After authorities issued an order to freeze millions of dollars in donations sent to anti-vaccine protesters in Canada via a Christian crowdfunding site, Bitcoin has taken up an unexpected starring role in the saga of the so-called “freedom convoy.”
Bitcoiners scrambled to seize the unprecedented opportunity to prove the value of the digital currency, which is a peer-to-peer protocol that (like torrents) cannot be censored except for at key centralized points such as exchanges. When the Trudeau government announced new emergency powers to quell the protests on Monday, including targeting cryptocurrency donations, Bitcoiners’ zeal was redoubled.
“We've been waiting for the level-end boss for this cycle. I think we finally have one with the Canadian government,” said Bitcoin programmer and commentator Jimmy Song in a tweet. “If they can't stop #Bitcoin from going to the truckers, I think we easily triple in price.”
It does indeed look like Bitcoin may be a final financial lifeline to the protests, which have caused disruption across Canada while boosting far-right groups and inspiring copycats around the world. But now, they have to cash out.
“None of us know how to use that goddamn bitcoin,” said one participant in a viral Twitter Spaces organized by convoy participants that was overrun by trolls on Monday night, Paul McLeod of BuzzFeed News reported on Twitter.
One fundraising effort, called HonkHonkHodl, raised over 21 BTC worth nearly $1 million. On Monday night, the campaign announced in a tweet that it was finished raising funds and would be handing things over to convoy organizer Benjamin Dichter and “NobodyCaribou,” a pseudonymous self-described “professional orange-piller” who has been making the rounds in crypto-world talking about Bitcoin and the convoy protest on shows like What Bitcoin Did.
“To mitigate choke points, we will immediately begin decentralizing the bitcoin and getting it to truckers,” NobodyCaribou tweeted on Tuesday morning. “Fact: It is legal to give bitcoin to law-abiding citizens. This is what we will do.”
“Plan: Give the bitcoin to 200 truckers in a verifiable way,” he continued. “Distribute seed words pre-loaded with 10,000,021 satoshi and instructions for truckers for securing/using the funds.” Bitcoin wallets can be accessed by seed phrases (kind of a master password), and so it's possible to simply write a seed phrase down on paper and use that to restore a Bitcoin wallet full of funds. If that made your head spin, hold on tight.
The planning for how to distribute the 21 BTC occurred throughout Tuesday morning and was led by someone going by JW Weatherman, a Bitcoin advocate (and likely pseudonym, referencing the TV show Arrested Development) whom NobodyCaribou said in a tweet was consulting on the plan to distribute the cryptocurrency to truckers. The plan would be put together “completely in the open” Weatherman tweeted, posting a link to a Google Doc. So far, that plan is wildly complicated.
If the distribution is to more than 50 people, the planning document states, then volunteers will follow a complex process of creating a wallet on a smartphone, recording the seed phrase, sending a small amount of Bitcoin to it, and then erasing the wallet, with another volunteer restoring the wallet and following the same procedure, transferring the full amount, and erasing it again.
“Once the volunteers place the instructions and the seed words into the envelope and seal it should be numbered and squiggly random lines should be drawn on the envelope to help with later identification,” the Google Doc states. “Finally a photo of the envelope should be taken and posted to social media before distribution. The purpose of this is to allow recipients to complain on social media with reasonable evidence if they do not receive the funds.”
Volunteers need to remain in a room until the process is complete, with no more than one person leaving at a time to use the washroom, and with food being delivered. Of course, any devices used in the process must be destroyed, such as the printer for the paper seed phrases.
“The printer is the single best device to steal because it holds a copy of all of the seed words,” the document states. “The volunteers should work together to destroy the printer." A list of equipment needed for the project includes large pliers, leather gloves, cutting shears ("the most expensive available"), a screwdriver, and trashbags, to accomplish this purpose.
As the Google Doc developed, Weatherman tweeted out questions and calls for advice to his followers. “Anyone want to write up a procedure for destroying a USB printer in a hotel room using tools that are easy to obtain?” he asked in one tweet.
The process of actually putting the envelopes in people’s hands will involve videoing protestors’ faces, which the planning documents admits is “not good for privacy” but necessary for verifying that volunteers did not steal the bitcoins themselves.
“The criteria for distribution needs to be as difficult to meet as possible. In the case of the truckers protest in Ottawa we can take advantage of the cost of acquiring a semi-truck and getting into position to receive a donation,” the planning document explains. “The goal in that case would be to distribute bitcoin to owners of trucks that have been present at the protest for at least 5 days that are closest to the capitol building.”
“The four volunteers should hand out envelopes and video the interaction,” the document continues. “They should be sure that they capture the general area, the face of the recipient and show the distribution criteria has been met. For example at the trucker protest they trucker [sic] should confirm that this is his truck, he is close to the capitol and he has been in place for 5 days.”
If less than 50 people get the bitcoins then volunteers will simply walk them through creating a wallet on their phone and backing up the seed phrase on paper, the doc says.
Eventually, Weatherman started a Twitter Space for planning the Bitcoin distribution. At the time of writing, 5 people were in the voice chat. In the chat, Weatherman compared giving Bitcoin to protesters to giving them "a loaded gun," in the sense that things could go wrong if handled improperly.
"So that's like 50 percent of the Bitcoin gets lost and the other 50 percent is [for] the truckers. That's totally fine, that's acceptable. I think I said 80 percent in the doc, but… if we have some volunteer that runs off with, you know hundreds of thousands of dollars, and then it's a Tucker Carlson story. That's what we're really trying to avoid," he said.
It’s unclear if any of this will actually come to pass, how successful it will be if things really do swing into action, or if the plan will change dramatically as things are clearly still fluid. If Bitcoin does end up in the hands of some protestors, though, it will be vindication to Bitcoin believers and investors and a cause to celebrate and salivate over the expected gains.