Interview: Lyn Ulbricht (Ross’ mother) on Bitcoin and criminal justice

In its early days, Bitcoin was an interesting invention and people were trying to convene to find its usefulness in trading pictures or buying pizza. However, it wasn’t until Ross Ulbricht created Silk Road that people actually saw the true value of Satoshi Nakamoto’s invention: a decentralized, trustless and uncensorable currency is the perfect fit for a free anonymous market which allows users to engage in trade without the intervention of a governmental regulator.

If the Silk Road was a libertarian pipe dream which got taken down by the FBI and led to the arrest of its founderss, Bitcoin has managed to thrive thanks to its newly-acquired reputation as uncontrolled sound money which enables financial sovereignty. But on the 10th anniversary of Satoshi Nakamoto’s “Bitcoin: A Peer to Peer Electronic Cash System“, it’s good to think about the first people who helped Bitcoin rise to popularity and demonstrate its unprecedented qualities. Regardless if you sympathize with Ross Ulbricht and align with his ideological beliefs, you can’t deny his influence and importance in the history of the world’s biggest and most important cryptocurrency.

For this reason, we’ve decided to contact the Free Ross initiative and have a conversation with Lyn Ulbricht, the mother of Ross and the main advocate behind his attempt to receive clemency from the President of the United States of America. To some, Ross is the reason they have become millionaires and have started successful careers in crypto: Litecoin creator Charlie Lee has declared that he found out about Bitcoin after reading an article about Silk Road, while the likes of Roger Ver and Erik Voorhees have showed their open political and financial support to the Silk Road architect.

Ross Ulbricht was ahead of his time in his decision to adopt Bitcoin as the only mean of payment – and if today Wall Street executives begin to acknowledge the value of Bitcoin and contemplate on opening trading desks, in 2011 the situation was not as optimistic and prospective for money-making.

For the Bitcoin Whitepaper’s tenth anniversary, you’re invited to read an insightful interview which is meant to take you back to different times when BTC was still a new and promising technology. You also get to learn about the consequences and martyrdom of being ahead of your time by adopting a mean of payment which the governments frown upon.

Just keep in mind that the views expressed only belong to the author and do not reflect the opinions of Crypto Insider, its writing contributors, and its sponsors. Transcription credits go to Vlad, Blakely, and Nathan. Cover image courtesy of Ulbricht family.

 

Vlad: Hello and welcome to the Crypto Insider interview. I’m Vlad and today’s a very special occasion because, on the 10th anniversary of Bitcoin, we get to talk to none other than the mother of Ross Ulbricht, Mrs. Lyn Ulbricht. Did I say that right?

Lyn Ulbricht: Correct!

Vlad: It’s good to have you hear and you have no idea influential is in this industry and how many millionaires exist today because of him.

Lyn Ulbricht: Well, maybe they’ll help me get him out, and many have, but um, I’m gonna continue to need financial support so I hope some of those people will step up because I have a lot of lawyers right now.

Vlad: I remember the first time I heard about the case, I was in Paris, I think in 2014, and I was reading the Rolling Stone coverage which presented Ross as some sort “Billy the kid” of our times.

Lyn Ulbricht: Yeah, that was a horrible interview.

Vlad: Yeah, I remember, but I didn’t know better either because —

Lyn Ulbricht: I didn’t know better either, I just talked to a guy, it was a mistake.

Vlad: So he’s portrayed as a villain, and that’s all I could get at the time, it wasn’t like I had all these resources and right now. Before recording I checked the website, the FreeRoss.org website, and you have this series of documentaries which are called Railroaded.

Lyn Ulbricht: Railroaded – that’s right, the targeting and caging of Ross Ulbricht, yeah.

Vlad: I’ve watched the first couple of them and they were very informative and they reveal a lot about the U.S. judiciary system.

Lyn Ulbricht: Uh huh – and also it’s important for people to realize that it’s completely based on the record, we’re not saying any opinion or what we think, this is all just strictly taken from the public record, and we did it because we realized that we didn’t even know everything, nevermind people reading the media which was so limited. So we started putting it together and it became kind of a narrative really, and then someone said “hey, do an audio component,” and we were very lucky to have a volunteer supporter who’s a professional narrate it, and then we just added pictures to go along with the narration to make kind of a little video. And it’s quite, I think, very riveting, and it does reveal a lot, and again, it’s all on the record. It is not us saying “oh, we think this happened” or some theory, that may still not be true, but it is based on the government’s record, and the official record, and all kinds, of you know, everything that’s out there as the record.

Vlad: But, why do you think there’s still this image of Ross being the guy who tried to hire some hitman to attack some person?

Lyn Ulbricht: Yeah, and by the way, that particular person has come out and said they don’t think it was Ross, and he’s come out very much a supporter of Ross — that’s Curtis Green. I think it’s because the government does this, I’ve been told by criminal justice attorneys that, uh, I mean defense attorneys, that this is very, very common that they take unproven allegations and smear people with it, and that’s what they did with Ross, and, of course, the media loves sensationalism, it’s much more exciting to talk about, you know, as you say, he’s “Billy the Kid” who arranged murder, blah blah blah, instead of what really it was, which was Ross was an idealist. He was very passionate about free markets, and um, privacy, and the monetary potential of freedom through Bitcoin, and that is why he came up with the idea of this marketplace, not because he’s some kind of kingpin thug, I mean, everybody who knows Ross knows it’s absurd. There’s a hundred letters on our website by people who do know Ross — read those and see if you think he’s really, you know, did this. But the media, look I’ve got to the point after all this, I believe very little immediately where I read in the mainstream media, I’m just like, “well, maybe that’s true, but probably not.” Honestly, and that’s sad, but that’s what I’ve come to after this whole thing.

Vlad: Right now I’m 26 years old, just as old as Ross was when he started Silk Road.

Lyn Ulbricht: Yeah — right

Vlad: And I think this age is special for a lot of people because we realize that we’re all alone in this world. We have finished university and we have completed our studies, and we have to either pursue our dreams, and see how we can fulfill what we have been thinking about over the years, or we just, we get even and sell out to a big corporation and take a regular job. Saying that this is it, I’m going to have a normal life, I’m going to give up on my dreams, and I think he was part of the inspiration why I decided to get into journalism and this space. Because I have a degree in political science, I guess I could work for the government, I could do some administrative jobs, but at the same time, I find much more freedom and liberty, not because I would have anything to hide, but because I feel like Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies give to the world a degree of freedom and transparency which teaches governments to treat us better.

Lyn Ulbricht: Mmm-hmm, yeah, I’ll tell Ross that you inspired that, that he inspired that in you, that’s great!

Vlad: He also inspired, and I read about it, the creator of Litecoin, Charlie Lee, who has said that he didn’t know about Bitcoin before reading a news article about Silk Road, and I think it was also Erik Voorhees —

Lyn Ulbricht: Mmm-hmm Yeah —

Vlad: who is an advocate of the cause —

Lyn Ulbricht: Yeah, he is, and Charlie and Eric, and Roger Ver, and others in the Bitcoin and cryptocurrency space have promoted the petition we have, and it’s really important. I would really urge everyone to please, sign this petition at FreeRoss.org/petition or just FreeRoss.org and there’s a big banner — asking the President to commute Ross’s sentence. This sentence is barbaric, double-life, plus 40 years for all non-violent charges for a first-time offender is evil and a huge abuse of government power that really needs to be changed and, so, please, you know, follow Eric and Roger, and Charlie Lee and others who have come out and said, the whole Libertarian Party has said, Ross needs clemency. Many in the cryptocurrency space, in fact, I’m doing a video project, and I’ve taken quite a few interviews and I’ve been at a couple of conferences of people, and maybe you would like to make one, Vlad, just a little one, why you signed the petition, why you support Ross, why he shouldn’t be in prison, what you want to say, and then at the end “Free Ross,” and I want to get about 300 people in the crypto space doing this, to show along with the petition, to show the President, “hey, you would have the support of the cryptocurrency community who would be very grateful if you would free Ross.”

Vlad: I don’t know if my statement would make a difference because I’m not a U.S. citizen so —

Lyn Ulbricht: No, well you don’t have to be a U.S. citizen to sign the petition, I consider it a worldwide grassroots effort, and I think it does matter what other people in other countries think about what we’re doing over here. So yeah, don’t be left out because of that.

Vlad: I also think that the USA is setting precedent for the rest of the world

Lyn Ulbricht: That’s correct

Vlad: They were the first one who indicted and prosecuted such crimes, and I guess the European Union and other countries will just take the example and say, “you know, somebody opened a website on the dark web, we’re going to do the same because we have an example what they did.” I don’t see my government being any better with regard –

Lyn Ulbricht: Where are you from?

Vlad: I’m from Romania

Lyn Ulbricht: Oh, OK, yeah, I mean, yes, the United States, somebody said “when the United States catches a cold, the rest of the world sneezes” kind of thing. Yeah, it matters to you, even if you’re not an American, what the criminal justice system in this country does. So yeah, please don’t let that stop you from signing the petition or being part of this video project that I’m doing.

Vlad: I happen to know a case where the brother of one of my former high school classmates was murdered in public, and the murderer got only 15 years in prison.

Lyn Ulbricht: That happens here too, they release violent people all the time, and to have someone like Ross, I mean even the guards and the staff at the prison are like “why is he in here? What’s he doing in here?”, and actually his “security score” qualifies him for a low-security prison, which is a whole lot different than where he is right now which is a maximum prison with violent people, dangerous gangs, and he’s only there because he’s a life sentence, otherwise, he wouldn’t be in that prison, and this is so wrong and in fact recently he — six weeks ago, he refused to participate in an assault on another inmate so he had to put himself into protective custody because that made him a target because he was defying that and he’s in basically a metal box now for six weeks. Pretty rough. And Ross isn’t violent, that’s why the murder for hire allegation is so out of character and bizarre, and not believable.

Vlad: but do you think the case was actually against bitcoin? In many ways it was the first of its kind, we had never seen anything like it before. I don’t want to speak about something I don’t know much about but it might have been cyber crime on his part.

Lyn Ulbricht: I definitely think – I have come to the conclusion that I do think the whole reason they came down so hard on Ross was bitcoin. The person that instigated the whole thing was Senator Chuck Schumer, an influential member of the finance, banking industries and connected to wall street. He was the one that said we needed to take down the Silk Road and get the person running it. It came out this past March with Snowden’s release of documents that the NSA was tracking Bitcoin users a few months before Ross’ arrest. They are supposed to be tracking terrorists and people like that. They were very worried about Bitcoin, and I think that is why they came down so hard on Ross. The other defendant that stood on our case that was actually convicted of selling a lot of drugs, the biggest sentence was 10 years. Meanwhile Ross gets double life? I think you are very right, it really wasn’t about drugs. It was about cryptocurrency that they had no control over, they were like wait – this can not be, we have got to get rid of this.

Vlad: I think that is the price for being way ahead of their time. It was the same with Galileo when he was sentenced to house arrest for his research. Just because he was ahead of his time and maybe reached some sort of discovery that was revolutionary but not accepted by the establishment. Right now Wallstreet is very involved in Bitcoin. They are trying to provide ETFs and those sorts of services. Trying to provide services for regular people to buy Bitcoin. It is like a corporate cryptocurrency.

Lyn Ulbricht: Yeah it has come a long way but meanwhile one of the early pioneers, Ross has been called the second most important figure in Bitcoin history next to Satoshi. Because it was the first proof of concept for Bitcoin. The Silk Road was the first place Bitcoin actually had a real-world use. To have him sitting in prison for the rest of his life when this is going on you know having been painted as some kind of drug kingpin when what he really is a technological pioneer and visionary idealist who… Look he was 26 years old and he doesn’t need to be in prison for the rest of his life for having made the Silk Road. It hasn’t been on the Internet in five years. It is very punitive sentence, it is a cruel sentence and he’s not the only person that is in our system with horrible sentencing. He has a friend in there named Tony, who is serving a life sentence because an informant said he “sold marijuana” 13 years ago. The person was in Colorado where it is legal in the State of Colorado. It is egregious, it is horrible and it can not stand. Ross needs to be out, he has a lot to contribute and he is not a threat to anyone. There is no reason to have him in prison at the taxpayers expense. By the way a life sentence is 2 million dollars per inmate.

Vlad: I actually agree because in the early days of Bitcoin there would just speculate on the usage of it. They would say I think, we can use Bitcoin to buy this. A guy named Lazlo had actually bought pizzas with his bitcoin. Then came along Silk Road and they proved that they can create a free market that was not bound to regulation of the states. Simply be free and anonymous, I mean Bitcoin is not completely anonymous. It can be tracked if you have the right information. It wasn’t just Ross, because the Dread Pirate Roberts was accessed from many places. There were many people behind the account.

Lyn Ulbricht: Ross got all the blame and held responsible for everything that was done by DPR. When Ross was in jail the DPR logged in to the Silk Road forum. That is definitive proof that there was more than one person operating that. There were a lot of DPR’s,  Curtis said there were a lot of DPRs “I acted as DPR”. The corrupt agents that were all over the site and had the ability to change anything on the site, they had the ability to command DPR’s account and other accounts. Who knows who did or said what. This was all tried to be brought up in court and the judge kept shutting it down. If you have watched Railroaded, just listen. It has almost 400 footnotes. If you really want to dig. Then you go “why is he in prison?” this should not be allowed. This is wrong.

Vlad: In the first episode of Rail Roaded, there are many mentions of Mark Karpeles of MT. Gox, being presented as a guy that could have been involved in Silk Road but there is no proof about it and he was never arrested even though he basically bankrupted and shut down Mt. Gox. He ran away with people’s’ money.

Lyn Ulbricht: I am not, and certainly not Ross accusing anything without proof of anything, just simply communicating what is in the record and reiterating what the lead investigator believed. It is true Mark Karpeles was not arrested for that. It did come out at trial, I was sitting right there even though he said “forget you heard it”. His lawyers set up a meeting with investigators from Maryland and offered to give them names of DPR if they backed off Mark C because they were after him. Shortly thereafter Ross was arrested. I am not saying he gave him Ross’ name, I am not saying that, I am just giving you a sequence of events.

Vlad: Do you think this administration is different than the Obama one?

Lyn Ulbricht: I think it is very different in a lot of ways. I have some hope because Trump has said he wants to pardon 3,000 people. He is interested in people that have been treated unfairly by the system. He has already started pardoning people, giving clemency like Alex Johnson – it was a commutation of her sentence. It was not a pardon but it was basically the same thing. I am hopeful, if he wants to do this. If he can see that Ross is not the person he has been painted to be. This is terrible, for us and for the people in there. It is wrong to give a double life sentence plus 40 years to a first time offender who is non-violent. This didn’t used to happen before the drug war. This judge is particularly known for harsh sentencing. Ross was this judge’s 5th life sentence of the year. This is not typical, but there are a lot of sentences that are way too long.

Vlad: What is the procedure to get another hearing from a different judge?

Lyn Ulbricht: Well, beside asking for commutation, you can file a habeas petition by next year. This is basically listing why Ross didn’t get a fair trial. Luckily that original judge has retired, I can’t imagine her giving Ross another trial. If we can get another judge that can see this, then it is possible to get Ross another trial. Those are hard to get but we are trying, that is one of the lawyers that I need help paying, and I have several.

Vlad: I think we have discussed some specific portions of this case, but what if… let’s say that somebody got into the cryptocurrency space last month and they have no idea of the Silk Road situation and who Ross is. But how would you present the case in about a few sentences?

Lyn Ulbricht: Well, I would say that Ross is the person who had the idea to have a free market that protected privacy and used cryptocurrency Bitcoin because he saw the potential for monetary freedom through cryptocurrency. Many things were allowed on the site, it was was pretty much up to people who were on the site to decide. So drugs was allowed, but there were many legal things by the way. And I was told that parents with children who had life-threatening seizures were able to get CBD, and that was helping them so much. And then when the site went down, they couldn’t get it. But also, things like art, books, clothing, and jewelry and all kinds of things… electronics and on and on, were sold. But also drugs were sold, mostly personal use amounts of cannabis, that was 70% of the drugs that were sold, never having been mentioned in the trial.

And it is up to people what they wanted to do in terms of drugs. So that was very illegal, but it was not considered to be making victims because it was about making choices, nobody was forced. But things related to pedophilia, or weapons, or violence, or stolen property… things that did harm people and made them victims were not allowed. So this was up there, and it would become the first proof of concept for Bitcoin because it was the only thing that was used to exchange things. And it took off! So as far as Bitcoin is concerned, and as we discussed, I think it was why the government was so alarmed about the site and also just the fact that it was the internet, the dark web and everything. It’s a new thing.

They put Ross in prison for the rest of his life for coming up with this idea and putting it online. So please sign the petition if you don’t think that’s right, please go to FreeRoss.org and sign the petition. We’re trying to get him out, he’s got a lot to contribute, he’s a smart guy, he’s a visionary, he’s a good person, and he doesn’t deserve or need to be in prison for the rest of his life. And you can learn a lot more from FreeRoss.org. It’s a very dense website, you can also learn by reading or listening to “Railroaded – The Caging and Targeting of Ross Ulbricht”.

And we all need to be concerned, because a lot of things in this case affect our personal protections as Americans, but also as we discussed, has a Ripple effect around the world. It’s important for people to be aware because we’re really, I believe, on the verge of a tipping point in history and it can go either way. And we want it to go towards freedom, not government surveillance and control. We have to make some decisions and get involved, like you were saying you did.

Vlad: I should mention that I got involved as an individual and as a private person, and my views in this interview do not necessarily reflect those of the company that I work for. So Crypto Insider does not necessarily in this cause. I should put this disclaimer somewhere. But also, can you tell me about several people who visited Ross and got involved and they’re famous in the Bitcoin community?

Lyn Ulbricht: Well, Roger Ver’s been tremendously supportive financially from way long ago. He’s himself spent time in prison, he is very much against the drug war and he’s very much for freedom. So he’s really stepped up. Erik Voorhees visited Ross in prison, they got along great, Erik’s been supportive financially as well, but also in other ways.

As far as people known in the Bitcoin space who actually visited Ross… that’s not easy, you go through a whole thing and I’m not exactly sure if there’s somebody else. And Roger hasn’t actually met Ross. But a lot of people, as we discussed earlier, have supported him.

Vlad: Were there others who donated money but didn’t visit?

Lyn Ulbricht: Yes there have, but a lot of them are anonymous because it’s through cryptocurrency. So I don’t really necessarily know who they are.

Vlad: But do you think if Ross was set free tomorrow, he would still be interested in Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies?

Lyn Ulbricht: Oh yeah, he’s interested now. We send him charts and information, he’s keeping up with it. It’s frustrating, because he can’t get on the internet, but he’s very very interested in.

Vlad: Did he ever something about cryptocurrencies which makes him feel excited?

Lyn Ulbricht: Well, just the fact that he has seen it grow the way it has, he is very excited about it. He has actually seen it take off from 50 cents or whatever it was when he got into it, and it increased 300 thousand times! He thinks it’s great, so for him it’s frustrating because he can’t be part of it in the same way, but he keeps up with it. People send him stuff, he’s written about it for Bitcoin Magazine and Coindesk, they’re both gonna publish things from him for the anniversary. He’s trying to stay in touch, but it’s hard when you can’t get on the internet or e-mail or anything.

Vlad: I remember in that Rolling Stone interview, which we can both agree that was terrible. But one part which inspired me at the time and made me feel exactly the same was when they mentioned that he was just walking around the university campus doing research papers and trying to get involved in his field of study. And at some point he became disillusioned with what he was studying. I’m not sure, was it medicine or chemistry?

Lyn Ulbricht: He was studying physics, he was a physics student, an undergrad. And he was actually working on solar energy projects there, and then when he went to graduate school he would study material science which uses physics, as well as other fields. So he’s a scientist, he’s never been a computer programmer, he was never trained in it, doesn’t know much about it except some things he’s taught himself. But he was a scientist, and was studying to become on.

Vlad: But I guess his “breaking bad” moment, if we can call it that, resonates with a lot of people who are in academia. Right now I’m doing my PhD and I work on my research papers which I have to write, and think to myself “You know, this is pointless. Nobody’s ever going to care”, we got to this point where you can either be revolutionary but nobody’s going to care about what you write and they’re not going to read it. It’s like a system of self-flattery and what we like to call circle jerk.

Lyn Ulbricht: Well yeah, so you got disillusioned.

Vlad: Yeah, and I got into Bitcoin because it has this potential to maybe tame the governments. We reached a degree of intrusion in our privacy which in many ways is irreversible without cryptographic inventions.

Lyn Ulbricht: Right, that’s the thing. And that’s what Ross was super concerned about, the privacy issue. And of course, without privacy you’re not free. You can’t have a free life if you have a surveillance state. It’s just not freedom, privacy and freedom go hand in hand.

Vlad: And I suppose the judge who was in charge of the case was not able to comprehend all the dimensions of this. I mean, you said that she retired, so I guess she was older than Ross.

Lyn Ulbricht: Oh she was older than Ross, she was 54 or something.

Vlad: So maybe it was hard for her to comprehend how the internet works and why we should have privacy even in the online space.

Lyn Ulbricht: Well, she was also recommended by Chuck Schumer, who was behind the whole case. So you have to wonder how much that influenced her. Because it wasn’t so much that she didn’t understand, I think he might have made up her mind. This is my personal opinion, it looked to me like she already made up her mind way before she finally sentenced Ross to double life. You know, it’s double life when she could give him 20 years mandatory minimum without some kind of agenda, in my personal opinion.

Vlad: It reminds of that Bob Dylan song, “Hurricane”, in a way.

Lyn Ulbricht: I don’t know it, or maybe I do if you start singing it.

Vlad: It’s about a boxer who was arrested wrongly has to serve ten years in prison for nothing, just because he was black and at the time people were racists. He was about to become the world champion because he was a really good boxer, but he never got the chance because he happened the wrong person at the wrong time. Just there when a crime happened.

Lyn Ulbricht: Yeah, that happens to a lot of people when they just happen to be in the wrong place, it’s a conspiracy. There are so many stories, you start going to prison and it’s just so heartbreaking because of the stories you hear. And then you see the kids who are coming to see their fathers and they are so happy, and then they leave sobbing. It just destroys families, it’s really serious stuff, and it’s wrong. I mean, it’s way worse than it used to be before the 1980s. The country has gotten much more draconian in its criminal justice system, but people are still doing drugs, right? They can’t even keep drugs out of prison, but they are doubling down on that drug war. So it’s difficult for people and their families, because you’re doing time too like they are.

Vlad: What was your initial reaction when you heard about the whole situation?

Lyn Ulbricht: Oh, I was shocked! Totally shocked, it was really hard to believe because Ross wasn’t particularly… he never really did drugs in any kind of way that would create a problem with law or anything like that. I know him to be this sweet, peaceful person, and then I hear all this stuff all of a sudden. And ever since then my life has changed, it was five years ago. And it’s been a hard road, it’s been really a steep climb. But the more I learn about how things are going in our country, the more I see it as a greater cause as well. We’re losing our freedom, so I think we really need to wake up.

Vlad: I really appreciate your involvement and your advocacy in this direction.

Lyn Ulbricht: Thanks, I appreciate yours too. Thanks for having me on!

Vlad: Okay, so this interview will get published as soon as possible, and I’m going to write a complete transcript so you also have the text if it serves you. You can post anything on the Free Ross website.

Lyn Ulbricht: Well thank you, I’ll definitely push it out. Just send me the link and I’ll put it out there.

Vlad: You’re free to do whatever you want with it. And this was a great pleasure and honor, I had no idea I was able to get this at first, I just wrote a tweet and then you sent a message to Blakely and he told me “You know, we got this message from the Free Ross Twitter account”, and my reaction was “Yay!”.

Lyn Ulbricht: Good, yeah! I’m really not that hard to get. But really, I wanna help spread the word, and I appreciate people who are doing that.

 

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