LONDON—David Gerard is half an hour late, the bastard. I’m meeting the reviled blockchain hater at a pub on Baker Street that serves under-microwaved Chicken Tikka Masala to a clientele long past enjoying anything. The accompanying naan is slathered with garlic butter not dissimilar to emulsified dog urine. But, like Gerard, the dish has a paradoxical appeal.
For the uninitiated, Gerard, 52, is the author of the blockchain hater’s bible, “Attack of the Fifty Foot Blockchain.” The book, which the feckless materialist admits he wrote “for money,” has sold 9,000 copies, which has made him into a sort of crypto anti-influencer. By day and by night, he trolls the interwebs, lurking in the squalid comments sections of Twitter, FT Alphaville, 4chan and Reddit, and ragging literally everything about blockchain. He even managed to infiltrate venerable Bitcoin maximalist rag Decrypt.
It’s worth disclosing my own vile relationship with Gerard, who has, regrettably, become something of an asset to me. As a skeptic about most things, I gravitated toward the most hard-boiled cynics in town, and Gerard was the hard-boiledest of the lot—indeed, he resembles an egg. Whenever I’m conducting “due diligence” on an article about a Crypto Thing and need a second, critical opinion on a project, Gerard is my go-to source of unmitigated hatred. And he is available—via email, Twitter, text—around the clock, a 24-hour hotline of contempt and disgust for anything related to blockchain.
A given project could be a scam. It could be merely dubious. It could have demonstrably saved millions of children’s lives. Gerard, like a rabid, irreversibly deranged doberman, will dutifully tear it to shreds. (With citations.)
thoughts please on "nocoiner", possibly the dumbest attempted slur in the history of wacky memesters
— David Gerard (@davidgerard) April 1, 2019
FT Alphaville’s Jemima Kelly, essentially a less reviled/more employed version of Gerard, has a similar relationship with him.
“The way I communicate with David is usually the following: I think some crypto project is a load of BS, but I can’t think of an elegant way of putting it. So I call him up and get him to say it’s a load of BS instead, which he usually does.”
But she scoffs at the notion that he's a “journalist” in any way. “David Gerard is and never will be a journalist,” she said. “He’s a blogger at best.” (Much like herself.)
Some, however, actually derive pleasure from their interactions with him.
“His book was like a beacon of sanity in the space,” said Amy Castor, a freelance journalist whose extensive reporting on the QuadrigaCX scandal has been widely covered. “I read it over a weekend and reached out to David to tell him how impressed I was. We have been DMing ever since. He edits my stuff and I edit his. Journalists talk to each other—and it's important to have that support system when you don't have a big company backing you.”
“If it weren't for David, I probably would have wandered off long ago and gotten a real job, but instead I'm writing for my own blog and making no money,” she added.
(Gerard agreed. “I turned her into a bitter nocoiner and ruined her life.”)
Of late, Gerard has oozed into the centre of mainstream attention: On April 2, as part of his daily flame-war duties, he wrote a tweet ridiculing Bitcoin’s energy-chugging “proof of work” model. In rebuke, Mike Dudas, the earnest bitcoin maximalist and Trump-like editor of trade site The Block, blasted Gerard as the “most intellectually dishonest man in crypto.”
What does Proof of Work provide security against? What's the threat model?
It's other bitcoiners. That's all.
They're pumping out a country's worth of CO2 to solve a problem that only exists because they set it up that way.
Have you considered *not doing the dumb thing.*
— David Gerard (@davidgerard) April 2, 2019
Though Dudas, who has published Gerard’s musings on his own website, subsequently apologized and deleted the tweet, it left a stain on Gerard’s reputation.
I had come to lunch to hear his defense.
Cautious Bitcoin optimist
Gerard finally rocked up. He’s a tall guy—around six-foot-four—and he lumbered over to me, clad in a sports jacket and a t-shirt bearing the logo of some vile club night he used to attend called “B-Movie”.
We shook clammy hands and sat down in a suitably grim corner of the pub.
Hoping for some of Gerard’s vintage spleen, I had brought with me a load of questions that would be sure to work him up into an unpleasant lather. But alas, it turned out, Gerard had only good things to say about Bitcoin.
For instance, when I asked him what he’d made of the revelations that 95 percent of Bitcoin’s trade volume was fake, he said: “This is good news for Bitcoin, because it shows the sincere interest in trading bitcoin and the social value of being seen to be trading in Bitcoin. Clearly this is a bullish sign.”
And when I asked him what he thought about Bitcoin chugging through entire countries’ worth of electricity each day? Again, he stayed the course, saying: “This is good news for Bitcoin, because it shows the immense commitment to locking electricity into a valuable and yet easily transmissible form, as sound money that had to be worked for. It also motivates green energy, because it does.”
Even when I asked him about the millions of dollars’ worth of bitcoins stolen each year, he remained uncomfortably bullish: “This is good news for Bitcoin, because it demonstrates what constitutes ownership of Bitcoin. Not your keys, not your coins! The bitcoin blockchain is cryptographically secure, and this cryptography has never been broken. It's a six-inch steel plate door of security in front of your bitcoins.”
Well, I’ll be damned, I thought. David Gerard, blockchain-cynic-supreme turned megabull. He must have bought at the dip, or Dudas must have gotten to him.
Super-villain origin story
Gerard’s bullishness was, in actual fact, an elaborate and hilarious joke on his part, intended to satirize the way Bitcoiners portray every calamitous thing that happens to the cryptocurrency as “good news.” It’s the cause of a sort of fanatic myopia, Gerard thinks, with “number go up” as the reigning—and perhaps only—philosophy.
“It’s an apocalyptic death cult,” he explained. “Bitcoin maximalists are completely inward-focused. They aren't talking to the public any more, just each other. They’re trying to convince each other not to jump ship.”
He continued. “There's a thing with cults when the apocalypse fails to come. You saw this with the Jehovah's Witnesses multiple times. The end of the world doesn't come and most people leave disappointed—and there's just the fanatics left.”
The most interesting thing about Gerard’s “death-cult” rant is that it was lost from my original recording. Yet, like everything he says, he was able to summon it, intact, from his vast mental reserve of soundbites. Much of what he says is either pre-scripted or lifted from Reddit, his own blog posts, paraphrases of FT Alphaville articles and obscure petrol-punk dystopian novellas that go beyond me.
“Life is stand up,” he said. You need constant material.
None of the photos in this article are from this decade.
Did you know?
None of the photos in this article are from this decade.
Gerard began in 1967 in Perth, Western Australia. He got good grades at school, and tried to get a degree, but failed five times at various universities. But he did do one worthy thing.
While “studying” computer science at the Victoria University of Technology, in Melbourne, he spent much of his time ridiculing The Church of Scientology on alt.religion.scientology—a forum on Usenet, the interconnected collection of thousands of bulletin boards that pretty much passed for the Internet for most people in those dark days. Every day, Gerard would needle, berate and tear into whatever he could find on the Church’s Sacred Scripture.
In its wrath, the Church turned its lawyers loose on Gerard's university, which swiftly caved and demanded he stop posting. But Gerard, intransigent as he was, decided to set up a whole website dedicated to his Scientology-baiting endeavour.
“There was this site called http://suburbia.net which I somehow heard was free speech oriented, so I emailed the system administrator,” he said. He warned the admin, a young man named Julian Assange, that there would be trouble. Assange was game. “He said, ‘Let’s give it a go.’”
Australia was oppressively hot for Gerard, whose temperament is far better suited to grim, indoor climates, and in 2002 he fled to the other side of the world—settling down in Chingford, in east London. “The grass is always browner,” he said.
Gerard first learned of Bitcoin in 2011, when he was volunteering for Wikipedia and working as a systems administrator for a small publishing company in London. Like the goddess Athena from Zeus's skull, his nocoiner maximalism sprang forth fully formed.
"I formed my correct opinions pretty much instantly," he said. "It's so obviously a pile of shit."
You can see the beginnings of Gerard's hate-filled digital persona in a screed he penned in 2011 for the website News Technica, where he wrote: "Bitcoin works by an emergent synergy of cryptography, peer-to-peer, anonymity, anarchism, libertarianism, wasting stupendous quantities of electricity, the marketing department at NVidia, the enduring exchange value of tulip bulbs and doing all of this instead of Folding@Home." Whatever that means.
It would take three more years, however, before Gerard's weird internet rage would find a proper outlet. In 2014, he found kindred spirits on Buttcoin, a subreddit whose stated mission was—and is—to extract “comedy godl” from Bitcoin catastrophes. For them as well as Gerard, it was as much about laughing at the Bitcoiners as curb stomping their pathetic dreams.
I feel like every once in a while we must clear this up: Buttcoin is not anti-Bitcoin, it's pro-comedy. And Bitcoin produces a lot of comedy
— Buttcoin (@ButtCoin) August 18, 2017
Gerard continued in this vein for years until one day in 2017, when he was down on cash, his friend Elizabeth Sandifer recommended he write a book of his most hilarious findings. He did, and the resulting book—Attack of the Fifty-Foot Blockchain—did "surprisingly well" by self-publishing standards, selling 9,000 copies. Riding this wave, he started a blog of the same name; Twitter flaming came soon after. "It's such a target-rich environment," he said.
Insulting software has proved lucrative. On top of the £51,000 he rakes in as a systems administrator, Gerard trousers around £23,000 each year as a nocoiner pundit, waxing vitriolic before outlets as diverse as Cointelegraph and the BBC. He is also eager to point out that he pays taxes on these winnings—unlike many of the libertarians who he claims use Bitcoin to escape such obligations. "I have to pay like 20,000 quid in tax on £74,000 of income," he said. "That feels cheap. I get a lot of civilization from that."
And when he’s not fuming about Bitcoin? He listens to obscure "industrial" bands and, more appallingly, writes about them on his other unread blog, Rocknerd. He even has a wife, Rose (his "beta-reader"), and three human children: one daughter and two step-daughters.
It’s an infuriating image. This smug, hipster nocoiner thriving in his snide ivory tower as the Bitcoiners scrabble for satoshis on the streets below. I asked Gerard whether he had ever experienced any feelings of shame or self-loathing for profiting from kicking this sad industry into the dirt.
Alas, no. He said that the duped Bitcoiners who buy his books and give him money are like the countries that buy “carbon credits,” those permits that allow them to keep pumping out noxious greenhouse gases. “You put your money toward someone like me and that alleviates some of the guilt, and you can keep doing the thing you were doing anyway,” he said.
Yet? For all his negative posturing, he is in fact remarkably bullish about the currency’s future.
“I don't expect the bullshit to stop anytime soon,” he said. “I’ve been wrong about Bitcoin lots, and every time I’ve been wrong, it’s because I’m actually assuming this was a rational market. I sincerely think Bitcoin is a powerful counterexample to the strong market hypothesis, because actually, markets are fucking insane. Everyone in them is crazy. That's a better assumption.”
And if, against all odds, it crashes to zero? That would be good news for Bitcoin, he said, “because the Bitcoin critics will have to get proper jobs.”
We can only hope.