Meet the Owner

On the first day of the trial, 26-year old Max Dickstein had come dressed in a black ninja costume while holding a poster reading “The Chosen One,” featuring a picture of Ross Ulbricht and the Bitcoin logo. Midway through the trial, I bumped into Dickstein again as he smoked a cigarette on the court’s eighth floor balcony with two friends.

Beneath a mop of black hair, Dickstein smiles often, in a way that suggests he has secrets to share.

“Rolex!” said Dickstein, thrusting his wrist toward me. “Let’s just say I got it on a certain Tor-only marketplace.”

“Got it,” I said, looking at the gold watch. “Is it real?”

“No!” he said. The trio erupted with laughter.

I had dinner with Dickstein in Chinatown, where he lives. He’s an “out-there” libertarian, he explained. His father is a currency trader, and Dickstein, who describes himself as an “unrepentant one-percenter,” dropped out of college to trade currency as well. He got his father interested in Bitcoin, which he saw “as an alternative to gold,” he told me.

Dickstein wouldn’t say on the record whether he’d made buys on Silk Road or other “darknet” markets, but his knowledge of them was extensive. Silk Road had far more traffic than its competitors and had features other markets didn’t have, including the ability to “hedge” Bitcoin, which essentially froze the value of the trade at the moment the buyer and seller agreed on it. That protected either side from losing money due to Bitcoin volatility.

Other markets included Black Market Reloaded, which had everything, including guns, which Silk Road didn’t traffic in, but it became clear talking to Dickstein that one of the reasons for Silk Road’s success was because people trusted it. Much of the credit for that went to DPR himself, who was communicative and helpful. With millions of dollars’ worth of bitcoin in the site’s “escrow” system at any given time, nothing could stop a market owner from running with all the escrowed cash. But DPR wasn’t like that—he had truly wanted to build the site, and his users believed in him.

I asked him what Dickstein thought about the Ulbricht case; his answer had a kind of duality to it that I would hear from other supporters. If Ross was innocent, then he was a victim and a hero, Dickstein believed. If Ross was guilty—then he was an even bigger hero.

“He created a marketplace where I could buy anything,” said Dickstein.

He was even more enthusiastic about the idea of Karpeles getting in trouble. Dickstein was certain that the collapse of Mt. Gox had been straight-up theft by Karpeles, to the tune of $400 million worth of bitcoins—including $16,000 of Dickstein’s own.

I asked him how he knew the two other men who’d been smoking on the balcony with him. They met at a 9/11 Truth rally, he explained.

“Building Seven, at least, was brought down by explosives,” he said. He had been living near the site at the time with his parents, when just barely a teenager.

I said nothing, but Dickstein could read my skepticism. “Like I said, I’m out there,” he told me, smiling broadly.

(And yes I am)