QuadrigaCX cryptocurrency exchange site

QuadrigAnon: Trust No One, especially conspiracy theorists

How do you even know he was in the coffin? How do you know it wasn’t 150 pounds of fucking sand? You buried a sealed coffin, man. We’ll never know the real truth now. It’s all gonna be rumors from here on out.

The above quote is by Ray Manzarek, former keyboardist for The Doors, berating his then-manager for not visually verifying whether the band’s legendary singer Jim Morrison was, in fact, dead.

No autopsy was ever performed on Morrison, who (allegedly) died in 1971 at the age of 27 in Paris from (depending who you believe) either heart failure or a heroin overdose. Nor did anyone besides his girlfriend (who died three years later) and a handful of other individuals actually see Morrison cold and stiff before he was buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery following a quickie funeral.

The curious circumstances surrounding Morrison’s death led to a wave of rumors that Jim faked his death and was now gallivanting around parts unknown, happily enjoying the anonymity he’d been forced to surrender when his band rocketed to fame four years earlier. The ensuing controversy led to a resurgence in the band’s popularity and a veritable cottage industry playing on the theory that Morrison had made good on his reported threat to ‘split to Africa’ to evade his public notoriety.

I couldn’t help but be reminded of Mr. Mojo Risin’ after watching Trust No One: The Hunt for the Crypto King, the new Netflix documentary on the short and extremely strange life of Gerald Cotten, former boss of the QuadrigaCX digital currency exchange. After a meteoric rise to the summit of Canada’s blockchain community, Cotten (allegedly) died from complications of Crohn’s disease while on a visit to India in December 2018.

The beleaguered QuadrigaCX shut down a couple months later as Cotten’s widow Jennifer Robertson initially claimed that the couple hundred million dollars owed to QuadrigaCX’s thousands of customers had been stored on cold wallets for which only Cotten had the private keys.

It was later revealed that these wallets were actually empty and that Cotten had (a) spent customers’ funds on personal luxuries and (b) made wild bets on other exchanges in a frantic bid to shore up QuadrigaCX’s accounts after the BTC token’s bubble burst in early 2018 and a flood of customers submitted withdrawal requests.

Soon after the news of Cotten’s death, rumors flew that he wasn’t quite dead yet. It didn’t help that Robertson was one of the few individuals who knew Cotten to have seen him dead, or that his coffin arrived back in Canada sealed tighter than a drum and his name was misspelled on the Indian death certificate.

As full details of Cotten’s history as a teenage ponzi schemer came to light, rumors began to fly that he’d pulled off the ultimate exit scam, possibly after facial reconstruction surgery, and was now living high on the hog on some tropical island somewhere with customers’ funds bankrolling his adventures.

Just like Morrison, Cotten’s colorful exit from the stage has spawned a frenzy of post-mortem media, including multiple podcast series and two feature-length documentaries. The first of these films, Dead Man’s Switch: A Crypto Mystery, was released last year, while the Netflix version made its debut on the streaming platform late last month. And it’s the latter for which we shall now play Roger Ebert.

Has anyone checked the basement of Comet Pizza?

For dramatic purposes, the creators of Trust No One chose to make the various conspiracy theories surrounding Cotten’s demise the central focus of their film. As a result, the customers often come off like QAnon cultists, obsessively studying documents, photos and videos for signs that support their suspicions, while ignoring Occam’s razor and the likelihood that Cotten simply snuffed it.

This definitely gins up the drama, as a series of customers utter seemingly damning revelations as if learning them in real time. One has to wait almost until the end of the film to learn that many of these damning ‘facts’—particularly those involving Robertson—are easily disproven.

We would be remiss if we didn’t note that, unlike the Q obsessives, the QuadrigaCX customers have actual skin in this game, so one can perhaps understand their willingness to continue probing dark alleyways if it offers the remote possibility of being reunited with their funds. But the net effect for a viewer not overly familiar with all things blockchain is that the space is entirely populated by scheming grifters and their hapless marks.

The filmmakers seem to want to emphasize that last point, choosing for some reason to film all the Quadriga customers in rooms with the shades drawn in the middle of the day, as if the intent was to paint these individuals as socially inept hermits afraid of their own shadows.

We also don’t know whose decision it was to film one customer—who cites ‘op-sec’ as justification for his anonymity—wearing a giant fox head to obscure his face rather than simply shooting him in silhouette. The fact that Anonymous Fox Guy later offers assurances that he confirmed the identity of an equally anonymous QuadrigaCX insider who dishes dirt on the company’s activities is an irony that appears lost on everyone.

The ‘N’ is for nebulous

Trust No One offers little in the way of factual information that will be ‘news’ to those in the digital asset space, with the possible exception of Robertson’s sister Kimberly Smith, whose ‘insights’ are aired publicly for the first time. However, these insights are basically limited to defending her sister as just another of Cotten’s victims, while insisting that anyone who continues to view Robertson as an active player in any conspiracy can “fuck off.”

The filmmakers also seem dead set on pissing off anyone not suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder. Seemingly every other shot involves emails, texts and forum posts that fill the screen, type appearing in real time like the stone tablets being inscribed by the hand of God in The Ten Commandments.

This visual trope occasionally trips up the filmmakers, such as the moment at 00:16:55 where they recreate an email from Cotten to a Globe & Mail reporter and Cotten’s address appears as ‘[email protected]’. Hard to believe that the diehard conspiracy theorists won’t soon be spotlighting this superfluous ‘n’ as some important new breadcrumb.

(But hey, if you’re gonna play the QuadrigAnon game, don’t mess around. Anyone notice how Robertson waited 36 days after Cotten’s death to inform the world? Did you know that 36 is the atomic number of the element krypton, which gets its name from the ancient Greek kryptos, aka ‘the hidden one’? You know, like Cotten’s hiding somewhere? Also, did you know that the sum of the integers from 1 to 36 is—wait for it—666?!? So Cotten’s either Satan, or has disguised himself as the newest member of Iron Maiden’s road crew.)

This is the end

Many QuadrigaCX customers continue to press the authorities to exhume Cotten’s coffin to confirm it’s actually him inside. So far, the authorities appear in no hurry to grant this request. At any rate, Andrew Wagner, one of the original members of the Vancouver Bitcoin Co-op in which Cotten originally made his name, neatly summed up Trust No One by dumping cold water on the notion that digging up Cotten’s grave would solve anything. 

“If we exhumed Gerry’s body right now, they will claim that’s not his real body. If you DNA test the body, they’ll say the DNA test is fake. They’ll claim the DNA tester is part of the conspiracy. Conspiracy theories breed in ignorance. It makes it easy for people to draw on wild speculations because authorities are not providing them quickly enough with accurate information. If you force people on the internet to be the detectives, they’re going to solve it their own way.”

Perhaps the best way to end this review is where we started. Years after Morrison’s death, Manzarek appeared resigned to never getting the certainty he originally sought from his manager. “We don’t know what happened to Jim in Paris. To be honest, I don’t think we’re ever going to know. Rumors, innuendoes, self-serving lies, psychic projections to justify inner needs and maladies, and just plain goofiness cloud the truth.”

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