On Tuesday, a federal court in Seattle issued a temporary restraining order that blocked Cody Wilson and his company Defense Distribution from making 3D-printed firearms. The topic of 3D-printed firearms has been a polarizing one for many, but Wilson, 30, believes that access to them is a fundamental human right and that the issue is far from over.
“The ship has sailed,” he told CNN. “They are public. It is public domain information. It is irrevocable.” The information regarding the 3D-printing has reportedly been downloaded thousands of times. Wilson, a free-market anarchist and a guns-right activist, has been referred to as one of the world’s ‘most dangerous people.’
Here’s what you need to know about Wilson:
1. He Became Interested In 3D Weapons While Attending Law School
Wilson moved to Austin to attend the University of Texas in 2011. In his memoir Come and Take It, he describes dabbling in leftist and anti-gun policies at the time, but he quickly altered his political outlook. He began frequenting Brave New Books, a conspiracy-theory bookstore near his campus, where he said he discovered other young men like himself.
“I would share some of my happiest times in Austin at Brave New Books,” he said. “I’d also develop real friendships there. [It was] a mecca for those lunatics who draped themselves in the flags of the violent ideology of self-reliance, and who sneered out privileged and insane slogans like ‘Individual Sovereignty’ and ‘Consent of the Governed.’ Watchwords of slaver paranoiacs if there ever were.”
Inspired by these men, Wilson and fellow law student Benjamin Denio developed a plan to make a plastic gun. He told the Texas Observer that he knew it would be his avenue to fame at the time: “As soon as I had said the words, I imagined an NBC anchor delivering the nightly news…”
2. He Founded the Weapons Company Defense Distributed In 2012
In 2012, Wilson had created Defense Distributed, and published blueprints for a 3D gun that were downloaded more than 100,000 times. The New York Times reports that he dropped out of law school to pursue his new business venture, and considered Defense Distributed to be a revolutionary haven for the Austin scene.
“There’s a number of unemployed, over-educated young men with, you know, nothing but hate, who would line up to work here for $15/hr,” he explained. “There’s not gonna be a short supply of people who want to work here. … They get to be a part of something with some cultural caché. These guys are down, man. They’re down for the struggle. They enjoy it.” In May 2013, Wilson received a letter from the State Department citing a violation of arms export laws, and ordering him to pull his files from the internet.
3. He Launched Hatreon In 2017, Which Is Believed to Fund White Supremacist Groups
Due to the controversy surrounding Wilson’s work, he has faced pushback from a number of different platforms. YouTube has repeatedly pulled his videos, Stratasys, which is where he leased a 3-D printer, forced him to return it, and Indiegogo canceled his crowdfunding campaign. The latter situation led to Hatreon, an invite-only crowdfunding website that Wilson created in June 2017.
According to Bloomberg, the site receives an estimated $25,000 a month in donations, which is believed to be “doubling from month to month,” and Wilson takes a 5% cut of each donation. Hatreon lacks the content policing restrictions of sites like Indiegogo or Patreon, and has subsequently attracted alt-right and neo-Nazi figures like Andrew Anglin and Richard B. Spencer.
“Hatreon is very important to the financial functioning of the white supremacist movement,” said Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project. “Hatreon is keeping a lot of these folks alive. It’s keeping them paid.”
4. He Refers to Himself as a ‘Crypto-Anarchist’
Wilson has referred to himself using several different terms, including free-market anarchist and crypto-anarchist. When asked to explain the latter term, he told Ammoland: [It] refers to a brand of techno-libertarian tactics espoused by Tim May and other cryptography and privacy radicals in the early 1990’s. May believed strong, public cryptographic protections would allow people to lock the government out of private communications, commerce and maybe even politics.”
“They saw what the combination of the Internet and strong crypto meant,” he added, “and that it could be a new era of evading government surveillance and expropriation.”
Due to the rapid growth of Defense Distributed, Wilson has also been labeled one of the most dangerous people in the world. He ranked at number fourteen on the Wired list of the same name, where a member of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Josh Horwitz, wrote: “The Wiki Weapon project is not the work of a dispassionate techie seeking to push the outer limits of modern technology. Instead it is a blatant, undisguised attempt to radically alter our system of government.”
5. He Believes That Access to Guns Is a ‘Fundamental Human Right’
Despite the temporary blockade and the fact that eight attorneys general are suing Defense Distributed, the company reached a settlement with the U.S. government in June that allowed them to make the blueprints public. “I believe that I am championing the Second Amendment in the 21st century,” Wilson told CBS This Morning. I think access to the firearm is a fundamental human dignity. It’s a fundamental human right.”
When asked how he would feel if someone downloaded a gun from his site and killed someone, Wilson said that he wouldn’t feel responsible. “I’m talking about files. I’m not talking about the guns,” he said. “I’m not a licensed gun manufacturer. I don’t make guns at this location. I have data, I can share the data. I don’t believe that I provide you with anything other than the general knowledge of what an AR-15 is.”
“What’s going to make me comfortable… is when people stop coming into this office and acting like there’s a debate about it. The debate is over,” Wilson added. “The guns are downloadable. The files are in the public domain. You cannot take them back. You can adjust your politics to this reality. You will not ask me to adjust mine.”