Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

A man widely believed to be Bitcoin currency founder Satoshi Nakamoto is surrounded by reporters as he leaves his home in Temple City, California March 6, 2014. (DAVID MCNEW/REUTERS)
A man widely believed to be Bitcoin currency founder Satoshi Nakamoto is surrounded by reporters as he leaves his home in Temple City, California March 6, 2014. (DAVID MCNEW/REUTERS)

TABATHA SOUTHEY

Searching for Mr. Bitcoin: A suburban mystery Add to ...

Is it wrong to ask that the creator of your crypto-currency be cryptic?

The story run by Newsweek this week that Bitcoin’s founding legend does not refer to a pseudonym but one, pretty ordinary, person named Satoshi Nakamoto hit a community while they were down – down, in fact, to just over half of their $1,200-a-coin high.

More Related to this Story

Already dealing with the virtual collapse of their virtual currency, and several of their exchanges, Bitcoiners have little left to cling to but their creation myth. And Leah McGrath Goodman’s story appeared to some to have robbed them of that.

The myth has long (well, for an Internet eon anyway – about five years) been told of an unknown person or people who individually or collectively, but most importantly to the story, mysteriously, led the development of Bitcoin.

Having a nebulous entity as a founder can really galvanize a group. He/she/they can more easily embody an entire community’s ideology. But the revelation that, according to Ms. McGrath Goodman, Mr. Satoshi Nakamoto is a 64-year-old model train aficionado who at age 23 changed his name from “Satoshi Nakamoto” to “Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto” is a difficult story to romanticize.

As far as forging new identities goes, changing one’s first name to “Dorian” feels a bit weak. It’s certainly a far cry from a cloak of invisibility, from what we want from our heroes or messiahs. As lairs go, a suburban house in Southern California like the one Mr. Nakamoto inhabits is hardly a secure base hidden in the depths of an active volcano. He doesn’t even have a fence.

There is a lot of mystique surrounding whoever, whatever ... oh let’s face it, they really want it to be a shadowy anti-fiat-currency-cape-wearing cabal... is behind Bitcoin’s inception. I’m sure the story presented by Newsweek was a challenging one for Bitcoin believers to accept – although I imagine no Bitcoiner would fault a man for living with his mother as, it turns out, Mr. Nakamoto does.

The reaction to Ms. Goodman’s story on Reddit, a major hub of the Bitcoin community, is possibly the most Reddit sort of thing I have ever seen: conspiracy theories abound, revenge was threatened, chartered planes and safehouses were promised.

Many posters were furious that any publication would think a story revealing the identity of the father of Bitcoin, even if that identity were beyond a shadow of a doubt, was in the public interest.

A jarring sentiment to hear from deep in the heart of Wikileaks country.

After a meticulous Internet search, some Redditors quickly declared that an authentic Mr. Nakamoto, the Mr. Nakamoto, their Mr. Nakamoto, would never be so banal as to review Danish Butter Cookies on Amazon (very favourably) as Newsweek’s candidate for Satoshi has done.

In fact, Mr. Nakamoto of suburban Southern California is exactly the kind of man I’d have imagined behind Bitcoin. But late Thursday, after being tracked down and chased by journalists (Newsweek ran the story with a picture of his modest house, with his car and licence plate visible in the driveway), Mr. Nakamoto himself denied having anything to do with Bitcoin.

When he told Ms. McGrath Goodman he was “no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it,” as she quotes him in the most compelling evidence in her piece, he meant, he said, he was “no longer in engineering. That’s it.”

He claimed, to a reporter picked randomly from the many who had gathered in his front yard, that he had never heard of Bitcoin until one of his sons discussed Ms. McGrath Goodman’s enquiries with him, and I find that plausible.

However, I’m also not sure how much the veracity of this story really matters to anyone except a possibly confused Mr. Nakamoto, and to Newsweek, relaunching its print edition with him as their cover .

What’s more interesting was the heartfelt response from Bitcoin devotees: “Nope,” posted Reddit commenter CosbyTeamTriosby on the story, “I don’t know who the real Satoshi is or what he looks like, but I do know one thing for certain: Satoshi would never lie. A journalist, however, most certainly would.”

I’m not sure who they would embrace as leader-unveiled, but, if accepted, my pitch to Newsweek that Bitcoin is the brainchild of Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark, with oversight from Ayn Rand, might mend some bridges.

In the know

Most popular videos »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular