Craig Wright’s Abnormal Psychology

In the Hodlonaut trial, Wright’s claims about his own state of mind are as bizarre as his claims about blockchain technology. But there’s an all-too-rational explanation.

By David Z. MorrisLayer 2
AccessTimeIconSep 16, 2022 at 5:54 p.m. UTCUpdated Sep 16, 2022 at 6:22 p.m. UTC
By David Z. MorrisLayer 2
AccessTimeIconSep 16, 2022 at 5:54 p.m. UTCUpdated Sep 16, 2022 at 6:22 p.m. UTC

David Z. Morris is CoinDesk's Chief Insights Columnist. He holds Bitcoin, Ethereum, and small amounts of other crypto assets.

This week saw the latest in Craig Wright’s international tour of courthouses, presumably on Calvin Ayre’s expense account. He took the stand in Norway as part of his larger attempt to pursue a U.K. libel suit against a Norwegian schoolteacher named Magnus Granath, aka Hodlonaut. It was another invaluable chance to see Wright’s beautiful mind in action as he continued his campaign to prove, against all verifiable evidence, that he is pseudonymous Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto.

Hodlonaut initially accused Wright of being a fraud in 2019, after Wright’s attempts to claim the Satoshi identity were repeatedly shown to involve apparent deception. Wright had been called out by forensic blockchain experts and others for seemingly backdated documents and the misrepresentation of “private” cryptographic keys.

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When confronted about misrepresentations, Wright has a tendency to get entertainingly baroque. For instance, he has claimed that backdated documents were planted on his computer in a hack by Blockstream. Another creative explanation involved the theft of private keys to the Satoshi coins through a confusing welter of home invasions, clandestine router swaps and security camera outages.

Wright’s most fascinating contortions, though, rely on his psychological self-diagnosis. Wright has repeatedly explained inconsistencies in his Satoshi claims by depicting himself as a careening wreck, beset by autism and binge drinking and deeply conflicted about confirming his Satoshi identity.

This week brought us a sterling entry in this genre. Wright’s lawyers have said they will try to establish his identity as Satoshi without relying on his control of the private keys that would definitively prove it. By way of explanation, Wright claimed this week that he “stomped on” the hard drive containing the keys. (This seems to supplant his earlier claim that the keys were stolen in an elaborate home invasion.)

Wright explained his destruction of the keys, which would have amounted to destroying his own access to billions of dollars’ worth of bitcoin, by saying it was “the only way” to avoid being forced to prove his identity cryptographically.

A reluctant Satoshi?

All this in part advances Wright’s repeated claims that he never wanted to be “outed” as Satoshi, which he has also used to explain past failed proofs. In the case of the bungled “Sartre proof” in 2016, for instance, Wright now claims he intentionally got it wrong to throw people off the trail. This isn’t even internally consistent – if you are tortured by the pressure to prove something, why would you destroy the only evidence that would conclusively prove it?

But the entire “reluctant Satoshi” pose is even more obviously false than that. Wright was helping promote his own identity as Satoshi circa 2015-2016, rather than being unwillingly outed by “leaks.”

The clearest evidence of Wright’s involvement in the claims comes from journalist Andrew O’Hagan, who was approached by a lawyer named Jimmy Nguyen with Wright’s story before the claims appeared in Wired or Gizmodo. Nguyen told O’Hagan he was representing Wright through an entity then known as nCrypt, and is now president of the BSV Blockchain Association, an arm of the Wright/Ayre network.

Regardless, demonstrating control of the Satoshi keys would also be bad, Wright said this week, because he “didn’t want to encourage the arguments that you need keys.” That’s the hinge between Wright’s purportedly tortured psyche and his even-more-tortured claims about how blockchains work.

A misunderstood genius who misunderstands his own invention

Since at least early 2020, Wright has been advancing the patently false idea that a court order is sufficient to unlock blockchain tokens without using the owner’s private keys. I can’t even begin to explain his logic here, because there is none – it’s just something he says again and again, loudly and angrily. Some have speculated that these claims relate to an attempt to gain real control of the Satoshi coins.

Wright has made other, even more bizarre claims about blockchains with far less motivation, such as recently writing on his blog that “if you are ever told that any blockchain network can have more than ten nodes controlling the network, know that you are being deceived … There is no way to create a blockchain system that is maintained by thousands of nodes.”

This sort of hokum is hard to explain. Why would someone claiming to be Satoshi rattle off clearly incorrect claims about a system he supposedly invented?

The nChain connection

Back in 2016, O’Hagan uncovered relationships that would seem to explain Wright’s many strange and increasingly contradictory stances.

As GQ Australia’s Stuart McGurk summarized O’Hagan’s findings, nCrypt had agreed to “buy up [Wright’s] companies and settle his debts,” including huge debts to the Australian Taxation Office. “In return, [Wright would] work on patents linked to the underlying blockchain technology behind bitcoin. And [Wright] would publicly out himself as Satoshi. The package, [nCrypt] felt, was worth billions. They planned to sell it to Google.”

nCrypt, to no one’s surprise, is one of the brands claimed by nChain, where Wright has been chief scientist since nChain was unveiled in 2017. In other words, O’Hagan described the plan accurately in print – a year before it was publicly unveiled.

This would provide a sane explanation for Wright’s insane posturing as a tortured autistic genius and his convoluted Russian-doll claims of hacks within frauds within pineapple routers. He has to cling to his claim to be Satoshi long enough to capitalize on it, even if that means tying himself into incomprehensible knots.

Tragically, the nChain plan doesn’t seem to be panning out – it’s hard to imagine Google touching Wright or his patents with a 10-mile pole at this point. And if his recent track record is any indication, the Norwegian court will treat his claims with equal skepticism.

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David Z. Morris is CoinDesk's Chief Insights Columnist. He holds Bitcoin, Ethereum, and small amounts of other crypto assets.

David Z. Morris is CoinDesk's Chief Insights Columnist. He holds Bitcoin, Ethereum, and small amounts of other crypto assets.