The most influential archetype in bitcoin is the pseudonymous man.

Whether the cryptocurrency’s creator Satoshi Nakamoto, or a meme-slinging trader on Telegram, bitcoiners revere the elusive cypherpunk slinking across the web behind a digital alias.

In the case of Satoshi, this pseudonym allowed him/her to avoid legal responsibility for a system that facilitated transactions regardless of compliance. It also allowed fans to project their hopes onto the creator’s “vision” without being confronted with finite, human imperfection. Whatever the plebs may do with this, the bitcoin messiah remains apart. (Plus, bitcoin remains relatively free from the overt influence of an oligarchy or personality cults.)

In 2019, another mystery man suddenly emerged on Crypto Twitter as a folk hero representing the freedom to speak the truth and maintain one’s own privacy. It was the feline astronaut Hodlonaut.

In April 2019, Hodlonaut took to Twitter to castigate Craig Wright, who claims to be Satoshi Nakamoto despite skepticism and inconclusive evidence. The tweet (now deleted) reportedly called Wright “mentally ill” and a “pathetic scammer.” So Wright and his supporters promptly started preparing to sue Hodlonaut, even offering a bounty to anyone who could discover the space-cat’s identity.

Of course, the real Hodlonaut isn't a cat on a journey to the moon. He is a middle-aged Scandinavian man who loves tattoos, ice cream, and tucking his child into bed. He wasn’t looking for a Twitter feud. Despite his penchant for tweeting jokes, the real life Hodlonaut is a soft-spoken man who gently arranges each syllable.

When he’s not ruffling Wright’s feathers on Twitter, Hodlonaut often ponders what role bitcoin will play in his child’s future.

"I hope that...she will be able to plan her future much better than the current generation is allowed to do with encroaching negative interest and inflation,” he said, “that she will have both an interest in and the possibility to save her work and control her own financial future."

Hodlonaut, who rarely gives interviews, said he doesn’t see himself as an influencer and didn’t expect strong backlash from his tweet. When I reached out for comment, Wright said through a press representative that Hodlonaut was “personally abusive” and “hiding behind anonymity.”

Wright, chief scientist at the firm nChain, added he must “must defend the Whitepaper or allow them [critics] to change its focus from honest money to a system that allows anonymous criminal activity.”

Others see it differently. Bitcoin Core contributor Eric Lombrozo, who has repeatedly tweeted that he hasn’t seen any proof that Wright is Satoshi, said bitcoin’s emergence from an unidentified creator is “probably one of the most important” factors that makes bitcoin unique.

He also implied that Wright got into this catfight for publicity. "As long as media personalities keep mentioning [Wright],” Lombrozo said, “even in negative ways, he is getting free publicity."

Wright, however, became determined to unmask the space-cat, impuging the motives of those who dared to publicly contradict his narrative.

“Those claiming that I am not Satoshi do so in order to twist the words I've said and to take bitcoin on a path that is diametrically opposed to the reasons I built it,” Wright said, claiming both ownership of and responsibility for the idea.

Yet Hodlonaut refused to apologize for his statement and bow to legal threats. Defending the legacy of the first pseudonymous bitcoiner was, he believed, an act to defend the integrity of bitcoin.

"Free speech is one of the main pillars of a free society, so it is absolutely something we should fight for," the space-cat said.

By unintentionally rallying the community to preserve bitcoin’s leaderless history, establishing a precedent that bitcoiners can defend the public discourse together in a constructive way, Hodlonaut became one of the most influential bitcoiners this year.

Bitcoiner’s Tail

The man behind the space-cat otherwise leads an ordinary life, far removed from the ego-saturated world of Lamborghinis and access to beautiful women that enticed some bitcoin hobbyists to join the “crypto” industry. (Wright’s most outspoken supporter Calvin Ayre infamously published both the bounty on Hodlonaut’s identity and photos of himself partying with young, bikini-clad women.)

In contrast, Hodlonaut is a former developer with a decade of teaching experience in Oslo, who prefers working with people rather than staring at screens all day.

Like Satoshi himself, bitcoiners see Hodlonaut as exemplifying quintessential virtues: Ingenuity, Self-Reliance, Stealth, Integrity and Humility.

"It's never been a goal for me to be a public persona. I appreciate my anonymity and not being a public figure,” Hodlonaut said. “And if bitcoin ever makes it big, it's probably a good idea not to have my face and name out there."

This portrait was painted by Trevor Jones

Hodlonaut first learned about bitcoin while surfing the web in 2013, then started engaging with fellow fans via Reddit and the Bitcointalk forum in 2015

"We have this ice cream in Norway that's called Krone-is, which is a reference to it costing one Krone [$0.11]. When I was a kid it costs 5 Krones. I still remember the feeling of shock when I realized the price of Krone-is kept going up,” he said. “Just the fact that if you manage to get one of these [bitcoin], you'll have one of just 21 million, that was the initial magic for me."

He made the Hodlonaut Twitter alias in April 2017, without any goal or strategy beyond anonymously interacting with other bitcoin fans. Then in January 2019, Hodlonaut had a seemingly random idea while sitting at his computer and looking out the nearby window.

Little did he know that his next tweet would spark a series of events that changed his life.

Lightning Torch

As a long-time computer geek who enjoyed playing with the Commodore 64 using a cassette player in the 80s, Hodlonaut relished the satisfaction of using the command line to experiment with the LND implementation of the lightning network, a bitcoin scaling solution.

Lightning emerged as part of a larger scaling debate, creating a layer on top of bitcoin to reduce congestion. In short, if too many transactions were waiting in line for the bathroom downstairs, lightning created a staircase to the second story of the same building with empty bathrooms. Rather than join the my-block-is-bigger-than-yours pissing contests sparked by several forks of the bitcoin software, lightning fans experimented with this solution and left the original bitcoin brand intact. Hodlonaut was one such fan, who built his own Raspberry Pi-based lightning node.

“This idea came to me,” he said. “What if I write this tweet that I'll send 100,000 Satoshis to the first person replying with a lightning invoice, with the deal being that person will add 10,000 as we go?”

At the time, Hodlonaut imagined the chain would probably die by the fifth “hop” transfering bitcoin. But this was just a spontaneous, social experiment to test the fabric of trust within the Bitcoin Twittersphere. He’d always viewed that realm as a “very helpful and friendly place,” he said.

To his surprise, the chain would become a “torch” passed to at least 290 people from more than 40 countries, including Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and people in sanctioned nations like Venezuela and Iran.

“It really showcased, for me, the spirit of the community: the integrity and idealism,” Hodlonaut said. “Also the breadth, how many different types of people had it, from financial institutions like Fidelity, all the way down to an 80-year-old grandma. So many different people from different countries, all with different levels of understanding of bitcoin. The feeling of community was the biggest thing for me."

For lightning fans like Bas Peters, a Dutch bitcoiner who made the “Take the Torch” website to collect information about the experiment, the transaction in Iran demonstrated communal loyalty to the bitcoin ethos even in the face of international sanctions. “It was a good vibe and test case for the community with Lightning,” Peters said. “It all happened as organically as bitcoin moves... because the web basically knows no boundaries, everyone who wants can interact and develop with it.” The experiment was so successful that it attracted the attention of one of the bitcoin community’s most controversial figures, Craig Wright.

We Are All Hodlonaut

Due to legal threats from Wright, Hodlonaut left Twitter for a while. In his absence, the bitcoin community rallied to protect Hodlonaut. Bitcoiners like security researcher Udi Wertheimer, Blockstream CMO Samson Mow, and Italian entrepreneur Giacomo Zucco, changed their avatars to his iconic cartoon character, proclaiming “We are all Hodlonaut!” Others, including bitcoin veteran and lawyer Preston Bryne, provided legal advice. Hodlonaut was not personally involved in any fundraising or the subsequent merchandise using his avatar’s image.

“The broader community didn’t wanna see a like-minded person be bullied like he has been,” Peters said of Hodlonaut. “Again, it was something that happens organically because of shared goals and values. Or even a symbol of freedom to be anon whenever you want.”

This right to privacy is, after all, a core part of the bitcoin ethos. Someone can make a wallet or contribute to the bitcoin software, then disappear as Satoshi himself once did. Bitcoin revolves around this conceptual right to choose your level of involvement. Bitcoiners have the right to choose when and how they engage with the project. This right, which can be manifested through anonymity or pseudonymity, is crucial to the health of the ecosystem. This right to privacy protects the network from being associated with specific people, including their flaws and motives, even if many public characters are involved. The option to remain unknown allows the project to evolve organically with help from quiet figures like Hodlonaut.

"As a Norweign, I’ve always taken free speech for granted completely,” Hodlonaut said. “I was frankly very surprised that it was possible to give Norwegians a problem for certain kinds of free speech." He was grateful for the “unbelievable amount of support” the community showed him. It was “one of the most powerful things I've felt apart from becoming a father.”

“It overwhelmed me a bit and I got a tear or two streaming down my chin because I was so thankful," he said.

Bitcoin Lifestyle

Hodlonaut’s Twitter saga showed what it actually means to follow Satoshi’s example.

The intoxication of a digital stage can provoke melodramatic tendencies in even the most fiercely tattooed “hard money” enthusiast.

Yet Hodlonaut deliberately strives to avoid that dynamic by taking breaks from social media when it gets to be too much. He keeps coming back because, despite all the hashtags and rage-quits, Twitter’s public forum is also part of bitcoin’s broader immune system.

“We have a very vigilant army of Twitter users, often referred to as toxic maximalists, [who] will fetch the pitchforks very fast if anything they deem to be a threat or a falsehood surrounds opinions or governance in bitcoin,” Hodlonaut said. “I think it is a guarantee or an insurance against anything coopting or sneaking any type of changes into bitcoin.”

In real life, a “toxic” person usually has manipulative habits or misogynistic tendencies. But on Bitcoin Twitter, toxic can mean something different.

"With toxicity, I don't only mean trolling...even though there's a lot of amazing trolling comedy on display,” Hodlonaut explained. “I mean to aggressively counter the information or initiatives that are an attempt to make agendas happen that are not positive for bitcoin."

The legal threat from Wright is still ongoing, so Hodlonaut declined to comment further on the matter. But British podcaster Peter McCormack, who is also being sued for speaking out against Wright, said he spontaneously tweeted his own criticism because he believed Wright was on a rampage of “ridiculous” bullying and “misuse of the courts.”

In contrast, McCormack sees Hodlonaut as a rebel “hardcore, anonymous bitcoiner” who shares his love of tattoos and free speech. Even the details of Hodlonaut’s avatar communicate this message. For example, “UASF” (user activated soft fork) is emblazoned on the cat’s space suit above “No2x,” a reference to the failed SegWit2x bitcoin update.

Back in 2017, a bitcoin community feud raged over how to scale the network. Lightning fans like Hodlonaut favored a layered solution permitted by a modest update, including what became the UASF. The opposition often rallied around SegWit2x, supported by some of the wealthiest entrepreneurs in the cryptocurrency industry, despite opposition from most Bitcoin Core developers. Public backlash eventually thwarted this move, compelling companies to back down.

"The only time I was worried about bitcoin was during SegWit2x.” Hodlonaut said. “Since then I have been very firm in my belief in the future of bitcoin."

As for UASF, which paved the way for lightning, it offered a coordination mechanism without reliance on the mining industry to signal which rules would qualify bitcoin blocks as part of the "true" chain. This proved bitcoin users have the power to dictate consensus rules, rather than miners impersonating themselves as de facto gatekeepers.

Featuring these two words on the cat’s space suit, the Hodlonaut icon celebrates self-reliance and devotion to community-derived truth.

Pseudonymous Heroes

According to Hasu, another Bitcoin Twitter cartoon alias, Hodlonaut embodies the virtue of pseudonymous accounts.

“It was encouraging to see the community defend Hodlonaut as a person but also the use of pseudonyms in general. I think when [Wright] tried to doxx and sue Hodlonaut, that proved the point of using a pseudonym in the first place,” Hasu said. “Another pseudonymous handle (Bitgeiniog) passed the torch to Iran - something previous torch holders had not dared to do.”

Hasu emphasized the distinction between an anonymous account versus a pseudonymous persona, such as the one used by Satoshi himself. “Most people use pseudonyms to protect their privacy, but they have the benefit that users can still build a reputation. And a reputation is necessary to build human relationships online,” Hasu explained. “Someone who is anon online can't have any kinds of relationships, because to his counterparty, he could be literally anyone.”

For Hodlonaut, relationship-building has been the most salient benefit of his online alias.

"I've made connections via Twitter that will remain, even if I was to abandon Hodlonaut. As of now, I have no plans for what I will do,” Hodlonaut said. “This is also part of my character as a real person, that I like to follow my intuition, not plan too much ahead and see what feels right."

From McCormack’s perspective, the solidarity avatar campaign wouldn’t work for a public figure.

“The fact that it is a graphic, an anonymous character [meant] everyone was able to meme it to their own personal character,” he said.

The legend of Hodlonaut still reverberates across t-shirts, mugs, and lingering profile pics emblazoned with the words "We are all Hodlnaut!" For his part, Wright said he still expects “validation in a court of law can put that debate to bed once and for all.”

Meanwhile, Hodlonaut's backstory, the elusive defender, mirrors Satoshi’s legacy. Was Satoshi a woman? A team? A cartoon astronaut? It doesn’t matter to Hodlonaut. No matter who lays exclusive claim to bitcoin’s truth, they’ll just be grasping a cat by his whiskers.

Corrections made to Preston Byrne’s name and role in the Hodlonaut crowdfunding campaign. Last paragraph, missing from the original, also added.

Disclosure

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.