Trump to announce plans to commute ‘Silk Road’ website operator Ross Ulbricht’s prison sentence

WASHINGTON — Insults were hurled at former President Donald Trump when he took to the stage Saturday night to address the Libertarian National Convention.

The crowd’s hostility to the former president was especially pronounced when Trump directly solicited their votes. Each time Trump asked attendees at the Washington Hilton for their votes or the party’s nomination, he was met with loud boos.

“I’m asking for the Libertarian Party’s endorsement, or at least lots of your votes, lots and lots of Libertarian votes,” Trump said as the audience booed in response.

At times, Trump turned on the crowd, criticizing libertarians’ turnout in previous elections.

“You can keep going the way you have for the last long decades and get your 3% and meet again, get another 3%,” Trump said following jeers from the crowd.

The 2020 Libertarian Party nominee, Jo Jorgensen, won just over 1% of the votes in several swing states including Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Georgia. But in a tight race, these voters could have the power to swing the election between major-party nominees.

The audience yelled at Trump throughout his speech as well, a stark contrast to his typical crowds filled with adoring fans decked out in MAGA gear. At one point during Saturday’s speech, punches were thrown in the audience.

One member of the crowd shouted, “Lock him up!” and another yelled, “Donald Trump is a threat to democracy!” Moments later, someone yelled at Trump, “You had your shot!”

Others yelled at Trump, “F— you” and “You already had four years, you a–hole.”

Twice, people chanting “We want Trump” were drowned out by boos and chants of “End the Fed.”

After Trump’s Saturday speech, a Libertarian candidate who took the stage called the former president a war criminal, citing his use of drone strikes and actions in Syria.

Libertarian delegates jeer Donald Trump at the Libertarian National Convention in Washington on Saturday. Jose Luis Magana / AP On Friday night, the libertarian crowd was also hostile to mentions of Trump, and the audience booed when Vivek Ramaswamy brought up the former president. Separately, the crowd cheered one Libertarian Party member’s suggestion that “we go tell Donald Trump to go f— himself.”

Ahead of Saturday’s speech, many members of the audience had already made up their minds about Trump. Libertarian Caryn Ann Harlos balked at the prospect of being swayed by Trump’s remarks.

“I would rather eat my own foot out of a bear trap,” Harlos said. “I only vote Libertarian.”

The Trump campaign argued it was important for the former president to venture into less-than-friendly territory to appeal to “nontraditional Republican votes.”

“What he’s really trying to do is to show that he can be a president for all Americans,” a Trump campaign official said ahead of the former president’s remarks. “If you want to compete for nontraditional Republican votes, then you got to go where they are. You can’t expect them to just show up to you.”

Trump himself referenced the unexpected decision, saying, “A lot of people ask why I came to speak at this Libertarian convention, and, you know, it’s an interesting question, isn’t it? But we’re going to have — but we’re going to have a lot of fun.”

But there were moments when Trump received cheers, like when he touted his record of starting no news wars and his administration’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization, which Biden later rejoined. Trump was also cheered when he called for pardoning Jan. 6 defendants.

One of the loudest cheers from the audience came when Trump announced his intention to commute the life sentence of “Silk Road” website operator Ross Ulbricht.

“If you vote for me, on Day One I will commute the sentence of Ross Ulbricht,” he said.

“We’re going to get him home,” he added later.

Donald Trump at the Libertarian National Convention on Saturday. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images Ulbricht was sentenced to life in federal prison in 2015 for creating and operating a hidden website known as “Silk Road” that people used to buy and sell drugs, among other illegal goods and services.

Many libertarians have called for Ulbricht’s release. At the convention on Saturday, the crowd was filled with “Free Ross” signs and took up chants in support of Ulbricht.

Preet Bharara, who was U.S. attorney for Manhattan when Ulbricht was sentenced in 2015, said in a press release at the time that Ulbricht’s actions contributed to at least six deaths. Bharara a lso ca lled Ulbricht “a drug dealer and criminal profiteer.”

“While in operation, Silk Road was used by thousands of drug dealers and other unlawful vendors to distribute hundreds of kilograms of illegal drugs and other unlawful goods and services to more than 100,000 buyers, and to launder hundreds of millions of dollars deriving from these unlawful transactions,” Immigration and Customs Enforcement said a 2015 press release announcing Ulbricht’s sentencing.

However, Trump’s previous comments about drug dealers are in conflict with his Saturday vow to commute Ulbricht’s sentence.

The former president has said that the death penalty should be instituted for certain drug dealers, depending on the severity of the crime.

And given that history, libertarians seemed to view the vow to commute Ulbricht’s sentence as calculated.

“Do you think Donald Trump even knew Ross Ulbricht’s name before he decided to come here and pander to us?” Libertarian politician Chase Oliver asked the crowd following Trump’s remarks.

Abigail Brooks reported from the Washington Hilton. Megan Lebowitz reported from Washington, D.C.

Abigail Brooks

Abigail Brooks is a producer for NBC News.

Megan Lebowitz

Megan Lebowitz is a politics reporter for NBC News.

Julie Tsirkin

contributed

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