What Ross Ulbricht was really punished for

published Aug 02, 2015

It wasn't trading drugs, and it wasn't killing people.

What is Ross being punished for?

Is Ross' "real crime" -- the thing he is being ruined for selling drugs? The disproportionately harsh sentence says no, especially in light of the fact that Ross himself did very little trade. Is Ross' "real crime" killing people? No -- he did not do that, nor was he tried for that.

So why is Ross really being punished?

Set aside for a moment the sophist words of the judge in her sentencing act; table the immense corruption involved in the prosecution of Ross; I ask you that, just for a moment, you listen to the content of the behavior of the people working to ruin Ross. Forget the words. Listen to the acts.

Note how they inexplicably disallowed Ross vital legal defenses; note the use of the testimony of a known thieving and extortionist cop; note how they sullied Ross' reputation publicly prior to the trial, so as to make a fair trial impossible. Note the disinformation surrounding the case, especially how many people have been falsely made to believe that Ross killed people, or that he is being punished for murder (how many of those misinformed people were in Ross' jury?). Note, in sum, how the actions of the people working to ruin him are not consistent with prosecuting either of these crimes.

Are these actions consistent with the charges he was tried for (minor drug selling)? No, they are not. Both Ross' punishment and the frantic ceremony that preceded it are extraordinary. Hard to make sense that a small-time drug trader (remember, that's the legal charge) would cause the (supposed) justice system to shower him with so many falsehoods, attack him with so much corruption, and dole out such an extraordinarily cruel punishment.

But what if there's a different reason for the behavior of the people who attacked and locked up Ross? What if we considered, even for just a moment, that the attack on Ross was not proportional to the crime he was accused of, but rather proportional to the success and contagiousness of his ideas?

When we do that, what Ross' attackers seem to be saying through their actions becomes immediately obvious: "None of you shall ever think about willfully disobeying us. If you do, you will be the next one we'll ruin." Yes, the one thing Ross is being punished for -- which is consistent with the callous, unjust, egregiously deceitful behavior of those ruining him publicly -- is willful disobedience (also known as insubordination). The drug trade was a mere excuse -- the real and only consistent motive behind the thugs' punitive actions against Ross is far more mundane: to terrorize you, and me, and anyone who may think of disobeying like Ross did.

Why would they do that?

There is one idea every prospective or active ruler understands better than any other: where no one obeys, no one rules. This is a millennia-old principle of archist rule. If there is one thing that the rulers who want to stay rulers cannot allow, is for the ruled to flaunt their disobedience of the rulers' orders. That is especially so when that disobedience is honest, principled and deliberate, for that kind of disobedience is highly contagious.

This is why, when the ruler finds himself challenged, he cannot afford to give a shit about justice or even the appearance thereof. He must, ruthlessly and at all costs, force the insubordinate to subordinate, and terrorize anyone else into not following the insubordinate's steps... else the ruler finds himself not a ruler anymore. The more effective the insubordination, the more fear must be struck into the ruled, the crueler and more painful the ruler's vengeance must be.

This fact of rulership explains why the harshest punishments are reserved for insubordination to the rulers, which in turn answers the question of why Ross was given such a disproportionately cruel sentence relative to other drug sellers. Two hundred years ago, the more belligerently the abolitionist Negroes defied their Masters, the harsher and more publicly the Masters punished them (up to and including murdering them). Similarly, Lenin would order disobedient people hung and their corpses displayed in public squares. Even today we have lots of people publicly shrieking for Edward Snowden — a fabulous example of principled, honest and intentional insubordination against his rulers — to be executed, whether legally as the penalty for treason, or illegally as a murder-for-hire.

Contemporary U.S. society sees perpetual rape cages as the maximum tolerable punishment for buying and selling drugs, so that maximum is what Ross gets for his disobedience. But make no mistake: if Ross had lived just a few hundred years ago, his punishment could very well have been public gutting and exsanguination.

(Some of you likely noticed the astonishing parallels between Ross' predicament and an abusive parent raging at their kid "you are grounded forever!" or brutalizing their kid, as reaction to the kid's insubordination. I agree. Be that as it may, that's probably a topic for a different conversation.)

Once one understands what was at stake for the rulers if Ross had succeeded, one understands why Ross being ruined was a foregone conclusion from the outset.

Unfortunately for the rulers, it's too late, as others have already decided to follow Ross' insubordinate footsteps. Short of sudden total despotism, I don't see how the rulers will preserve their grip long-term.

This is a reprint of my original article on Reddit.