Bitcoin, Information Warfare And The Wall Street Journal

Mainstream media fascination with the individual(s) behind Bitcoin’s pseudonymous creator Satoshi Nakamoto is provoking furious pushback from those who refuse to accept Australian inventor Dr. Craig Wright as that individual.  

Wall Street Journal reporter Paul Vigna has been churning out Bitcoin-related content in recent weeks and the reaction to his Nov. 15 article—particularly its title “Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto could be unmasked at Florida trial”—was probably a tad more extreme than he anticipated.  

The trial Vigna referred to pits Dr. Wright against Ira Kleiman, the brother of Wright’s late friend/colleague Dave Kleiman. Ira sued Wright in 2018 based on his belief that Wright and Dave were partners in Bitcoin’s creation before Dave’s death in 2013. Wright countered that Dave only helped him edit the Bitcoin white paper ahead of its release in October 2008, which was followed by Bitcoin’s formal debut in January 2009.  

After tweeting out his article, Vigna was immediately deluged with replies, the vast majority of which were stridently opposed to the idea that the trial has anything to do with confirming Satoshi’s identity. Vigna was told to “check his facts” and accused of engaging in “unsubstantiated clickbait” and contributing to the lack of trust in mainstream media.  

The venom directed Vigna’s way was primarily coming from individuals who support the BTC token. These same individuals abhor Wright’s BSV blockchain protocol, which boasts a capacity to scale blocks to a size that can handle a high volume of transactions—with ultra-low fees—sufficient to realize the micro-payment peer-to-peer system described in Bitcoin’s white paper. 

Among the more restrained responses to Vigna’s article came from Arthur Van Pelt, a Dutchman with a serious case of Anti-Wrightis. Van Pelt was briefly quoted in Vigna’s article accusing Wright of “hacking, bamboozling and fooling people” and insisting that there is “no genuine, independent, credible proof whatsoever” that Wright is Satoshi. 

Van Pelt has made a name for himself among BTC maximalists by tweeting almost exclusively about Wright and BSV, with daily tweet attack counts in the 50-100 range. In addition to tweeting insults and mockery of BSV and its adherents, Van Pelt also publishes voluminous ‘research’ articles intended to denigrate Wright’s Satoshi claims.  

According to Arthur Van Pelt, it was this “research” that led Vigna to contact him about Wright. I hope for Vigna’s case that is not true but stranger things have happened at the Wall Street Journal. Ahead of the article’s publication, Van Pelt triumphantly promoted his upcoming contribution to Vigna’s article. But the miniscule contribution he made to Vigna’s work led Van Pelt to call the article a “bit disappointing,” a sentiment that likely worsened when Arthur Van Pelt made no appearance whatsoever in Vigna’s subsequent Bitcoin coverage.  

It’s hard not to suspect that Vigna chose to utilize a mere dozen words from Arthur Van Pelt’s corpulent word salad because he found Van Pelt’s level of anti-Wright antagonism to be a bit over the top. Vigna may also be aware that Van Pelt has admitted fudging facts to suit his own purposes, such as the time he knowingly filed a false copyright claim on the Bitcoin white paper, claiming to be Satoshi and citing a false Japanese address in his filing. He has taken the “We Are All Satoshi” mantra a bit too far with the filing, it happens to be a felony to file a false copyright claim.

Finally, there’s also a possibility that Vigna suspected Van Pelt’s obsession with Wright/BSV may have been fueled by more than just personal animosity.  

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When Ira Kleiman’s legal team rested its case in mid-November, attorney Velvel Freedman issued a tweet expressing gratitude “for the help and effort from this great crypto community, including @MyLegacyKit.”  

That Twitter handle belongs to Van Pelt, who had up to that point only obliquely alluded to his cooperation by tweeting praise of ‘Team Vel Freedman’ for doing the real ‘hard work’ but that collusion cat is now officially out of the bag.  

Van Pelt likes to publicly claim that his vendetta against Wright/BSV is “all unpaid community service” but the fact that he quite literally tweets from dawn to dusk and publishes extremely lengthy blog posts doesn’t leave much time for gainful employment.  

Tellingly, Van Pelt hasn’t had a real job since January 2018 when he left his consultant role at cloud-based workflow automation firm WorkFlowWise. Since then, he’s styled himself as a “self-employed Bitcoin entrepreneur,” but his entrepreneurial efforts leave much to be desired.  

Van Pelt helped start a company (Cryptoboost) that tried to raise money to buy European banks and turn them into crypto-friendly hubs. Unsurprisingly, that venture never really took off, which spelled doom for Dragon Industries, an affiliated and equally stillborn company that never actually did anything.  

At present, Arthur claims to work for Sunified BTC, a green-energy mining company, to whose fortunes Van Pelt is so integral that the only public mention of his involvement with the company is in his own tweets. Van Pelt did launch a Smashing Pumpkins fan site in 2003 that’s still going strong, but we’ll go out on a limb and assume that SP frontman Billy Corgan isn’t compensating Van Pelt for this public adulation. 

So how exactly might Arthur Van Pelt be paying his electric bill? Well, a month or so before Van Pelt ditched the 9-5 grind, the BTC address he promotes as a tip jar on his Twitter feed received a little more than 7.5 BTC (worth around US$61,500 at the time) over a two-day span. Since Van Pelt’s Wright-bashing began in earnest not long afterward—and the fact that prior to January 2018, Van Pelt had never once tweeted about Wright—we invite you to draw your own conclusions.  

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As for who might be underwriting Arthur Van Pelt’s efforts, recall that the Bitcoin block size war really took off in August 2017 with the arrival of Bitcoin Cash (BCH), a protocol that Wright originally supported. Wright later fell out with BCH insiders over their unwillingness to raise the block-size cap even higher, leading to the debut of BSV the following year.  

Wright has steadfastly maintained that BSV is the only protocol with the right to call itself Bitcoin, in part because a group of developers robbed BTC of nearly all functionality in order to steer users onto Layer 2 networks controlled by the likes of Blockstream. These developers and their investors understandably want to ensure that Wright’s message of a function-impaired BTC doesn’t gain wider recognition.  

Said investors include Digital Currency Group (DCG), a venture capital firm led by Barry Silbert that either controls or has a significant stake in virtually every major BTC-based enterprise out there. As Wright’s Florida trial got underway on November 1, the Journal’s Vigna penned an article with the revealing title, “Digital Currency Group Wants to Be Crypto’s Standard Oil.” 

For younger readers, Standard Oil was the corporate colossus that once controlled over 90% of America’s refined oil flow. Critics claimed that the company abused its near-monopoly by undercutting its prices to destroy its competitors. This led to the passing of antitrust legislation, federal charges of unfairly restraining commerce and the Supreme Court-ordered breakup of Standard Oil into 34 independent companies.  

Despite this inglorious history, Barry Silbert cited Standard Oil as “the model I use as inspiration” for running DCG. In addition to the emphasis on both horizontal and vertical integration, Silbert, whose stake in DCG is near 40%, also appears to support Standard’s ‘whatever it takes’ mentality to dealing with competitors.  

During Wright’s trial, an article at crypto news site CoinDesk—a wholly owned DCG property—earned the kind of blowback Vigna endured with his ‘Satoshi unmasked’ article. Barry Silbert’s brother Alan tweeted his objections to CoinDesk, taking particular issue with the article’s subhead ‘At stake: The ownership of Satoshi Nakamoto’s 1.1 million BTC.’ The article was amended the next day to downplay the notion that Wright might be Satoshi.   

In the Kleiman v Wright trial’s discovery phase, Ira Kleiman’s legal team admitted that it was receiving ‘third-party litigation funding’ from a subsidiary of Parabellum Capital. The subsidiary was incorporated in December 2017, shortly before both the filing of Ira’s lawsuit vs. Wright and the commencement of Van Pelt’s sudden animosity towards Wright/BSV.  

There’s no way of learning who/what might have provided the funding for this effort, but Ira had been fishing for funds with pre-trial emails sent to parties with “an interest in the Bitcoin space,” holding out the tantalizing possibility of “a percentage of a successful judgment” should the jury award Ira a cut of Satoshi’s alleged stockpile of 1.1m BTC tokens.  

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Journalistic laziness can prove embarrassing, as the Journal recently discovered when a reporter decided to take Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ joke about suffering from ‘COVID toe’ as a statement of fact, despite the fact that Rodgers stated later on in the same show that his toe injury was a “bone issue.”  

Less amusing was the time the Journal took anti-Muslim troll Laura Loomer’s word that she’d been banned from Twitter following pressure on the social network by activists at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). The Journal’s January 2019 article reported that “outside groups and individuals had privately lobbied Twitter executives” to permanently suspend Loomer’s account.   

But the whole thing was a prank cooked up by two left-leaning activists who contacted Loomer pretending to be disgruntled right-leaning Twitter staff. In addition to wholeheartedly agreeing with Loomer’s conspiracy theories that Islamic activists were behind her suspension, they provided her with a fake calendar showing Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey had a meeting with CAIR employees just days before she was booted from the platform.  

The Journal issued its report despite Twitter’s senior management denying any meetings with CAIR or other Islamic groups regarding Loomer. In reality, the CAIR’s sole involvement was to report a Loomer tweet through the standard complaint mechanism available to all Twitter users.  

The pranksters originally hoped Loomer would take her scoop to Alex Jones’ Infowars show, after which they’d reveal their duplicity and expose the deplorable lack of fact-checking among alt-right outlets. But the Journal’s article resulted in Loomer’s claims being amplified by more mainstream right-wing media sites, including Breitbart, Conservative Review and The Gateway Pundit. The substance of these reports has since become accepted gospel by some on the right, despite the utter lack of evidence supporting it.  

So before Arthur Van Pelt’s colored worldview becomes accepted wisdom beyond his Twitter feed, a word to the wise for mainstream media pundits dipping their toes into the fetid crypto waters: there’s an awful lot of money at stake in these internecine blockchain wars and no shortage of people willing to do whatever it takes to ensure their side emerges triumphant (and the other side dies screaming). Forewarned is forearmed, so assume that all opinions have an agenda … including this one.