Mom of accused Silk Road founder blasts US drug war, surveillance sprawl

The mother of the man who many believe to be “Dread Pirate Roberts,” the mastermind behind the online criminal marketplace known as Silk Road, has harsh words for how the U.S. government has treated her son.

“He’s a good person, a stellar human being [who is] being smeared as some sort of thug all over the world,” Lyn Ulbricht told an audience in New York, who gathered Monday morning to discuss the so-called Dark Web and the growing scope of online surveillance.

According to Ulbricht, prosecutors have “poisoned the trial” of the Dread Pirate Roberts — who she knows only as her son, Ross — by repeatedly bringing up sensational murder accusations that made headlines when he was arrested, but are not among the actual charges he faces in New York.

Ulbricht’s nightmare began after her son was arrested in a San Francisco library last year, and accused by the FBI of profiting from the Silk Road, a “dark site” where buyers used bitcoin to buy everything from drugs to hit men.

Now, as she struggles to raise money and attention for her son’s defense, the tall and articulate woman has also become an unlikely advocate for ending America’s “war on drugs” and reining in the country’s surveillance practices.

“Before Ross’s arrests, I’d never given the drug war much thought,” Ulbricht said. “If it’s purpose is to expand government power and the prison industrial complex, it’s been a rousing success.”

Ulbricht described meeting other “shattered families” gathered at the prison for a brief weekly visit with loved ones awaiting trial on drug charges, and called the 40-year war on drugs a “national disgrace.”

She added that she does not condone drug use or the activities that took place on Silk Road, but said that the prosecutors’ tactics have made it hard for her son to maintain a presumption of innocence or to raise money for his trial.

While Ross Ulbricht allegedly made a fortune from running the Silk Road, the FBI seized his bitcoins and is in the process of selling them in an auction that could fetch around $20 million.

Ulbricht and her fellow panelist, Runa Sandvik of the Tor Project (a group that produces software that helps people use the internet anonymously), also repeated allegations that the FBI used illegal, warrant-less techniques to hack into the Silk Road’s servers.

Overall, the discussion showed how law enforcement’s attempts to police a borderless online realm is also leading the U.S. government to place an ever-expanding number of activities under its surveillance and criminal law powers.

The discussion was moderated by Alex Winters, who directed the documentary, the Deep Web.

This story was changed at 8pm ET to clarify that claims that Ross Ulbricht is Dread Pirate Roberts are allegations, and have not been proven in court.