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Ross Ulbricht



Donald Trump promised to commute the sentence of Ross Ulbricht, the founder of the online illegal drug marketplace Silk Road, in a raucous speech before the Libertarian National Convention on Saturday night.

“And if you vote for me, on Day One, I will commute the sentence of Ross Ulbricht,” the former president said, generating cheers from the audience, moments after mentioning his plans to pardon supporters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

I’ve taught cyber-security several times now and we’ve evaluated the Ulbricht case at depth. There is a not-ridiculous argument that Ulbricht was basically entrapped, perhaps not in the legally tangible sense but rather in the sense that he was being hounded by (sometimes dirty) government agents and was basically pushed into paying for violence that did not happen and probably never would have happened. It’s not an argument that I really buy into (I think that violence is endemic to the pursuit of criminal activity and that Ulbricht was up to quite a bit of bad shit) but it’s an argument to be engaged with, not laughed away.

But let’s be clear; Ross Ulbricht was a Drug Lord. He was a man who made tons of money connecting drug buyers to drug dealers without any particular interest in mitigating harm. That is… fine. I actually do believe that if folks want to buy LSD or cocaine or heroin on the internet the state should be largely disinterested (although that should be mediated by the same concerns about product quality and safety that motivate FDA regulation). But he was a Drug Lord. It will not surprise anyone to discover that Trump is not consistent on this issue:

However, Trump does have a plan for addressing America’s drug problems, even if he didn’t discuss it Wednesday night: institute the death penalty for drug traffickers, smugglers and dealers. It’s an approach in stark contrast with much of the world — it’s also a violation of international human rights laws.

This extreme position on drug offenses came right out of the gate with Trump’s candidacy. During his campaign announcement last November, the former president drummed a familiar beat on securing America’s southern border and combating Mexican drug cartels. He didn’t go into detail on his promises, but did outline how he would handle certain drug offenses.

“We’re going to be asking everyone who sells drugs, gets caught selling drugs, to receive the death penalty for their heinous acts,” Trump said. “Because it’s the only way.”

Except, of course, for wealthy white guys like Ross Ulbricht.

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