Crypto Crime Cartel: Greg Maxwell—the Bitcoin vandal

The crypto crime cartel are as ideologically driven as they are motivated by profit. It is never about the success of Bitcoin: it is about the success of whatever venture they can pass off as Bitcoin. We have seen this from the Roger Ver-run delisting attack on Bitcoin SV and the current, surreptitious moves to kill Bitcoin ABC in its infancy.

Gregory Maxwell is yet another well-known name within the cryptocurrency community who is selling out Bitcoin for his own ends. Maxwell co-founded Blockstream and served as its CTO before stepping down in 2018 . We covered Blockstream earlier in the Crypto Crime Cartel series, examining how Blockstream’s business model is one of manufacturing flaws within Bitcoin and then selling the world the solution to those flaws. The entire community is paying the price for this, both in the money being funnelled to Blockstream and the poor imitations of Bitcoin as a result and in the opportunities being missed due to the false belief that Bitcoin cannot scale.

Therefore, by extension, Maxwell’s success is reliant on the failure of Bitcoin as envisioned by Satoshi Nakamoto and as implemented via Bitcoin SV. As a co-founder of Blockstream and as a key figure within BTC, Maxwell is as invested as anyone in propagating the belief that Bitcoin SV is not Bitcoin. The steps he has taken to reinforce this belief would be laughable if they weren’t so damaging.

Perpetuating the scalability myth

Maxwell has been a prominent small block truther since the early days of Bitcoin. As co-founder and one-time CTO of Blockstream, Maxwell advocates for a Bitcoin which only scales in the sense that layers can be added on top of the protocol to facilitate it. Naturally, then, Blockstream draws heavily from the BTC developer pool, and Maxwell himself is a key figure within BTC: he was the author of the BTC scaling roadmap, legitimizing the ‘scaling debate’ within Bitcoin, as though the question of how well Bitcoin can scale depends on a necessary trade-off between scale and decentralization, and the conversation has been mired in this smokescreen ever since.

As has been pointed out, this dichotomy is a myth, because Bitcoin already does the things which Maxwell and others have spent an extraordinary amount of time convincing is impossible without the superfluous top-layer products being sold by them.

What is especially dangerous about people like Maxwell is that rather than celebrating competing offerings and having confidence that his own products and ideas will stand up to market scrutiny, they will attempt to manipulate the market itself in order to create conditions in which he can profit and those still connected to reality are censored. Maxwell, Blockstream and BTC don’t need to have any real utility in order to be profitable, so long as they can convince enough people that they do in fact have such utility.

Maxwell has spent years perfecting the con

The scary thing? Maxwell has spent more than a decade refining this process of propaganda and ideological warfare and has become quite competent at it. There is plenty of evidence that this is Maxwell’s modus operandi, and yet the ugly glimpses we do get of Maxwell in action suggest that we may never know the true extent to which he has corrupted the discourse around Bitcoin and digital assets generally.

For example, the anti-scaling myth is one that Maxwell spent a near-pathological amount of time trying to propagate. Maxwell was caught using sock puppet social media accounts to spread pro-BCH and anti-scaling propaganda as well as create the illusion that no such manipulation was taking place—even within online communities that Maxwell was public moderator over. These sock puppet accounts would post in support of other posts that Maxwell was making publicly, including arguments against removing block caps, giving the illusion of in-depth and lively discussion miraculously leading commenters to the conclusion that BTC is the only viable implementation of Bitcoin when in actuality, such discussion was nothing more than theatre.

This elaborate propaganda machine was also aimed directly at those in favor of scalable Bitcoin. Some of Maxwell’s alternate accounts can be seen to have begun attacking Dr. Craig Wright in earnest after Wright sued Blockstream CEO and Maxwell collaborator Adam Back for defamation in 2019, and Maxwell has engaged in a series of online conversations with himself via these accounts in which Maxwell accuses (and Maxwell’s other personalities corroborate) Bitcoin SV of being, among other things, uniquely susceptible to a P2SH replay attack. Rather than follow Bitcoin SV’s responsible disclosure policy which would have likely rewarded Maxwell, he posted a detailed overview of the vulnerability and the steps needed in order to exploit it.

Maxwell the petty vandal

Maxwell’s obsession with creating and then artificially steering dialogue in any direction he needs didn’t start with his attacks on Bitcoin.

Wikipedia has an extensive file on Maxwell which is worth reading, if nothing else than to see the depths to which a grown man is willing to sink to see his strange view of the world be imposed on the rest of us.

The report shows that Maxwell engaged in extended ‘edit warring,’ where edits he had made to Wikipedia pages would be corrected by the rest of the community only for Maxwell to continually reinstate his own version. It shows that Maxwell used sock puppet accounts to make these edits, which ranged from innocuous to outright vandalism, with the edits often bearing an ideological slant.

For example, the incident report says that Maxwell “changed a box supporting the American military to one supporting the Iraqi insurgents,” “inserted an image of a woman ‘hogtied’ and gagged into a box opposing fox hunting and changed the fox hunting link to BDSM” and on Wikipedia’s entry on Terrorism “replaced the image of a terrorist with one of a nuclear explosion.” He also made fraudulent claims of copyright violations against Wikipedia users, and used those claims as the basis to ‘blank’ those user’s Wikipedia pages.

As one admin entry in the incident report reads:

“I find it absolutely disgraceful that someone such as Gmaxwell has been permitted to continue on as he has. Wikipedians agree to edit by consensus, and with his recent actions, he seems to think he is above policy.”

Does that ring any bells?

If Bitcoin fails, Maxwell thrives

How does one find time to run Blockstream among this juvenile streak of—as the Wikipedia moderators called it back in 2006—‘psychotic vandalism’?

It’s because Maxwell’s many hats are all related. They are not distinct pastimes of a man with too much time on his hands; rather, they are all symptoms of the same thing: a near-pathological need to engineer a reality of his own choosing and then leverage that into profit. If that can come at the expense of everyone else, then so much the better for it. And in many cases, it has had the desired effect. Maxwell’s conversation with himself in which he accused Bitcoin SV of a vulnerability that didn’t exist led to BSV being dropped by BitGo, one of many instances of BSV being subject to delisting attacks driven entirely by the likes of Maxwell and others opposed to scaling and regulation.

Maxwell and his collaborators have exploited the trust many have that Bitcoin developers are interested in fair competition and a better future for the entire community.

Unfortunately, like many within the Crypto Crime Cartel, Maxwell is well-connected and closely linked with many other cryptocurrency entities which are heavily relied on by the rest of the ecosystem: it’s never just Blockstream, it’s BTC Core as well. It’s never just BCH, it’s Kraken and Shapeshift as well. But in spite of best efforts to obscure these connections, there is one golden thread that can be picked up on by anyone—in dealing with these people, one should constantly be asking of them: what is the real ideology at play here? If Bitcoin were to reach its full potential as a scalable, infinitely useful and legally transparent system of electronic cash, would these people win, or lose?

You can see how affiliating with any one of these organisations will taint the entire supply chain, because for them, this is a matter of survival. For this reason, despite their best efforts to appear neutral, the likes of Maxwell can never keep their ‘vision’ for Bitcoin to themselves. They simply can’t afford to. In Maxwell’s case, his success depends on the failure of Bitcoin to scale.

Reddit or Wikipedia, BSV scaling or terrorism, Maxwell is interested in using whatever platform he can to master an illusory reality from which he can profit—either financially or ideologically, but usually both. And Bitcoin is paying the price.

Follow CoinGeek’s Crypto Crime Cartel series, which delves into the stream of groups—from BitMEX to BinanceBitcoin.comBlockstream, ShapeShift and Ethereum—who have co-opted the digital asset revolution and turned the industry into a minefield for naïve (and even experienced) players in the market.

New to Bitcoin? Check out CoinGeek’s Bitcoin for Beginners section, the ultimate resource guide to learn more about Bitcoin—as originally envisioned by Satoshi Nakamoto—and blockchain.