As I go about the Miami conference, I wonder, Aside from some of the conference speakers, where are these Bitcoin maximalists I keep hearing so much about?
When I tell the customs official I’m going to Miami for the Bitcoin 2022 conference, there seems to be a light in the man’s eyes. He peppers me with questions, even though I’d gotten up at 5 am that day to fly, and my smartwatch is telling me that my energy levels are only at 70%. The customs official has way more interest in the subject than I can handle.
Why am I going to the conference? The philosophy of the event fascinates me — it’s a Bitcoin-only conference — with the divide between Bitcoin and the rest of the cryptocurrency world growing year by year.
I don’t go into that much detail with the customs official, though. Sometimes, when I interact with too many crypto people, I forget that everyone else has paid so little attention to this space, they still use the terms “Bitcoin” and “cryptocurrency” synonymously. If I offload onto the customs official everything that’s on my mind, he’d probably think I’m autistic or drunk (or maybe both).
Florida state of mind
I’ve always found Miami strange, but not in a bad way. Florida is known for the Florida Man meme — all the wild and wacky stuff happening in the Sunshine State like the naked man downtown who bit off someone’s face in 2012. But that’s largely because of Florida’s strong information-transparency laws. As a fellow journalist, I dream about this sometimes. Where I’m from, Canada, we have to fight twice as hard for half the disclosure. Florida is brash and loud because it’s open. In a way, Florida is America.
— Florida Man (@FloridaMan__) May 8, 2022
Indeed, writing in The Globe and Mail newspaper, journalist David Shribman would later say that the American center used to be California, which gave the world the movie theatre, skateboards and the linguistic filler “like.” Now, Shribman writes, America’s center is Florida. The state is the home of former-President Donald Trump, but it used to be governed by the moderate Jeb Bush — in a way encapsulating the transformation of American conservatism of the last decade. Florida is home to the “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law, the rebellion against COVID-19 mask mandates and, of course, Disneyland. No wonder this libertarian fantasy world is attracting Bitcoiners and the tech elite.
Out of California and into Florida, PayPal’s Peter Thiel has made the move. So has another member of the so-called “PayPal Mafia,” the venture capitalist Keith Rabois. Elon Musk, too, has a SpaceX launch site in Florida, and Cathie Wood’s Ark Invest has moved to the state as well. Somewhere in there is also why Bitcoin 2022, the Bitcoin-only conference that excludes other cryptocurrencies, has come to this state.
Note how so many of these tech people moving to Florida are also Bitcoin people — not just in the eyes of the mainstream who use “Bitcoin” and “cryptocurrency” interchangeably, but Bitcoin-only Bitcoin people. Thiel and Wood were both listed as speakers at Bitcoin 2022. Perhaps that’s only natural.
We’re in Miami, Bitcoin! Check out this #Bitcoin2022 recap to see what leaders, developers, celebrities, and builders did throughout the four-day event in Miami. https://t.co/mQahMG2Au4 pic.twitter.com/rEZYoPjaTv
— Cointelegraph (@Cointelegraph) April 14, 2022
During the conference, one of its hosts Natalie Brunell, speaking on the venture capitalist Anthony Pompliano’s podcast, says Bitcoin represents the “American Dream,” with its ethos of “self-determination, freedom, the idea of creating a better life for your family.” But it’s not just that. That reputation of the Bitcoin-only folks — often called maximalists — is much like that of the new America that Florida has come to represent. It’s loud. It’s big on individual liberties. The open blockchain is transparent to a fault. Thus, Bitcoin is Florida.
Or, at least, that’s one idea. On a different episode of the same Pompliano podcast, an enlightening statistic is brought up: 83% of those who own Bitcoin also own another cryptocurrency. For all of Bitcoin’s distinctness and how its identity is separate from the rest of crypto, that does not seem to extend to its holders. As I go about this Bitcoin-only event in the heart of this new America, I would wonder, How organic, really, is this maximalism sentiment running through it all?
Bitcoin to the max
It’s hardly a controversial thought to say that other cryptocurrencies cannot be truly compared to Bitcoin because they are not sufficiently decentralized — and decentralization is the entire point of the first cryptocurrency. Nor is it outlandish to say that most of the tens of thousands of alternative coins and random “blockchain” projects are either scams or, to put it politely, overly ambitious. But Bitcoin maximalists have been criticized for taking that idea up a notch.
On the second day of the conference, there is a zinger thrown during the panel called “Wartime Bitcoin.” The moderator asks what the biggest attack on Bitcoin is. Aleks Svetski, an Australian entrepreneur and author of a book on individual liberties, isn’t first in line to speak. But he seemingly gets invigorated by the question. Svetski gestures at the moderator and another speaker. “Let me go first, please,” he says. Svetski speaks with his hands:
“The attack is cryptocurrency. That’s the fucking attack.”
Me with two great men (left to right), Aleks Svetski and Mark Moss, at Bitcoin 2022 in Miami. If you don’t know them, LOOK THEM UP. pic.twitter.com/famVsYexeC
— Al Blackford (@KetoBitcoiner) April 16, 2022
The crowd cheers. Or, at least, some people do. I can hear the hoots. That is indeed quite clever, I think to myself as I watch Svetski. He further explains his thinking:
“The easiest way to Trojan Horse everyone is to pretend like you’re building something technically and architecturally similar [to Bitcoin] and add a fucking wonderboy… and then roll it out to the lemmings.”
Such rhetoric, though — those who disagree with it, disagree strongly. As the conference goes on, widely followed Twitter account Autism Capital tweets, “We find it incredibly interesting how the majority of the talks at Bitcoin Miami are people justifying Bitcoin against Ethereum…. It’s not a conference, it’s a sermon.”
We find it incredibly interesting how the majority of the talks at Bitcoin Miami are people justifying Bitcoin against Ethereum. The fear is real. It’s not a conference, it’s a sermon.
“Trust in God, do not be tempted, he will protect you, do not dance with the devil’s ether.”
— Autism Capital 🧩 (@AutismCapital) April 8, 2022
Indeed, at Bitcoin 2021, the boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. was booed when he showed up promoting an Ethereum-based project. Mayweather obviously didn’t do a good job of reading the room. And the boos were perhaps justified, given what happened to the
Ethereum Max token he was promoting to the outside world. But what was on display at Bitcoin 2021 bordered on the religious. A Rolling Stone article on the event was headlined “Welcome to the Church of Bitcoin.”
But I didn’t go to Bitcoin 2021. I only read about it. In person, at Bitcoin 2022, there was much less of that image of Bitcoin maximalism than I expected. Aside from the conference speakers and, I guess, the guys who cheered Svetski, whom I didn’t really see, I would meet very few people who are actual Bitcoin maximalists. In fact, walking in and out of the formal talks and the rest of the conference, it seems as if I am stepping into different worlds.
Floyd Mayweather se lució con su playera de ETH en Miami Bitcoin 2021 👌😂😂 pic.twitter.com/iPrig4kQbs
— JJCampuzano.eth 🦇🔊 (@das_grasshopper) June 5, 2021
Four days in Miami
The conference at the Miami Beach Exhibition Center is altogether four days, with the first being reserved for industry, the second and third for general admission, and the fourth for a music event called the Sound Money Fest.
The way the conference is structured is that there are a few big rooms with stages for the formal events such as the talks, and while those are going on, there is a massive exhibition floor with hundreds of booths by various companies and organizations. There are also quite a few bars strewn around the place.
Everywhere, there are a lot of spectacles around — aside from the celebrity speakers like Jordan Peterson and Serena Williams. There is a cyborg bull statue outside mimicking the golden one that stands on Wall Street. Inside, on the exhibition floor, there is another bull that you can ride, a mechanical one operated by the exchange Bullish. The person who lasts the longest at the conference would win a…