My Top Secret Meeting with One of Silk Road’s Biggest Drug Lords
Dread Pirate Roberts captained a ship that many thought was unsinkable. But when the FBI seized the original Silk Road on October 1, 2013 ,and arrested the alleged kingpin—29-year-old Ross Ulbricht—the online drugs empire began to capsize. Its hundreds of thousands of customers scattered across the Deep Web, and up to seven known Silk Road vendors were identified and arrested.
As the chaos unravelled into the mainstream and stories of Dread Pirate Roberts’ (DPR) alleged murder-for-hire antics made headlines, one prominent Silk Road drugs syndicate sat in their European safe-house with a ton of opium and a decision to make—would they cut their losses and disappear into the ether while they were still ahead, or keep their lucrative online drugs network running in the midst of all this extra attention?
The displaced drugs syndicate, known on the Deep Web as the Scurvy Crew (TSC), decided to go back to work. For them, back to work meant laundering Bitcoins, vacuum packing drug parcels, and jumping the Moroccan border with bags stuffed full of uncut drugs. Silk Road may have died a sudden death at the hands of the authorities, but as one of the highest rated vendors before the FBI shut-down, the Scurvy Crew saw its demise as an opportunity to diversify.
After six months of negotiation, via encrypted email and several phone calls from throwaway SIM cards, the boss of the Scurvy Crew agreed to meet me. He told me he would explain to me the inner workings of his Deep Web drugs venture, from its humble beginnings to the near million-dollar profits it now apparently generates. Known to me only by the pseudonym “Ace,” the boss claimed to represent a new breed of drug dealer.
“I don’t do this just for the money,” he wrote to me via email. “I like to provide a premium service.”
Should everyone take acid?
No because you have to ask the right question to take it. Do you want a one-on-one with your maker?
And what if the answer is yes, even if you’ve got a mental illness?
Well there’s a correlation between acid and curing mental illness. I realized after my beautiful accidental rebirth that what we usually call psychology is actually just art.
You use a lot of complicated metaphors.
No, I just use the truth.
A Visit to a Mormon Temple… On Acid!
No religion is complete without a little mystery—Catholicism with its Immaculate Conception, Scientology with its OT Levels, Buddhism with its Nirvana. It goes without saying that the Latter-day Saints have their share of enigmatic rituals. Some Christian fundamentalists are quick to point out the esoteric beliefs of the LDS church, including the ideas that Mormons become gods of their own planets when they reach one of three heavens, that Jesus vacationed in the Americas, and that they once sort of had a thingagainst black people.
The Mormon obsession with building gigantic temples around the globe also raises some eyebrows in non-believers, owing to the secrecy of whatever goes on inside.
Mormons hold regular Sunday services in churches open to the public, even slobs like you and me. But unless you’re an incredibly loyal, obedient member, you won’t be getting into any of the temples, a “house of the lord” specialized for prayer, fasting, marriage, baptism (including the controversial “baptism of the dead”), and other “ordinances” or contracts with the Almighty.
Nevertheless, the LDS church hosts an open house when it completes a new temple, inviting society to stroll through God’s crib, free of charge. Afterward, they dedicate the place, forbidding public entry. Naturally, the rumors fly: The temples are rooted in Freemasonry. In temple ceremonies, you are given a secret new name. You learn a secret handshake. Couples are sealed for all eternity in a “celestial marriage,” and in the afterlife, women will forever give birth to “spirit babies.” I could list dozens of other weird rumors I’ve heard—for instance that, after an open house, the church tears out and replaces the carpet—but I can barely find references to these online, let alone confirm them.
Angry French Bigots… On Acid!
In early January, a bunch of bigoted French people gathered in Paris’s Bastille Square to celebrate their rage with a “Day of Anger.” About 20,000 of them turned up in the rain to complain about various things. Some were mad at the country’s President, François Hollande, for being too much of a liberal. Some were mad about abortion. A whole bunch of them were mad about gays. And the Jews. Quite a few people were mad about the Jews.
Anyway, our friend Félix dropped a tab, walked around, and talked to all the pissed off people. We hope you enjoy it at least as much as he did.
The Kentucky Derby… on Acid!
This is my good friend Caitlin (whose name isn’t really Caitlin). That is a hit of acid on her tongue. She did acid once, four years ago, and she’s doing it again now, just before we head out to the Kentucky Derby, because the only way to attend the most famous horse race in the world—an event that features thousands of drunken gamblers, straight-up drunks, and a roiling, seersuckered mess of Southern gentry—is to trip your head off for the whole thing.
An hour later, we arrived at Churchill Downs, which was pretty miserable in the rain. As with every major public gathering in America, tons of cops and security guards were on hand at the entrance to direct foot traffic and remind us all that we live in a post-9/11 security state. I knew the acid was starting to kick in when she compared this routine checkpoint to being a Jew in Hitler’s Germany: “I swear we are in a concentration camp. Look at how they are herding everyone.” Is this how Alex Jones fans are made?
Our tickets were for the infield, the area surrounded by the racetrack that turns into a big muddy party for the duration—sort of like a music festival without music but worse, if you can picture that. This area is designated for those who don’t want to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for a ticket, belligerent drunks, and 40-something divorcees trying to get freaky. It’s cheap because you can’t really tell what’s going on, horse-racing wise.
…But in order to reach the infield, we first had to fight our way through a tunnel that smelled like a rotting asshole—the air was filled with cigar and cigarette smoke, vomit, and bourbon. Caitlin asked me if we were in hell.
New York Fashion Week… on Acid!
This guy here is our buddy Tyler. And that white stuff on his tongue is partially chewed, acid-dosed Altoids mints.
This is him a little while later, waiting for a cab to take us to a fashion show that was happening as part of New York Fashion Week. At this point, Tyler told me that he was beginning to feel a “floaty floatiness” and had “upward swooshing” in his fingertips.
His trip began to kick in properly when he saw this building from the cab. Apparently it was “all swirly, with swirls swirling into the other swirls.”
The trip intensified when it was time for me to pay for our taxi, and it became apparent that our driver was unfamiliar with the concept of cabs.
As I was trying to pay him, he smiled at me and said “it’s free” before attempting to hand me a white business card with what appeared to be braille on it. When I insisted on paying, he just kept smiling and pointing toward my phone while saying, “No, no, no.”
This is the kind of bizarre exchange that only seems to happen when you’re too high to deal with it. Tyler was looking around nervously. When he saw the Matrix business card he started to cackle, before asking the cab driver, “What’s happening? Am I tripping?”
Eventually, the cab driver let me give him $15, and we headed to the show. It was held on this pier.
Outside the venue, there were a billion people rushing around. Mostly street-style photographers. You may already know this, but being in a crowd is pretty much the last thing you want to do when you’re on acid. Followed pretty closely by having your photo taken. Tyler looked as though he was beginning to panic. “Fucking street-fashion photographers… They’re everywhere… It’s like a street-style nightmare.” He said, before rushing us inside.
Super Bowl Media Day… on Acid!
My first decision was whether to take the five-dose strip of LSD before or after I arrived at the Superdome. I settled on doing it after, which turned out to be the right choice. The line for media to get into the stadium was hundreds of people long and zigged and zagged through the bowels of the Superdome garage in a way that made it impossible to tell how long it was and what was around the next corner. It just so happened that the end of this line had some bomb-sniffing dogs and fully armed military personnel. As I told my editor later, if I had eaten the acid before getting in line, this story would’ve ended when I saw the bomb-sniffing dogs. I would’ve high-tailed it out of there—probably screaming—and been eaten by those vicious animals.
Despite having worked as a full-time sports journalist in a past life, this was my first time at a Super Bowl Media Day. I was surprised to find that there was no workstation set up for me to drop off my stuff and get my bearings before sneaking into a darkened corner to take my drugs. Nevertheless, I still managed to take those drugs in a darkened corner—I could tell from experience that the bitter taste and tingling on my tongue was a good sign. I checked my watch: 9:30. The San Francisco 49ers would be on the field in half an hour for their stint with the media.
The acid first started creeping in while I was standing next to 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. I overheard someone ask Colin if he was a “steak and potatoes” kind of guy, and then I repeated “steak and potatoes” a few times into my iPod. I don’t think I attracted a great deal of attention, but I almost lost my shit when I noticed Kaepernick was getting beamed, God-like, onto the Superdome Jumbotron while I was standing mere feet away from him.
By this time, the trip was lapping against my mind in more consistent and powerful waves. I was very thankful that I had so many toys with me (my cameras, my iPod, and my smartphone) because fidgeting with my gear was a way to calm myself down. I’m not sure if this looked strange to anyone, but I’m also pretty sure I was staring at my camera without doing anything for what seemed like hours.
In reality, it couldn’t have been too long, because my next voice memo, recorded at 10:42, has me noting that the 49ers only had a few minutes left on the field and that I hadn’t asked any questions. Suddenly, I felt the urge to do something—everyone around me was moving with a purpose while I wandered around aimlessly and stared at the mysteriously pulsating artificial turf. I tried in vain to ask 49ers running back Frank Gore a question, but was beaten to the punch by a radio DJ who asked him if he’d ever had an imaginary girlfriend and some other guy who asked Gore, “If you had a Pegasus, what would you name it?” I made a voice memo wondering if I was imagining all of this.
You’ve probably heard a little bit about the top secret experiment the Army conducted during the Cold War. A room glowing flourescent blue, with an unwitting soldier seated in the middle. A doctor wearing horn-rimmed glasses and smoking a cigarette walks in with a syringe. He mutters something softly as the needle goes into the soldier’s arm. Cut to the outside of the building and the sound of breaking glass, as the soldier’s body falls to the ground. (Pro tip: Stay away from windows when experimenting with LSD.) That’s what it’s like in the movies, anyway.
Turns out these experiments were worse in real life. Raffi Khatchadourian’s sprawling exposée on the Army’s psychochemical warfare program in this week’s New Yorker details the collective confusion and chaos that took hold of the armed forces as they imagined the worst during the Cold War. The program was underwritten by an utter disregard for human dignity and medical ethics: Many of the young soldiers who volunteered for the program weren’t told anything about the medical tests they would undergo at Edgwood Arsenal, the Army’s classified facility on the Chesapeke Bay. And many say they were scarred for life after what happened to them inside.