Who is Ross Ulbricht, the prison inmate who could be key to Trump’s libertarian support

Former President Donald Trump received a frosty reception at this weekend’s Libertarian Party’s national convention, but one of his few applause lines was for promising to commute a sentence for a man named Ross Ulbricht.

But who is Ulbricht?

Ulbricht, 40, from Austin, Texas, is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole in Tucson, Arizona, after he was convicted in 2015 for creating, owning, and operating the darknet market website Silk Road from 2011 to 2013.

Inspired by libertarian economic theory, Ulbricht set up Silk Road under the pseudonym “Dread Pirate Roberts,” writing on his LinkedIn profile that the website would be “an economic simulation to give people a first-hand experience of what it would be like to live in a world without the systemic use of force.” But U.S. law enforcement has described Silk Road as “a sophisticated and extensive criminal marketplace” and “sprawling black-market bazaar” online for more than 100,000 anonymous users to buy unlawful goods and illegal services, including drugs, computer hacking, and forgery, earning Ulbricht more than $13 million.

The FBI arrested Ulbricht at a San Francisco Public Library in 2013 after a yearslong federal investigation into Silk Road, such as undercover operations by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, charged Ulbricht in 2014 with seven offenses for which he was sentenced after a four-week jury trial in 2015 in Manhattan, New York. They included distributing narcotics, distributing narcotics by means of the internet, conspiring to distribute narcotics, engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiring to commit computer hacking, conspiring to traffic in false identity documents, and conspiring to commit money laundering.

In addition to life imprisonment, U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest ordered Ulbricht to pay $184 million in restitution.

“Make no mistake: Ulbricht was a drug dealer and criminal profiteer who exploited people’s addictions and contributed to the deaths of at least six young people,” Bharara said at the time. “Ulbricht went from hiding his cybercrime identity to becoming the face of cybercrime and as today’s sentence proves, no one is above the law.”

Ulbricht appealed Forrest’s decision before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 2017 and the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018, both of which failed.

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Trump made the pledge to commute Ulbricht’s sentence as part of his speech at the libertarian convention as he and independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. pitched themselves to the party.

Trump has an average 2 percentage point advantage over Biden when third party and independent contenders are taken into account, according to RealClearPolitics. That edge decreases to 1 point when polling respondents are not provided with the other options.

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