Free bitcoin handout

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Amir fought Isis in Syria, now he’s enlisting an army of hacker monks to save bitcoin from itself Legendary bitcoin developer Amir Taaki went to Syria to fight Isis. Amir Taaki believes bitcoin has lost its way. It’s simply a small community obsessed with the price going up. 2018, a Fab Lab on the east side of Barcelona. The venue is filled with plywood models, old monitors, small potted plants, and one toy robot. About ninety people are listening to a young man wearing black clothes and a black beret, with a close-cropped beard that gives him an air of martial intensity.

He speaks with hesitant deliberation, leaving long pauses between words. We want to establish a headquarters here in Catalonia. It will be like a startup accelerator, only a politicised one. Not driven by profit, but by social change. The man has already found a potential place to set up the dojo, he says, pointing at the floorplan. But if anybody knows better, they should let him know. His details are on the handout, he says, as he scans the room quickly.

You can also find the contacts on my website. 2015, British bitcoin developer Amir Taaki vanished. His media appearances, until then frequent and outrageous, stopped abruptly. On Twitter, bitcoin nerds complained they couldn’t get hold of him. Then-27-year-old Taaki was a figure of worship in the bitcoin community, and a source of worries for governments, which — post Silk Road — were increasingly leery of how cryptocurrency could be used for illegal purposes. An outspoken anarchist, Taaki had sprung to notoriety when he started developing Dark Wallet, a payment system that would make bitcoin transaction totally untraceable. Not in the flesh, but in a series of out-of-the-blue emails to anarchist mailing list Unsystem.

Most of them mentioned Rojava, a Kurdish-controlled de facto autonomous region in Northern Syria. Taaki offered his technology skills, but the Kurds handed him a Kalashnikov and sent him to the frontline. He had no military training, but, he says, he quickly picked up the art of fighting. Thinking you can die is a very scary experience.

What’s more difficult is losing your friends: dozens of my friends died. Taaki spent three months and a half fighting, before finally managing to get hold of Rojava’s economic committee and focusing his energies on civilian projects such as the crowdfunding and construction of fertiliser factories. He eventually flew back to Britain in 2016, and like everyone returning from Syria he was stopped by the police, and put under house arrest. He managed to get his passport back some months later, and immediately left the country. When I called him on Signal, in September 2017, he was in Argentina.

I asked him how he was spending his days, and whether he had any plans for the near future. I am studying a lot of different literature to understand where technology should go over the next 20 years. He wanted to meld his identities of bitcoin coder, anarchist bete noire, and Rojava foreign fighter, and forge a new political programme. He wanted to become a full-time revolutionary. Now Taaki is back — in Europe, if not in the UK, where the police won’t leave him alone — and he wants to take bitcoin back. Over the last three years, while Taaki was busy toting kalashnikovs and studying sociology tomes, the cryptocurrency he helped build changed profoundly.

What’s more, Taaki says, the technology’s politically incendiary potential has faded. All the original ideas about using bitcoin for challenging power — or privacy, or new forms of economic systems — are falling by the wayside. Now it’s simply a small community obsessed with the price going up. In Taaki’s opinion, bitcoin — like most of today’s technologies, from personal computers to social media — has become a toy, a tool that is inane at best and oppressive at worst.