In 2011, a 26-year-old programmer by the name Ross Ulbricht yearned to create something that would reach the heights of global renown.
Driven by this need to succeed, the Texas-born Ulbricht would proceed to create Silk Road, a simple website hosted on a part of the internet known as the dark web.
The website initially served a purpose most deemed reasonable, if not salient. Ulbricht’s Silk Road started as a form of protest towards hypocrisy embedded deep into the system.
It made it possible for people to get access to psychedelic mushrooms and marijuana from a place that was well distanced from the government’s grasp.
ANNOUNCEMENT: Silk Road 3.0 is BACK ONLINE and open for business. The team did a massive security overhaul on the site to try and make it more secure and anonymous.
This idyllic utopia would not last long.
‘American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road’ documents the journey of the young programmer and his brainchild, the Silk Road — throughout its growth, its eventual corruption and its inevitable demise.
Penned by New York Times bestselling author Nick Bilton, the book portrays not only the Silk Road’s development into a haven where cyber criminals could interact and conduct business undeterred, but also Ulbricht’s eye-opening transformation into a full-fledged crime lord who would willingly spill blood to protect his empire.
A Drug Empire Run from Coffee Shops
During Silk Road’s heyday, as Bilton learned through those involved in the drug-fueled enterprise, Ulbricht lived and worked from Glen Park, San Francisco, and would occasionally run his business from a number of coffee shops frequented by the writer.
According to Bilton’s account of the saga, one of the world’s biggest dark web empires was being operated under everyone’s noses.
Bilton drew from a number of sources in writing the book, including over two billion words in the form of private chats, images and journals that were left behind after Ulbricht’s arrest.
A building he habitually passed while walking, the Glen Park Library, would later become the place where the young programmer would be met with the arm of the law, as Bilton explained.
Dread Pirate Roberts
On his helm of power, Ross Ulbricht ran his business as Dread Pirate Roberts. This pseudonym might have been coined initially to serve as nothing more than a screen name but by the end of his tenure as creator of the original Silk Road, it had an ominous ring to it.
The bigger Silk Road grew, the more determined Ulbricht was to protect it, according to Bilton.
The corruption of the bright young mind was inevitable. By the time of its demise, Dread Pirate Roberts had made $1.2 billion in sales and an estimated $80 million in commissions.
Most of his wealth was stashed in bitcoin, the digital form of currency that made all transactions on the dark web possible, according to the FBI.
It was only a matter of time before money and power corrupted his morals.
Dread Pirate Roberts authorized a hit on one of his former employees, Curtis Green, who he suspected had been stealing from him.
Green had also been nabbed in a failed cocaine deal and now posed a threat to him and the continuity of his business as well.
Bilton captured the online exchange between Dread Pirate Roberts and Green’s would-be assassin, demonstrating that the former participant showed no remorse at all.
In fact, he claimed that Green’s lack of integrity had forced him into paying for his death.
Abominably, he retained a picture of what looked like a dead Curtis Green on his computer as proof of the murder.
Dread Pirate Roberts made his first and, ultimately, most consequential error in hiring an assassin who was actually an undercover DEA agent to do his bidding.
The Dark Web Thrives
Ulbricht has been referred to as the modern day Pablo Escobar many times after his arrest, a title befitting of a man who currently shares a prison with the infamous El Chapo.
The 33-year-old has already appealed his sentencing of life in prison and has a strong following behind him, spearheaded by his mother Lyn Ulbricht.
They believe the sentencing was too heavy-handed, an injustice committed on a promising young mind with ideas that could well usurp political state matters.
Ulbricht was ultimately sentenced as a mafia boss. This served as a warning to anyone who dared take the same path he did, a warning that remains unheeded.
Silk Road will forever remain a trailblazer; a template from which others can learn from to avoid making similar mistakes.
Darknet marketplaces have sprung and died, while others thrived to become ten times bigger and even more profitable than Ulbricht’s Silk Road.
Based far from the United States government’s reach, marketplaces such as AlphaBay may employ the same principles used by the now defunct Silk Road.
But they are ultimately more impenetrable and virtually untouchable. The dark web lives on.