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Best of Slow Journalism: The untold story of Silk Road

Photo: AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade

In early February, Ross Ulbricht was convicted for running online drugs bazaar Silk Road. Fourteen months earlier, the 30-year-old had been arrested in a San Francisco public library after undercover FBI agents had watched him log onto the deep-web site as Dread Pirate Roberts, the alias used by its mysterious leader.

Wired recently published the first part of this excellent piece telling the story of how Silk Road became the leading online marketplace for illegal drugs – and how the seeds were planted for its downfall. Joshuah Bearman, who in 2007 wrote the the piece that inspired the movie Argo, weaves together the stories of some of the key individuals who played a part in the rise and fall of Ulbricht’s empire: the ‘Mormon grandpa’ moonlighting as Silk Road’s customer services employee, the burned out special agent who construed a false identity to get close to Dread Pirate Roberts and, of course, Ulbricht himself.

Bearman depicts Ulbricht as a failing and frustrated entrepreneur, determined to turn Silk Road into his one successful project. “I am creating a year of prosperity and power beyond what I have ever experienced before. Silk Road is going to become a phenomenon,” Ulbricht wrote in his journal shortly before launching the site. “At least one person will tell me about it, unknowing that I was its creator.”

The story becomes darker as Ulbricht morphs from a libertarian idealist to a murderous ideologue, ordering an undercover agent to kill his employee in order to protect his own identity. The second part of Bearman’s fascinating work will be published on 14th May. If you haven’t read it yet, we recommend you catch up on part one over the weekend. You can read the piece here.

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