil society. Without this, those with weapons with eventually walk all over defenseless individuals. It could be criminals who prey on others, knowing they are helpless. It could be police brutalizing people with no fear of immediate reprisal. And as was seen too many times in the last century, it could be an organized government body committing genocide on an entire unarmed populace. Without the ability to defend them, the rest of your human rights will be eroded and stripped away as well.

On the Federal Reserve:

The Federal Reserve system relies on the force of government to maintain its monopoly power on the issuance of money. This is how all central banks maintain their control. Without the state’s involvement, people would be free to use whatever currency they like. Historically this was gold … If you want to use a debt based inflationary monetary system, go right ahead, doesn’t affect me so long as you don’t try to force me to use it as well.

On Liberty and Markets:

Liberty is not a pill that makes men angels. What it does do is limit the extent to which evil can be expressed in the world. Right now, in any given geographic area, we have a monopoly on many of the most vital social institutions that is maintained through violence. If voluntary organizations consolidate their power and turn on their customers and start stealing from them, putting them in cages, killing them, spying on them and telling them what they can and can’t do, well then we’re back to where we started, the present day state. But, if I am correct, and the pressure for those firms to compete with one another for our favor leads them to serve us, then we can have freedom and prosperity the likes of which the world has never known.

Fine, but Why Drugs?

I think a lot of us find common ground with these passages, but the question remains, what about all the drugs? They were the primary product sold at Silk Road.

I’m not particularly a fan of drug use, but either we have the right to do as we wish with our own bodies (peacefully, of course) or else we’re slaves. It really is one or the other, no matter how much creative logic is invoked to win an argument.

So, as far as I’m concerned, Silk Road had every moral right to provide a financial structure that people used to sell pot, LSD, and Ecstasy. Your body, your life, your choice.

But even beyond that, a free market like Silk Road would involve drugs no matter what DPR did. This was explained in a cypherpunk paper titled Toward A Private Digital Economy, published in 2004:

The development of private digital markets has followed the predictions of property rights theory. (And likely will continue to do so.) ….

By this theory, the first to wall-off private areas of cyberspace [as when creating markets like Silk Road] should be people who don’t care about the risk, or people who the rulers would be willing to hurt anyway. ….

[T]he first people to wall-off cyberspace have been exactly these. Freedom activists were first, and are now being followed by people who are gambling, hiding money from tax collectors, engaging in sex work, viewing pornography, and so on.

In other words, it was inevitable that drug sellers would flock to Silk Road. The state wanted to hurt them already, so Silk Road actually reduced their risk. Likewise drug buyers; it gave them better product and reduced, almost to zero, their chance of being shot or robbed on a nasty street corner.

DPR’s Character

While I appreciate intelligence, what I really look for in other people is their character. I don’t care how much of a genius you are; if you don’t have kindness to go along with it, I’m not particularly interested in hanging out.

So, I want to close this examination of DPR with two passages that I think demonstrate his character. See for yourself:

If prohibition is lifted, where will you be? Will you forget about all this revolution stuff? Will you go back to ignoring that itching feeling that something isn’t right, that men in uniforms and behind desks have just a bit too much control over your life, and are taking more and more of your sovereignty every day? Will you go back to thinking that taxes are as inevitable as death and the best you can do is to pull as hard as you can for them until your mind, body and spirit are all used up? ….

I know where I’ll be. I won’t rest until children are born into a world where oppression, institutional violence and control, world war, and all the other hallmarks of the state are as ancient history as pharaohs commanding armies of slaves. The drug war merely brings to light their nature and shows us who they really are. ….


It’s a privilege to have a stage to speak from here. It doesn’t get said enough, and it is hard to get across in this medium, but … I love you.

Who knew that a softy could lead an international narcotics organization? Behind my wall of anonymity, I don’t have to intimidate, thankfully. But yea, I love you guys. Thank you for being here. Thank you for being my comrades. Thank you for being yourselves and bringing your unique perspectives and energy.

You, of course, will make up your own mind. As for me, if Ross Ulbricht really is this guy, I want to be his friend.

Paul Rosenberg

This article was originally published by Casey Research.