On February 4, 2015, a young man named Ross Ulbricht was convicted of seven charges laid in a U.S. Federal Court in Manhattan. On May 29, 2015, he was sentenced to life in prison for his crimes.
He was accused of being the owner and operator of the Silk Road website, the most popular online drug marketplace.
The indictment charged Ulbricht in seven counts, including narcotics trafficking, narcotics trafficking by means of the Internet, conspiring to commit narcotics trafficking, engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiring to commit or aid and abet computer hacking, conspiring to traffic in fraudulent identification documents, and conspiring to commit money laundering.
Filmmaker Alex Winter has written, directed, and produced a film outlining the story of the rise and fall of Silk Road called Deep Web. It premieres on May 31st at 8PM on Epix.
The documentary tells the story of the rise and fall of Silk Road, bringing the viewer into the world of U.S. law enforcement agencies during their early monitoring and seizure of the website, follows Ulbricht’s court case, and documents the present work of one group of people trying to rebuild a decentralized version of the Silk Road.
It includes testimonials from government officials, law enforcement, crypto-anarchists, ex-Silk Road vendors, and people who knew Ulbricht personally.
The filmmakers provide an impartial recounting of this shocking story while bringing to light important topics of discussion.
“I really tried to shine a light on aspects of the story that I wasn’t seeing,” says Winter. “It’s a complex thing to tell a story about for that reason. It’s very easy to paint a story black and white, So a lot of painstaking effort was made to dig into the roots of what these movements are about and examine the grays of what’s seen as a black and white story.”
The documentary’s footage of Ulbricht reveals an idealistic, fun-loving, and liberty-minded young American man whose life is paradoxically juxtaposed with that of a drug kingpin. His character straddles the line of between hero and villain throughout the story.
Creating such a comprehensive look at this whole story wasn’t without its challenges for the filmmakers.
“Creating this film required a fairly comprehensive understanding of the tech,” says Winter. “You also have to have an understanding of the people in the tech communities and get at what their motives are and what they’re trying to accomplish; look at hard truths that may not be palatable to people, and just try to paint a human face of the individual convicted of this crime since the counter-narrative is so strong; trying to swim against that current is also challenging.”
Bitcoin Magazine spoke to Lyn Ulbricht, Ross Ulbricht’s mother at the SXSW premiere of Deep Web.
“He was pretty upset,” said Lynn Ulbricht. “It was very tough on him. The trial was emotionally draining; very hard on all of us. Since then, he really tries to be positive. He’s strong and resilient. He tells me that when he was feeling restless he started working out. He’s coping but it’s tough. He’s very cut off. I’m proud of him. “
“This case is very important,” concluded Lynn Ulbricht. “There’s evidence pointing to the fact that the Silk Road server was accessed illegally. It sets precedent going into the digital age that will affect all of us. It’s not just about Ross.”
News that two federal agents used their government position for the robbery and extortion of large sums of money from the Silk Road has recently surfaced.
Ulbricht’s attorneys filed a motion for a new trial on March 6 on the grounds that the government’s failure to provide this exculpatory material in a timely manner denied Ross his fifth amendment right to due process and fair trial.
Not denying that the criminal case against these former agents alleges corruption, judge Katherine Forrest has denied a retrial for Ulbricht. According to her ruling, “This motion for a new trial…does not address how any additional evidence, investigation, or time would have raised even a remote probability that the outcome of the trial would be any different.”
Winter is hoping to bring this story to everyday people and make them think about things that they would’ve otherwise given thought to.
“I hope that this project challenges people enough to dig deeper. I hope that people have enough humanity to question things. I hope that it provides impetus for more nuanced discourse about the internet and the movements around the internet that I think are very important.”
Overall, this gripping documentary demands the viewer’s’ attention and contains the staunch realization that we are entering the “future”. Along with that comes problems like cyber crime and unknown hacking methods used by both citizens and governments. Some questions to be asked are: Is it safer for drug deals to go on online? What are the US citizen’s relationship to their government? Is this altering?