This is why we can’t have nice things.
A few months ago, cybersecurity pioneer and noted provocateur John McAfee took to Twitter to implore his followers to “flood” Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chairman Jay Clayton’s office with emails and calls. McAfee wanted them to demand that Clayton — to whom he affectionately referred as “this mother f**ker” — square off against him in a public debate over whether initial coin offering (ICO) tokens should be classified as securities under federal law.
Now, thanks to documents obtained by Buzzfeed News through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, we know exactly how ugly a trainwreck it actually was. You can read all 100+ pages for yourself over at Buzzfeed, but we combed through this literary cornucopia so that you don’t have to.
You might want to sit down for this.
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I knew I was in for trouble when one of the first submissions resurrected the hideous camelcase “BitCoin” in the service of the following word salad, which may or may not have been intended to be a poem.
Then there’s this email from a Yahoo Mail for iPhone user, who attempts to educate Clayton on the economics of an ICO called “Sand Coin,” which, the author claims, is not used for speculation — it’s used to buy (You guessed it!) Anakin Skywalker’s least-favorite naturally-occurring granular material from the project’s developers, and yes, it’s a real token.
This next author, similarly, sought to instruct Clayton on the regulatory status of one cryptocurrency in particular: XRP, which the SEC has conspicuously not referenced publicly as an example of a coin that is not a security.
Indeed, this strategy of persuasion-through-education was quite common. “Debate John mcafee about ico securities. They are not securities and he can educate you,” said a third email.
However, another of McAfee’s followers took a different tack, leveraging his or her position as a taxpayer (or the basement-dwelling progeny of a taxpayer, as the case may or may not be) to demand that Chairman Clayton, the author’s “employee” rule that ICOs are not securities. Failure to do so, the author warns, will “constitute insubordination…and be reflected in any upcoming reviews.”
This next one wasn’t particularly interesting, but I thought it was worth including simply due to the irony of writing in a FOIA-accessible document that publishing the contents of this message is “STRICTLY PROHIBITED.”
This one, though brief, was among the most coherent of the bunch.
And, of course, it wouldn’t be a real Twitter mob without a few insults thrown in for good measure. Here’s two: “Debate Mcafee you melt,” typed one iPhone user. “You seem to not be thinking logically about anything,” said another McAfee fan.
Then there are the emails from Twitter users who clearly had no idea what was going on but didn’t want to miss out on the fun (#adorbs).
“Please debate with me mcafee,” read one.
Another of McAfee’s confused followers seemed to think that the hypothetical debate was related to the prolific ICO promoter’s recently-announced candidacy for president during the 2020 election.
“Greetings Sir, Please debate Mr John McAfee for US President come 2020. The man got my full support and I respect him so heartily. Thanks Sir and God bless you,” the email read.
Then there’s this one, which seems to begin with the assumption that Clayton has already won that aforementioned presidential election. That fact settled, the author proceeds to request that President Clayton provide formal guidance that “Bitcoin and Crypto money is securities,” which — to be clear — is the exact opposite of what McAfee is arguing. “We expect this from you,” the author concluded.
Reflections on an Afternoon (Well?) Spent
It’s difficult to accurately convey what I learned from the experience of reading through every one of the emails released by the SEC in the “McAfee File,” so I’ll just simply say that, assuming they were all written by native English speakers living the U.S., Hooked on Phonics might be primed for a commercial renaissance. After all, nine out of 10 parents say it works.
Granted, antics like this are always good for a hearty laugh, and for that, I suppose we can be thankful that McAfee always has a few up the sleeves of his ICO-sponsored shirt, nestled comfortably beside his “unhackable” wallet that has since dropped that claim.
However, it’s not all fun and “I’ll eat my manhood if the bitcoin price doesn’t reach $1 million in three years.” Just remember, the next time a bitcoin ETF ruling deadline approaches, the SEC has hundreds of emails like these sitting its archives, seemingly suggesting that a not-insignificant swath of cryptocurrency investors are incapable of forming a coherent sentence, much less evaluating the risks of trading a consumer-facing investment product like a bitcoin ETF.
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