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June 8, 2020

OOH Inside - Episode 031 - Behind the Billboard: Ross Ulbricht and the Silk Road

OOH Inside - Episode 031 - Behind the Billboard: Ross Ulbricht and the Silk Road

Ross Ulbricht's name should be mentioned in the company of Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos.

When Ross was only 26, he created an online marketplace called Silk Road. Silk Road allowed users to anonymously exchange products using Bitcoin. Not only a marketplace, the Silk Road was a community based on libertarian principles of non-aggressive exchange and a community that policed its own with that common belief in mind.

Users began leveraging the marketplace to exchange personal-use amounts of drugs and Ross would quickly find himself at the crossroads of 3 major government intersections:

- Cyber
- Drugs
- Finance

There is no doubt, Ross was involved with the creation of Silk Road but holding Ross responsible for what is transacted on the marketplace is like holding Jeff Bezos responsible for everything bought and sold on Amazon, and what it is used for.

The government didn't just blur consitutional protections, it completely disregarded them and Ross Ulbricht is serving 2 life sentences plus 40 years, without the possibility of parole...as a first time, non-violent drug offender.

Supporters range from Keanue Reeves to Noam Chomsky, Presidential candidates, and tech startup founders and thanks to a generous donor a FREE ROSS billboard has been erected in Times Square, for the rest of the year, to raise awareness for Ross's case and to inspire a Presidential review.

To learn more about Ross's case, visit: FreeRoss.org

To checkout the list of notable supporters, visit: https://freeross.org/support/

And to get involved, sign the petition and consider a donation to Mrs. Ulbricht, our guest here today as she shares Ross's incredible story, the implications for all Americans and how she is using the power of Out of Home to fight for her son.

Here's the link to sign the petition: 

Support the show

Welcome to the out of home insider today's show will certainly challenge some of the things you believe to be true and expand your mind on topics that maybe you've never been comfortable talking about, but are incredibly important to talk about with me today is Mrs. Albright. Mrs. Albrett is the mother of Ross Ulbricht who you'll learn about here today.

We connected because she's got a billboard up in times square. It's bringing awareness back to Ross's case at a time that's maybe never been more relevant topics like privacy and freedom of speech. And we're so grateful for you to be here today, Mrs. O'Brien. Thanks for joining the show. So happy to be here, Tim.

Call me Lynn. All right. We'll call you in for the duration now. Thank you so much for the. Certainly. So for folks that may not be familiar with Ross's story, if you could just tell us about Ross about the silk road and give, give the audience an idea of Ross is case. Sure. And it's a very complicated case.

So FYI, but, and it was, uh, happened, uh, his, uh, the whole thing happened almost seven years ago, but it is still very relevant. Um, so Ron Ross is my son and he, um, At a young impressionable age in graduate school, he, um, got very involved with the libertarian movement and with the Ron Paul campaign and started, um, studying Austrian economics.

And these are all, you know, philosophies of free markets and freedom. And, um, he got very passionate about this at the same time. He discovered the cryptocurrency Bitcoin and saw the potential for monetary freedom with that. And he wanted to bring an experience of a free market, a truly free market to people.

So that. They could experience it and maybe, you know, want that. And at first he created a video game, which, uh, didn't get published, did almost did, but didn't. And so then he turned to the internet and created, um, a website called the silk road, which was a, it was an open market. It was, um, an, a free market.

So that. Uh, kind of like eBay and, uh, people could buy and sell what they chose, except if it hurt a third party, it was very much based on. Um, non-aggression principle of voluntary interaction, no force, no violence. So for example, there was no child pornography permitted or anything related to pedophilia because that hurts that third party, which is child or stolen property or, um, fraudulent things.

So, um, you know, things that defrauded people. So. Weapons, you can go on and on. And this is all in the government's evidence. Uh, but it did, uh, did permit drugs, the administration of the site, which there were, there were many people involved, uh, believed and on many libertarians believe that, um, it's choice drugs or a choice between two people buying and selling.

And we can argue that. And I'm not defending that. I'm just saying. That was their philosophy as long as no third-party was harmed. Um, and it became very big, I think, because it was anonymous and private, cause that was a big concern was how our privacy was being eroded. And so it was private, it was anonymous and Bitcoin was also private and anonymous.

And so, um, It did attract a lot of drug sales, mostly user amounts of cannabis, and that's all, um, also backed up with, um, research and all things on our website, free ross.org. Now, just before I go on about that, um, we have been fighting a, um, media distortion paddle for years and only recently cause we were talking about the billboard that's up in times square now about Ross.

a small publication called time square chronic. Wrote about it and said that silk road was most known for drugs, child exploitation and human trafficking. Now this is an absolute lie. Um, the yes drugs, but no human trafficking was on the side and no child exploitation of any kind was permitted. I did try to correct it with the, uh, author.

And, um, I emailed and I tweeted as far as I know, it still has that lie up there. Uh, and this is the kind of thing the media, I feel like it's very sloppy about and. Lazy about and just says stuff, you know, and it's absolutely not true. Uh, and I can back that up with government evidence and exhibits at trial, right.

That's been proven time and time again. It was not an effective marketplace for firearms. We can go to Walmart or Instagram. And by those things, pedophilia wasn't allowed and there's more of it on the, on the general internet. And I agree, right. The investigative part of investigative journalism has really fallen by the wayside.

And the sense of that research was probably a Google search. And Hey, here's a, you know, a regurgitation of something that I found online. That's out there echoing Ally's right. And I just wanted to say that because we are talking, it was written about specifically the billable. And so, but anyway, that, so what happened was that, um, there were many people involved running, uh, the silk road, but Ross became the trophy and was tried in the Southern district of New York and was given the most outrageous sentence of no non, no violent charges whatsoever of double life plus 40 years without parole for a young first-time non-violent offender for something he did on a computer when he was 26 years.

This is like two centuries or something. I mean, it adds up to it's, it's such an abuse of government power. And I think because of that, because of the, um, you know, excessive and really unconstitutional sentence, because the eighth amendment says no crueler, unusual punishment. It's very unusual. It's very cruel.

Um, and also. The site was the first proof of use of Bitcoin. No one had heard of Bitcoin before and really put Bitcoin on the map. And so many people, including the person who finance the billboard, uh, many libertarians and people involved in Bitcoin, um, support Ross still because they understand his intentions.

They understand that he was trying to do good. You can say it was a mistake, you know, and all that. Yeah. We're all Steven says. It was however he was young and enthusiastic and he made a mistake. Should he have to die in a cell for that? And, uh, that's not American. That's not, should not happen. No non-violent person should get a life sentence.

In my opinion, really what Ross did. And especially in that timeframe is more akin to. You know, the achievements that we celebrate of a mark Zuckerberg or a Jeff Bezos, you created a community and a marketplace transacting. I think it over, over a billion and a half dollars at one point, is that. The government's figures 183 million, which is not small, but of course billion is a thousand million.

It's a lot more than that. So that's again the media, but go ahead. Well, no, and thank you. Thank you for correcting that point. I think the, the work that he did is so important in terms of preserving some of those fundamental civil liberties and really it was, it was the crossroads of. The three-headed dog of cyber drugs and finance.

A lot of people upset at high levels of the government that, you know, ha ha having a vested interest in controlling those things. Is, is that true? That's my theory. Um, and one of the reasons I believe that is because the biggest drug seller on silk road who was convicted of that got 10 years. And he had the same offense levels as Ross.

Ross was never even a charge with actually selling any drugs. He was, he had a platform, but he just deal drugs on the platform. So it's like saying Jeff Bezos because there was cyanide on, on Amazon and a young girl thought someone killed herself with it. And her mother was suing Amazon that he is responsible for her death.

And it's like, You know, there is dangerous things on the internet. There are knives and there are guns and there are all kinds of things. Can we hold website hosts responsible for this? And, um, so that's the big constitutional question here too. But, uh, in any case, um, I don't think drugs were really a concern as much of a concern or even money it's the disparity of sentencing shows that however, um, it came out in Snowden papers, uh, later that the NSA was urgently tracking.

Bitcoin users are very alarmed about Bitcoin, this new upstart currency. And right before a silk road was taken down and Ross was arrested. Um, I think it was really the big. That and well, the judge even said, we know you started the site for philosophical reasons, and we're just not sure that's a philosophy you've left behind.

This is, um, you know, it's voluntary interaction, uh, non-aggression principle, free market, and apparently that's very threatening. So she felt she had to literally have a death walking deaths, 10. Because of the philosophy. Now we live in America. We're supposed to have, as you we've talked previous, prior to the show, first amendment rights.

And, um, we shouldn't be caged for our philosophy. Absolutely not. I, especially, we sit, we see it now, how those things really have kind of, they, they have dire implications in terms of. Whether or not, we preserve the right to privacy, the right to free speech. Getting back to Ross's case specifically, I'm interested in hearing more on your take about the fourth amendment violations.

There's a lot of controversy around it. How were the servers obtained and was it even an illegal search? Um, can you offer any insight into. Well, actually fourth amendment questions when all the way to the Supreme court with Ross's case. And the server is always this question hanging out there. But, um, and the government agent, um, Chris tart, Christopher Tarbell, who claimed how he found it.

Experts all over the world called foul. They said, this is jibberish. This is absurd. This is a lie basically. And so several of them said the NSA was involved. They put this out there. It's public that these experts world renowned experts in cryptography. And all of that said this about the government's evidence.

But, um, you know, it. They had all their ways to say, well, uh, you know, we didn't need a warrant. We had this amulet treaty with Iceland, which actually ended up being, oh, whoops, sorry. We didn't actually have an inland tree. Damn. Sorry. We got that wrong several months later. And so it boiled down to, was it wasn't ever.

It just didn't become an issue. Uh, I regret that. I think, I mean, I didn't have a say in it, but I think that might've been a big mistake not to push it. We did somewhat, however, there's other fourth amendment issues. Um, and the Supreme court question was there something, and we should all be concerned about this.

There's something called the third party doctrine that was BA is based on a D four decades old Supreme court ruling. About the dial telephone and weather numbers dialed, uh, can be used without seeing, without a warrant by the government. And the Supreme court said, yeah, it's okay. Three justices said it's not okay.

This is just the phone number. Think of what we have on our phones now. I mean, there are computers, of course. So there's all kinds of relevant information are our religious affiliation or sexual orientation or medical records are, um, you know, political persuasions and because of the third party doctrine that is this antiquated thing, the government has unfettered access to all of our internet information without a warrant, without probable cause in CPS.

With no oversight legally in the courts. And what, so, so, and just to amplify the magnitude of that, if you're an outspoken individual or you believe in something that is contrary to a, to a particular narrative that gives the government and law enforcement carp launched to dig through your, all of your personal stuff and find something.

That they could potentially charge you with as a crime, is that a fair summary or blackmail and official, or there's, you know, pursue political enemy or whatever, and they don't need a reason they don't even need that's. What probable cause is, is that you say to the court, we have good reason to do this.

And we need your permission. They don't have that. They don't under the third party doctrine. No problem. Just scarf it all up, use it. How you like. And it's been a question in the Supreme court, uh, and in fact, um, Sandra Sotomayer spoke out against it, but at the same time, they didn't, it was brought to their attention and with other things to the Supreme court and Ross's case.

And then. And when I deal with it or whatever, and they punted it, it's something we should all be concerned about. It's shredding our fourth amendment privacy protections. And you know, really there, the courts are not keeping up with technology, you know, I mean, it's one thing to have number on a dial dialed on a dial telephone.

I mean a lot of people listening right now, probably don't, I'd never even seen a dial telephone. My son picked up, picked mine up the other day and said, dad, what's this. He asked me, what is this? And, um, you know, but we carry these little computers around the track, us and, and reveal all kinds of things about us that really the government should at least have to have a warrant.

It's not like they can't go in, but they have to that's what warrants are for. You know, so it's not all in secret for them to do what they want. It's it's, it's very frightening. So that was a big part of it. Um, also during Ross's another fourth amendment issue that came up was that they, without a warrant, without all that stuff, permission from the court, uh, went to his home Ross home and, and shown a directional antenna where he, they could track him from room to room.

From outside, no warrant in secret. So they could be doing that to any of us at any time they like, wow, no warrant. This is a precedent for that. That's just another thing. I mean, it's, it's, it's, it's a very important, um, case, as you said, for many reasons, but the fourth amendment is a big one and the fourth amendment is under assault in our country.

Let's face it. We're it's like we're living in a surveillance. I don't feel like I just figure out they're listening. I can't, you know, they're tracking me. I know that. I mean, I know this adds a pop up on the computer. They've been dragging me. Right. We, we get, we give these permissions almost really unknowingly Ceres, Google maps, Alexa.

We're giving all of this information up to be surveyed. And, and, you know, we, we put blinds on our windows. We have a bathroom door. We, we obviously we value privacy, but we're just relinquishing control of the data and the information that is unique to us that could be used for malicious purposes. And certainly in Ross's case, it has been.

I don't think that there's much of a question about that. How is Ross doing? And what's the status of his case? Can you give us an update?

Yeah. Um, sure. Um, so w with the Supreme court, uh, he exhausted all his direct appeals there. Nowhere else to go. You go to the Supreme court. And you don't get a relief there it's over. Um, but there is, there's two different things that could still potentially free Ross. One is, um, It's a hail Mary pianist.

It's something that the last ditch effort, it's a not in the criminal court, it's in a civil court. And it's, um, really talking about your, um, your lawyer and then how your lawyer was ineffective. And sometimes for example, with the, um, you know, sentence that could be changed or, you know, it could be, there could be relief there.

We're working on. There's also the other option of a commutation of the sentence by the president of the United States. Any federal prisoner or person in the federal system has to have the president of the United States has to do it. If you're a state case, the governor does it of the state. So we are working very hard to get the attention of president.

He's shown a heart for, for pardoning people. And, um, you know, we have almost 300,000 signatures on our P our clemency petition addressed to him and find that one that's unfree, ross.org. Everything is unfree ross.org, and a lot of information. If you want to dig in, it's very heavily footnoted with.

Patients to all kinds of very solid information. And, but, um, the petition is an, a big banner on the front home page. And, um, all you really need to know, to feel okay about signing. It is not, you don't have to know all the details of Ross's case. It's does a first time peaceful non-violent offender deserve double life plus 40 years without parole.

I mean, think about it. It puts us all in. But this kind of sentence can be given to someone it's, it's, it's very, very wrong and it really needs to be corrected because it sets a precedent for other people in the system. And, um, it really is. It's, it's wrong in so many ways. And especially because I think it was used for political reasons.

And, um, you know, I just, I think that if we can. Convinced the president that this was wrong with this sentence needs to be corrected essentially is what we're asking. We're not asking for a pardon. We're not asking. We're just saying the sentence. Isn't right. I think you'll see that. I think if there's a good chance, he'll see that.

And we have the other thing I want to point out it's on our website is a widespread support page with very eminent people. Well, lots of different people, some more famous than others. Page after page, after page of quite well-known or accomplished people, I'm saying this isn't right. And it's from both sides of the political aisle.

It's not, you know, only libertarian or only, you know, Democrat or only, you know, whatever it's, it's, it's a very big mix. And, um, they're all, you know, it's very, it's so horrible. You know, that most people are just horrified by the sentence. So we're hopeful, certainly w we'll link out to that. And some of the notable people, presidential candidates, uh, actors Kiana Reeves is one that comes to mind.

The founder of Oculus rift. These are very accomplished well educated individuals. So whether or not you have the time to dive in and pick apart all the pieces of Decatur. There are very credible individuals who clearly support everything that Lynn is talking about. So I encourage you to check it out and we're certainly going to link directly to that page as well.

Thank you. Th th th the billboard campaign in times square, you know, it's gotten some attention, obviously from, from, from people. I don't want to do the research on the case. What's the, what's the support, Ben, Mick, is it creating conversation? Is it creating, introducing Ross's case to, to people that maybe haven't been familiarized with?

It how's the feedback. Well, initially we, you know, there were some articles written about it. Um, and, uh, lots on social media, lots of, um, attention, because it's quite the thing, you know, it's like, there's this big, you know, I don't think Ross ever thought it in time, a billboard in times square. Um, and it was really from the generosity of a libertarian leaning.

Uh, freedom, loving supporter, who has been counting on his heart to help Ross for a long time and came up with this idea. He's a new Yorker. And, um, it, it's a good time in a way because billboards are cheaper right now. It's a buyer's market. And, uh, but there are buses that go through. It's not like there's nobody there, but hopefully though it'll come back.

Um, it's going to be up until the election. So. Yeah, this is, it's just another way to call attention to the case and we really appreciate what he did. And, um, hopefully some people will, you know, see the website and go there or whatever. Um, I think it's an interesting use of a billboard. We were talking about that earlier.

You know, the only, I always thought a billboard, so just ads and things like that. But if they could billboards or community. There, you know, they're, um, part of our free speech rights, right. So I think, you know, yeah, it's an interesting, innovative way to use a billboard. Well, I'm glad I'm glad that that individual came forward and that, that is the unique power of out of home is that it can communicate.

Any message at scale big, fast in a hurry. In fact, the way that I, I found out about it was, was through Reddit, um, the, uh, picture of the billboard, uh, somebody had posted it, uh, in Reddit and it got a lot of traction there. So, uh, so I, I hope that it is bringing new attention, new light to what you're doing.

Anybody that's listening to this. Obviously we have a unique community in the out of home space. Please heal here. Hear what Lynn is saying that this is, this is a freedom of speech issue. This is a, uh, just, just a fundamental freedom issue, uh, point out. And Lynn and I were talking about before we kicked off the show here is that, uh, there are countries in Africa.

Nigeria is one that comes to mind. I believe it's Nigeria. I have to check. It was that the government must approve a message on a billboard before it ever gets posted. So take everything that we've talked about here today and consider whether or not you want to live in a country where the government can decide what goes up on the thing that we love so much, which is out of them advertising, especially when there are social impact causes like Ross.

That needs, that need to be communicated to the masses that people need to know about. There are real implications for our business, for our freedoms as Americans. And, uh, I hope that anyone that hears this does get. Visits free ross.org. Uh, Lynn, what else are there any other ways that we can help free ross.org has a lot of information?

Um, well, if anyone has any, uh, political connections, you know, I am trying to get the attention of president Trump. Doesn't have to be at that level. You know, it could be any, uh, any political connection. Of course, we always need donations. Cause we have like all these lawyers, very expensive people. Um, yeah.

I also wanted to say, um, you know, the billboard, it did really make an impact because cause I've got all over social media, it was different than putting up a me. It impressed people that it was actually in the physical space of time square. I mean, and it was interesting. It was above a diner that has freedom next to it, a big sign it's kind of perfect.

But, um, and I was thinking about other billboards I'd seen in one was recently in California, uh, driving down the highway, it said cannabis delivered to your door. And I'm like, wait a second. That's what the whole thing was doing seven years ago. And now there's billboards up. Exactly. And of course, Bitcoin has become a worldwide thing.

And so many of the things that were really scary and dangerous and wrong in people's minds when Ross was on trial and become acceptable parts of our society. Or at least are becoming that. And, um, Ross is still sitting in a cage facing death in prison. So it's, it's very, that's the other thing it's like, this should not, this should not be allowed to stand at anyone.

I just want to make a pitch for criminal justice reform because there are, he's not unique. There are people just for marijuana serving life sentences. Uh, he knows one of them, um, It happens to be in col his prison has been Colorado where it's legal on the state. Give me a break. But, um, you know, this is, um, this didn't used to happen.

These kinds of horrible sentences it's happening now, and it really needs to change, uh, give people a second chance, give them a chance to have some redemption, to make a man's, you know, that is part of our American values. And, um, look, I get it for, you know, violent, you know, and, and, you know, there's sure there's people that need society needs to be protected from, but I wouldn't say non-violent drug offenders or any nonviolent person needs to die in a cage.

And that, you know, someone said, we need to put people in prison who were afraid of not who we don't agree with. And there's a slippery slope there of caging people for philosophies or, or for actions that didn't harm anyone else. You know? So that's where at a tipping point here, there's a lot of very concerning things going on.

And, um, but I really think this needs to happen. I agree. And we're going to do everything that we can obviously to continue to support free ross.org. To help get Ross's case in front of the president, because you're absolutely correct. It th the things that went on, whether they were illegal at the time, they're not now.

And, and it's, it's truly an unfortunate circumstance that. All learn from and, and do right by. So Lynn, thank you so much for absolutely absolutely. Make sure to link out to everything that we've talked about here today, so that you can get more information, please. I encourage you to share this with other folks in your, in your network, whether they're involved with, out of home advertising or not.