From gun-wielding libertarians to radical Muslims, an unlikely global cabal is plotting financial revolution. And they're putting their money where the Web is.
By Julian Dibbell
Thirty miles south of Florida's Cape Canaveral lies the town of Melbourne, home to the Action Gun pistol range, where, on a balmy Thursday afternoon, James Ray stands calmly firing round after Glock 9-mm round at a photocopied image of Adolf Hitler. Ray supplied the target himself. He purchased it on the Web site of one of his favorite nonprofit organizations (Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership), and its ideological content is not what you'd call subtle: Against the background of a standard ring target, the Führer stands in full Sieg heil mode, his arm up high and his sternum right in the bull's-eye, above a caption that reads ALL IN FAVOR OF GUN CONTROL RAISE YOUR RIGHT HAND. By the time Ray has had enough of the Glock, the target is nicely perforated. Then he picks up his .44 Magnum hand cannon and blows Adolf pretty much to bits.
Yes, Jim Ray is a gun freak. But as it happens, the purpose of today's visit to the pistol range is not to huff powder fumes or celebrate the Second Amendment. He's here to show that there's a type of money you can believe in without also having to believe in the authority of the state. He's here to offer a glimpse of a world in which wealth resides ultimately not in flimsy pieces of government-issue paper but in rock-solid slabs of $279-an-ounce metal. He's here, in short, to demonstrate the vanguard of monetary technology: a 5,000-year-old form of cash called gold.
Or in this case, e-gold, the world's first 100 percent precious metal-backed Internet currency, with which Ray pays for his outings at the gun range and a lot more besides. The private currency was launched five years ago and is now operated by two separate but tightly linked companies: e-gold Ltd., incorporated in the Caribbean island state of Nevis as a holding company for the system's assets, and Gold & Silver Reserve, headquartered in Melbourne, which takes care of everything else. Both are closely held and managed by e-gold chair Douglas Jackson. In addition, Jackson has forged a partnership with Islamic entrepreneurs to launch e-dinar, which is foreign owned.
Jim Ray works for G&SR as "lead evangelist." He draws his monthly salary in e-gold; each gram sitting in his Web-based account gives him title to a gram of real gold held in vaults in London and the United Arab Emirates. Sometimes he trades his e-gold for e-silver, e-platinum, or e-palladium - the other, far less popular, metal-backed currencies offered in the e-gold system. More often, he trades it for US dollars through G&SR's OmniPay exchange service or one of the couple dozen independent exchange providers who make their living selling e-gold for dollars, marks, yen, and other national currencies at the standard 4 to 6 percent markup over the spot price of gold. But otherwise, he spends the stuff like cash, giving it straight to whoever will take it.