Roger Ver, at 34, looks back on his life with the kind of naïve wonder unexpected in someone who seems poised to take over the world, at least a good-sized bitcoin-based portion of it – if his prophetic declarations turn out to be correct. With his fingers in more bitcoin pies than anyone but he knows (some of them he openly admits are anonymous), Ver speaks of bitcoin as a revolutionary, as he tweeted on May 7: “BITCOIN will not be regulated by governments, it will regulate governments.”
Bitcoin, he insists, will change the world – will change the way people do business, think of money and live their lives.
“Bitcoin is unstoppable,” Ver recently emailed me. I asked him why bitcoin.org, the domain and original home of bitcoin since the site was registered in August 2008 – presumably by the anonymous creator – had recently removed him from the press page list of interviewees to represent bitcoin. On the site’s forum threads were heated comments about why Ver’s past and his political views made him too volatile a character to ballyhoo bitcoin now that it was showing a burgeoning popular public persona. Bitcoin.org was trying to distance itself, and bitcoin, from the rudimentary elements of bitcoin’s birthright – but even Ver was able to shrug this off as insignificant.
“Bitcoin cannot be stopped,” he wrote. “Not now.” And the way in which he declared this had more to do with what he knew than what he wanted to believe – no matter how rose-lensed his glasses seemed to be to those unacquainted with the fundamentals of bitcoin. Ver tossed around phrases like, “mathematically impossible,” referring to bitcoin’s potential failure, its bubble-bursting surrender to naysayers. Undaunted, Ver continued to invest capital into bitcoin startup after bitcoin startup.
Ver grew up in the Silicon Valley and was a gifted student who got his first taste of fiat currency when he wowed faculty by selling Rice Krispie Treats to his classmates like a Fortune 500 CEO. He wrote to me in a recent email:
MAY 14, 2013, “The rice crispy treat comment was true. The gifted school program I was in used a school fiat currency for all the 4th and 5th grade students. About once a month, all the kids in the school would bring something in to sell. Most of the other students seemed confused that one school dollar was not equal to one USD. So I bought all the Rice Krispie treats for about one school dollar each. Then I resold them the same day for 50 school dollars each. (This was about the true market rate since they sold rather well.) At the end of the day I had more school fiat dollars than any other student, and lots of left over Rice Krispie treats to bring home.”
Ver’s early interest in currency piqued my interest as I delved into the bitcoin phenomenon – and legend. Many writers, such as Joshua Davis in The New Yorker (http://archives.newyorker.com/?i=2011-10-10#folio=CV1) attempted to reveal the identity of bitcoin’s mysterious pseudonymous creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, but none came close – though their efforts were admirable. As I set out to understand bitcoin and those attached to it, it would be Roger Ver among the smallish consortium I would focus my intuitive initiative – running more on raw gut instinct than brute force digging. I wasn’t sure what, or who, I was looking for – only that I was looking. Ver’s adamancy struck a chord with me and I began to sift through the bits and pieces of the puzzle that is bitcoin – an irresistible collection and assortment of odds and ends which together form a prismatic view only the right kind of eyes can see as anything other than a kaleidoscopic amalgamation.
Ver, I noted, was a founding member of the recently formed (September 2012) Bitcoin Foundation – an organized group of facilitators to play chaperone to the fledgling bitcoin; nearing its fifth birthday and gaining the kind of momentum which justifiably required some form of support crew along its way, it was rationalized. Though the foundation of bitcoin’s protocol asserted its total decentralization – Bitcoin Foundation would instead provide “standardization,” a way to assist its ultimate fruition by supplementing its software and paying its lead developer, Gavin Andresen (as “lead scientist”), who had stepped into Nakamoto’s empty shoes after vanishing from the cypersphere in 2010 – leaving only a smattering of emails behind with a select few contacted directly between 2009-2010.
Ver, being a founding member, claims to have heard about bitcoin while living in his self-imposed exile in Tokyo in 2010 (where, he says, he coincidentally wound up living right down the street from Mt. Gox, the world’s largest bitcoin exchange platform). While riding the train, he was listening to Libertarian News freetalklive podcast on which bitcoin was being discussed, and, according to Ver in an email to me, he was hooked. He stayed up for nights on end, unable to sleep, studying everything he could get his hands on – to the point a friend intervened and hospitalized him for exhaustion.
Ver seemed born to find bitcoin – and insists that since the 90s he’d dreamed of just such a digital currency and waited on it to manifest. In the interim, while still a college student in 1999, Ver started MemoryDealers.com, selling computer components. Today the company employs thirty people with offices in several countries. “Over the last decade,” Ver wrote me in an email, “MemoryDealers has grown to become a world leader in the used Cisco memory and networking equipment industry.” MemoryDealers was also the first mainstream business to begin accepting bitcoins – the infamous digital currency which has both taken the world by storm and bubble, since its 2009 inception by an unknown creator.
In some ways, Ver is as mysterious as bitcoin’s muse, Satoshi Nakamoto – a pseudonym used when Nakamoto “mined” the first fifty bitcoins (“mining” is the computational process by which bitcoins are “minted” via the bitcoin software).
Ver, like Nakamoto, disappeared once, too – from the U.S. Strongly influenced by the philosophical ideologies behind Austrian economics, reading “Socialism” by Ludwig von Mises while a junior in high school and others similarly principled, Ver decided to run on the Libertarian ticket for the California State Assembly in 2000 at the age of 20.
Ver wrote in The Daily Anarchist, “Bitcoin Venture Capitalist Roger Ver’s Journey to Anarchism” on November 12th, 2012 :
“Up to this point everything I had learned seemed ideological and somewhat abstract, but I felt the need to point out these truths to others. To help spread the ideas of liberty at the age of twenty, in the year 2000, I became a Libertarian candidate for California State Assembly. I vowed that if I were elected I would not accept any salary considering the money would necessarily have been taken from others by force in the form of taxation. I also promised to cut as many taxes and repeal as many laws as I could.”
During a debate with his opponents at San Jose State University, Ver – in his unapologetic, blithe and unfiltered manner – espoused his positions on a range of issues, including what he viewed as illegal taxation, and how the ATF had mishandled – and were culpable – for the compound killings in Waco, Texas. According to Ver, the ATF took strong offense to his position and began digging into his life to find anything worth leveling an attack on his character – and freedom.
“They began looking into my background in the attempt to find dirt on me. I had already started a successful online business selling various computer components. In addition to computer parts, I, along with dozens of other resellers across the country, including Cabelas, were selling a product called a Pest Control Report 2000. It was basically a firecracker used by farmers to scare deer and birds away from their corn fields. While everyone else, including the manufacturer, were simply asked to stop selling them I became the only person in the nation to be prosecuted.”
Ver’s idealism at twenty was unrestrained – much the way young soldiers volunteer to fight wars they know nothing about; his innocence was tantamount to his convictions. This would play no role, however, in how he was treated. He wrote:
“The reasoning for the prosecution became crystal clear after a meeting with the US prosecuting attorney and the undercover ATF agents from the debate. In the meeting, my attorney told the prosecutor that selling store-bought firecrackers on eBay isn’t a big deal and that we can pay a fine and do some community service to be done with everything. When the prosecutor agreed that that sounded reasonable one of the ATF agents pounded his hand on the table and shouted “…but you didn’t hear the things that he said!” This summed up very clearly that they were angry about the things that I had said, not the things that I had done.”
Ver was told he could face nearly ten years by the U.S. Attorney if he took his case to trial so Ver signed a plea agreement. At the sentencing hearing, the judge asked him if he had been threatened of coerced in any way, and Ver, in his unflappable cannot-tell-a-lie manner, said:
“‘Yes, absolutely,’ the judge’s eyes became very wide and he asked “what do you mean?” I explained that the US attorney told me that he would send me to jail for seven or eight years if I didn’t sign the plea agreement. The judge responded that that was not what he was asking about, so I replied that I must not understand what it means to be threatened or coerced. The judge then proceeded to lecture me extensively on politics. He carried on about why government is so important and how ‘taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society’ and that government is wonderful in general. He summed up his lecture by telling me that ‘I don’t want you to think that your political views have anything to do with why you are here today,’ and then sentenced me to serve ten months in federal prison.”
Following Ver’s release from Lompoc Federal Penitentiary, he had to endure three years of probation, during which he claims to have been further lambasted. On the final day of his probation term he left the U.S. for Japan – determined to disconnect himself from the ills he had sought to remedy, and instead had fallen victim to, scorned and vilified. Semantics in the charges framed him cleverly to seem like a potential terrorist: he was a convicted felon, and the charmed boy from Silicon Valley’s heart was if not broken, battered into a new shape.
He sought to change the world. He wrote:
“I am working full time to make the world a better, less violent place by promoting the use of Bitcoin. Bitcoin totally strips away the State’s control over money. It takes away the vast majority of its power to tax, regulate, or control the economy in any way. If you care about liberty, the nonaggression principle, or economic freedom in general you should do everything you can to use Bitcoin as often as possible in your daily life.”