On a normal day in October 2013, law enforcement officers with an arrest warrant obtained through questionable means in hand entered a public library in San Francisco.
In the library, Ross Ulbricht, a young intelligent guy with a bright future was sitting at his laptop logged into the Silk Road web administrator interface.
He was arrested red-handed on multiple computer and drug charges for building the first dark web marketplace. The head was cut off the snake, and in response, a dozen new heads grew, as they always do.
But federal prosecutors fought to make an example out of Ross. They showed no mercy. They played dirty. And they had the power of the State behind them.
It could have happened to anyone: Being targeted for doing something non-violent that threatens the State’s rhetoric. The book was thrown at him. The case was a farce. We can’t forget Ross.
His mom needs your help to fight for our rights. Outside of America? If you’re in the West, this case matters.
Countries copy each other’s laws, especially when they reduce freedom.
Lyn Ulbricht (LU) continues her fight for her son to have justice. She is fighting for truth and for freedom.
That’s what the Silk Road was about. Freedom. Ross was considered responsible for the users of a website.
It makes no sense. Is an Internet Service Provider responsible for allowing Ross to build the site?
He now sits in a maximum security prison and spends most of his time in the library—a melancholy fog some a library in San Francisco, to one in a prison.
I feel fortunate to have spoken with Lyn Ulbricht about her son and the larger picture surrounding the case. Find the interview below.
DWN: Thanks for speaking with us Lyn. Can you give us an update on Ross’s matter?
LU: Ross and his legal team have filed a petition to the Supreme Court, joined by 21 groups across the political spectrum. The latest is that the petition has been distributed for conference on April 13.
This means that the Justices will consider the petition on that date. We won’t know the result of their conference until the Court releases its order list on the morning of Monday, April 16.
If the Court decides to hold the petition pending U.S. v. Carpenter (another 4th Amendment case) then we won’t see any action indicated on the order list.
We would take that as a sign that the Court plans on letting the petition sit until it issues the opinion of Carpenter, which will come sometime in the next few months.
DWN: How is he holding up?
LU: Ross is one of the most intentionally positive people I know. I just had a relative of a fellow inmate message me to say what a positive influence Ross had been on him. Ross is strong mentally, emotionally and physically.
All that said, it is very rough to be in prison day after day. He’s hanging in there, but’s it’s a daily challenge on many levels. That is why I relocated to be near him, to make sure he has a lifeline to the outside world.
DWN: How is he passing time? What’s an average day for him?
LU: When the prison isn’t on lockdown (which is all too frequently the last six months) he starts the day outside in the yard watching the sunrise over the mountains. Ross loves nature and the outdoors, so that’s important to him.
He spends a lot of time in the law library these days, working on his case. He meditates daily. Reads. Never watches TV, as many inmates do for hours all day.
He also has friends in there, as Ross makes friends everywhere he goes. In fact, several got together to make a card and a dinner (from commissary food) for him, to celebrate his birthday.
DWN: Does he have access to a computer? If so, is it connected to the internet?
LU: Ross has access to a laptop in the law library to work on his case, but no internet or even email as other inmates have. Violent gang leaders with worldwide networks are permitted email access, but not Ross.
DWN: Do you feel that an example has been made out of him, for doing something no one has done before?
LU: The government said they were making an example of him and that, because he was the first to use the internet “in this way” he should be punished more harshly.
However, there is no law saying the first person to do something should receive harsher punishment. Judge Forrest made it clear that Ross’s sentence was to serve as a warning to others.
She also said that by issuing her barbaric sentence and making Ross an example it would serve as a deterrent. Instead, it had the opposite effect and there was a spike in darknet markets following Ross’s sentencing.
DWN: Do you or Ross believe there is a systemic issue in the way law enforcement conduct investigations?
LU: I am shocked at the way investigations and prosecutions are conducted in this country now. I feel like our country’s principles and the rule of law are being hijacked.
Some examples: It recently came out that the NSA was illegally tracking bitcoin users a few months before Ross was arrested. I (and experts worldwide) believe FBI agent Christopher W. Tarbell lied under oath about how he found the Silk Road server.
Two corrupt investigators, now in prison, were hidden from the jury at trial. Judge Alex Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit said there is an epidemic of prosecutorial abuse and violation of the Brady Rule, which says prosecutors can’t legally hide evidence favorable to a defendant, which they did in Ross’s case, among many.
Ross’s Supreme Court petition addresses an important question about violations of Americans’ Fourth Amendment protections in his investigation, and also the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial.
There are many, many examples showing that there are serious problems in the U.S. criminal justice system, not only in Ross’s case but in many others.
DWN: Is there any action during the trial that Ross regrets? Or anything that you feel he could have done?
LU: Ross wanted to take the stand and defend himself, speak to the jury directly, and it was very frustrating to him that he didn’t do that. He wants to tell his side of the story. However, like many attorneys, his lawyer strongly advised him not to do that, so he didn’t.
DWN: Is there anything internet users can do to help Ross’s situation?
LU: Please go to freeross.org for many ways to help. There’s a donate page, with many options, as well as a take action page, with other ways to help. If anyone has political connections I would love to hear from you.
Also, if we can prove that the NSA was not only targeting bitcoin users but specifically Silk Road, that could be a game changer. If anyone knows any inside information about that, or about more corruption in the case, please contact me. There is a contact link on the site with ways to reach out, both encrypted and in the clear.
DWN: Can you describe the support that FreeRoss.org has received?
LU: We have received tremendous grassroots support worldwide from people who understand the huge impact and important precedents of this case. This support has gotten us right up to petition the Supreme Court.
Our personal funds were depleted long ago. It’s almost impossible to finance a big fight against the federal government, and without the financial support of so many great people, we couldn’t be where we are.
In addition, so many people have stepped up to help in many ways, both large and small, with time, skills and labor. I’m just one person, with family and friends, and we couldn’t have done this much without help. But we need it ongoing! And please spread the word on social media, etc.
DWN: What has this situation taught you and Ross?
LU: I now believe we are at a tipping point in history, and we must decide what kind of world we want to live in as we move into the digital age. Are we going to move in the direction of freedom and innovation, or government control and intrusion?
That is what is at stake right now. Seeing up close and personal how the government operates, and how it is caging people in this country at an unprecedented rate, really opens your eyes.
DWN: Should webmasters have responsibility for the conduct of their site’s users?
LU: Holding one person responsible for the actions of another is called vicarious liability. It’s a dangerous slippery slope that widens the criminal umbrella and expands the government’s ability to criminalize people.
Essentially, Ross was condemned to two life sentences for creating a platform, not for actually selling a product; for creating innovation that, as the prosecution said, “facilitated criminal actions,” although many legal items were also sold on the site. His trial attorney called this “unprecedented and extraordinarily expansive.
DWN: Do you have any comments regarding the state of drug laws in the United States?
LU: First, there is no constitutional authority for making drugs illegal at the federal level. When the government initiated its other failed prohibition policy – making alcohol illegal – they passed the 18th Amendment.
They haven’t bothered doing that with drugs, but simply gave themselves the authority. Of course, it is well demonstrated that the drug war is a colossal failure – at least as far as stopping drug use. (It’s a whopping success at filling prisons, making money and expanding government power and intrusion, however.)
It has not lessened or stopped drug use after over 45 years and over $1 trillion of taxpayer money.
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, the amount spent annually in the U.S. on the war on drugs is more than $51 billion. That’s a lot of tax money and doesn’t address the cost in human misery, including the 2.9 million children with incarcerated parents.
One in every 111 adults is behind bars in the U.S. Over 60% are non-violent offenders, mainly with drug charges. Thousands, like Ross, are non-violent and serving life sentences.
The Silk Road case is a major battle in the government’s failed drug war and Ross is a prisoner of that war. With Ross’s sentence, Judge Katherine Forrest delivered a strong endorsement of the drug war, despite its glaring failures.
This sentence sets a precedent for harsher, not more reasonable, drug sentencing. This will continue to increase mass incarceration and preserve the US’s dubious honor of having more citizens in prison than any country in the world.
DWN: What would you say to those that believe Ross should serve time for his crimes?
LU: First, there are people online who are filled with misinformation and make claims about Silk Road and Ross when they have no clue what they’re talking about.
As regards his crimes, one must believe the government and the prosecutors about what they say Ross actually did. I don’t believe it’s been established who the people using the DPR handle were.
After all, one of them logged into the Silk Road forum seven weeks after Ross was arrested.
There is so much unrevealed and questionable with this case, to another corrupt agent who probably deleted evidence; two corrupt investigators who had unfettered access to the site and could act as DPR; the shutting down of testimony regarding an alternate perpetrator; and so much more.
So to those who believe Ross should serve time, look into this more deeply. We are working on a massive document replete with footnotes laying out how things unfolded. Unfortunately, it can’t include undisclosed and sealed information, of which there is much, but it raises many questions.
I would also say, after what I’ve seen, that I don’t think non-violent people, who are no threat to anyone, should be warehoused at exorbitant taxpayer expense when they could be home with their families, in society, being rehabilitated, making restitution.
We have the technology to put an ankle bracelet on someone and give them a second chance. It’s time to retire the dungeon model of just throwing people in a cage.
DWN: Thanks for your time Lyn, is there anything additional you’d like to add?
LU: I want to thank all the people who have walked beside us in this arduous journey. So many have told me, “That could have been me.” Please don’t give up on Ross and his freedom. Please don’t forget him.