Cody Wilson Didn’t Disband the Bitcoin Foundation After All

March 2, 2015 | Alyssa Hertig

Cody Wilson is well-known for stirring controversy. He masterminded the 3D-printed gun prototype that ruffled feathers. He now works on Dark Wallet, which could make tracking bitcoin transactions a lot harder for regulators. Most recently, the self-proclaimed crypto-anarchist tried to take down bitcoin’s leading non-profit, the Bitcoin Foundation.

Bitcoin is, of course, a new technology that could revolutionize payments, and seems to have burst through its darker phase wearing a tie and leather shoes. Colossal companies like Dell now accept it for some online purchases. Investors are hungrily circling it. The world doesn’t think of it solely as the Silk Road’s life support anymore. The Bitcoin Foundation, the standard-setting body for the open source technology, might have had something to do with promoting air of legitimacy. Some still see it as bitcoin’s friendly public face. But the non-profit, now at a crossroads, recently shifted away from education and lobbying efforts to focus on code development.

Wilson asserts that the Bitcoin Foundation could go another route: shut down. There’s a debate brewing in the bitcoin world over regulations and Wilson, unsurprisingly, champions the anarchic side; the side that wants to preserve the technology’s cypherpunk roots. He ran for a seat in the Bitcoin Foundation’s recent election to fill a couple of open seats on the board, vying to disband the organization if elected. Subversive language spilled over his dark-colored campaign website: “I invite you now to its ritual sacrifice.”

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He calls the Bitcoin Foundation the “counter-revolution” and is afraid it’s holding the technology back. “I think playing into that opens their door and creates the kind of spiders webs and social and political shackles that prevents us from doing the more interesting things in bitcoin,” Wilson said over the phone.

“It deforms what would otherwise be — the defense that makes the software the human network — and turns it into sameness,” he said. “It just turns it into another lobby.”

The Foundation has a record of discouraging government regulation. The non-profit hired lobbyists to combat MasterCard’s digital currency lobby. The Canadian branch released a research paper condemning a heavy-handed approach in the country. For transparency, they launched a series of Reddit AMAs with personnel.

“The bitcoin ecosystem is at a critical stage where investment (or lack thereof) in the core infrastructure could determine whether or not bitcoin succeeds,” said Jingyoung Lee England, Bitcoin Foundation’s director of marketing & communications, in an email. And this is what the nonprofit want to focus on in the future. It “pivoted” late last year to meet its true calling.

But Wilson doesn’t believe this. “You don’t do a top-down, closed 501(c)(6) to support work like that,” he said. “You have an open process with open documentary standards and you actually develop open source software.” His campaign was an attempt to “call them out on their bluff.” The crypto-anarchist holds some sway over the community, but it’s split. There are even Reddit threads tackling this question: Some seem to think he speaks their exact thoughts, while others think he’s an “attention whore with no morals.” But enough ultimately sided against Wilson, who lost the first-round of the February elections.

13884256287_a3b29ce2d8_zPhoto: Francis Storr

Still, the election was tumultuous, lending some credibility to Wilson’s concerns. Olivier Janssens, who has also shown dissatisfaction with the Foundation, won the majority of the votes in the first round. But since none of the 13 candidates received 50% of the vote, the Foundation held a run-off election between the four top candidates. Some bitcoiners are in a huff over this decision. (Janssens once awarded a $100,000 bounty to bitcoin core developer Mike Hearn for developing the best decentralized platform with which to replace the Foundation.) The extra round of voting led to more disaster. The Foundation tried to hold voting on the platform Swarm in an attempt at a decentralized voting process. But voters were confused and none of the candidates were happy with the process. Votes were discarded and they held yet another round of voting on Helios. It worked out in the end; Olivier Janssens and Jim Harper, senior fellow at the Cato Institute, eventually came out on top.

On the other hand, the voter turnout was small. Only 364 of 1,523 eligible members registered to vote in the election. Voters and candidates voiced concerns about the low turnout. The Foundation since clarified the reason for the voting rules, explaining that last years’ election turnout was meager, so they tried to ensure participation by including an extra step.

Wilson sees it as a sign of the Foundation’s incompetence, crawling deeper into irrelevance. “Let’s face it, right? For a technology and for a group that represents bitcoin—that should be next-generation both in technology and capability—to use the same old parliamentary trick…maybe it’s not obvious to you, but I think it’s pretty sad.”

(Photo: Antana)