With its streamlined curves and glow-in-the-dark pitch gadget, the silver Lamborghini Huracán Performante was once the stuff of minor untruth: $350,000 of aerodynamic metals and light-weight upholstery, packed right into a taut and robust frame. Ben Armstrong cherished it dearly.
When he began purchasing for a Lamborghini, Mr. Armstrong, a cryptocurrency evangelist with multiple million YouTube subscribers, anxious that he’d must spend months looking. “I think I have to go to Italy to get the Lambo I want,” he texted a industry spouse. “I don’t want to compromise.” However destiny smiled on him. Within the fall of 2021, a automobile dealership in Charlotte, N.C., shipped the Huracán to Mr. Armstrong’s manufacturing studio in an Atlanta suburb.
Because the Lamborghini was once lowered from a delivery truck, Mr. Armstrong, higher recognized by way of the nom de crypto BitBoy, set free a comfortable chortle. “I may have shed a tear,” he mentioned on the while.
Again after, BitBoy was once probably the most widespread figures within the wild, scam-ridden global of crypto influencers. Cultivating a personality as a straight-talking everyman, he filmed a livestream 5 days a while by which he lectured his loads of 1000’s of listeners at the virtues of experimental cash with names like Polkadot or XRP. He mentioned that regulators had been fools, and that virtual cash presented a trail to upward mobility. The Lamborghini was once bright evidence: Crypto would produce you ffluent and funky and a hit.
Two years upcoming, Mr. Armstrong, 41, has misplaced his manufacturing corporate and far of his wealth. His buddies have became on him, and his spouse has filed for break-up. Over the endmost 5 months, throughout numerous social media posts and movies, Mr. Armstrong has claimed to be the sufferer of a “criminal conspiracy” by way of “terrorists” who took over his YouTube channel. “BitBoy is dead,” he not too long ago declared.
The difficulty began in August when Mr. Armstrong was once unceremoniously ousted from his corporate, HIT Community, by way of a bunch of his buddies and industry companions. Since after, the schism has expanded right into a wide-ranging scandal: In court docket and on social media, the diverse antagonists have traded allegations of extortion, robbery, sexual harassment and place of job violence. An extramarital affair has sparked specifically scorching recriminations. And the Lamborghini is long past.
“I’m going through a midlife crisis,” Mr. Armstrong mentioned in certainly one of a number of contemporary interviews. “A spiritual crisis.”
Within the just right occasions, BitBoy’s get up to YouTube stardom was once propelled by way of the similar cultural forces that became crypto right into a multitrillion-dollar sensation. With swaggering self belief, he spun a get-rich-quick narrative that held monumental attraction at a past when well-dressed memes had been riding tens of millions of greenbacks in deal-making and crypto was once hyped in Tremendous Bowl ads.
That generation has ended. The dramatic faint of Mr. Armstrong’s empire mirrors the arc of the business — a once-high-flying sector now tarred by way of scandal and teetering at the fringe of mainstream relevance. As crypto crashed over the endmost two years, tens of millions of public misplaced financial savings, their virtual riches erased nearly in a single day. Maximum of that wealth, they discovered, was once by no means actual first of all.
Crypto Injury Jock
Like all charismatic salesman, Mr. Armstrong has a sparsely honed tone: He impaired to be only a familiar man, he likes to mention, till crypto modified his lifestyles. Nearest present process remedy for a methamphetamine dependancy within the early 2000s, he attended a Christian faculty and ended up marrying his admissions counselor. For a couple of years, he dabbled in a lot of companies — from impressive design to a carwash he helped run — earlier than settling at the risky crypto markets.
He began making movies in 2017, most commonly low-tech monologues about crypto information, however his channel didn’t get going till 3 years upcoming, when a increase in costs attracted tens of millions of newbie buyers who had been on the lookout for recommendation.
All over the pandemic, Mr. Armstrong upgraded to a pro studio and rented a petite personnel to construct slick, professionally edited movies. His funding portfolio was once surging: On the marketplace’s height, he has mentioned, he had about $40 million of crypto. However the series between his non-public budget and the company accounts was once blurry: Maximum of the ones belongings technically belonged to BJ Funding Holdings, an organization that he owned with T.J. Shedd, a fellow crypto fanatic who controlled the manufacturing industry.
If crypto is the Wild West of finance, after crypto influencers inhabit the wildest stretch of that frontier. The lead YouTubers — veering between earnest soliloquies in regards to the Federal Keep’s price cuts and impassioned endorsements of cash named then caricature animals — command excess audiences and book sway over the sorts of obsessively on-line pace buyers who drove the so-called meme reserve frenzy in 2021. Pageant for viewership is fierce. The result’s one thing like a go between skilled wrestling and CNBC: a shed people of self-promoters, feuding over who trade in the most productive monetary recommendation.
Common presentations can generate weighty cash. Crypto corporations pay influencers tens of millions of greenbacks to advertise monetary merchandise on platforms like YouTube, TikTok and Telegram. In 2023, Mr. Armstrong signed a promise usefulness $1 million a pace with the playing corporate Stake, which shall we customers bet crypto in casino-style video games.
“This is the business of entertainment,” mentioned Aj Pleasanton, a crypto YouTuber who labored with Mr. Armstrong at HIT Community. “It’s not always about who has the best factual information. It’s not always about who has the best alpha on trading. It’s about who has the best story.”
Within the crowded garden of crypto trauma jocks, Mr. Armstrong carved out a distinct segment because the loudest and maximum competitive. He regularly wore a bright-green Gucci tracksuit, and appreciated to gloat about his luck out there. He inspired his audience to put money into a slew of crypto merchandise, together with a minimum of one offered by a company that later collapsed, and predicted that Bitcoin would get up to $300,000 by way of the top of 2021. (It didn’t.)
However age enthusiasts would mob him at business meetings, Mr. Armstrong was once often criticized for selling cash that crashed in price and accepting bills from crypto corporations, together with one sponsorship he admitted wasn’t properly disclosed.
“Let’s be clear. I’m not going to prison,” he wrote on Reddit in 2022. “Maybe some fine one day based on shifting security laws.” (The Securities and Alternate Fee has introduced a form of instances towards influencers who marketed dangerous crypto investments with out revealing that they had been compensated for the promotion.)
Because the crypto marketplace cratered in 2022, Mr. Armstrong pivoted to an not going fresh personality — cop at the beat. Months earlier than the FTX crypto alternate collapsed, he posted a form of tweets and movies excoriating Sam Bankman-Fried, the corporate’s now-disgraced founder, calling him a “fox in the crypto henhouse” who was once plotting to wreck rival start-ups. Mr. Bankman-Fried circulated a reality sheet claiming that BitBoy’s negativity was once a part of a scheme by way of business competition to unfold incorrect information about FTX.
Nearest FTX folded that November, Mr. Armstrong flew to the Bahamas with a digital camera staff and attempted to sneak round Mr. Bankman-Fried’s luxurious condominium advanced there. “I killed this man’s whole career,” he declared. “We saved crypto in America.”
Nevertheless it was once additionally round after that buddies and co-workers began to fret about adjustments in Mr. Armstrong’s conduct, consistent with interviews. BitBoy wasn’t an operate. The recovered addict became Christian folk guy had grow to be unrecognizable in his non-public lifestyles. Soaking within the adulation of his enthusiasts, Mr. Armstrong was once now a parody of a crypto bro — a man who spent a accumulation of while interested by Lamborghinis.
“Ben lost track of the person he used to be,” Mr. Shedd, his former industry spouse, mentioned in a observation. “He caused enormous damage to both his professional and personal relationships.”
Ultimate spring, because the crypto marketplace struggled to rebound, Mr. Armstrong began selling a fresh cryptocurrency, BEN Coin, which he was once growing with Cassandra Wolfe, a HIT Community contractor recognized on social media because the Duchess of DeFi. Ms. Wolfe, 34, as soon as an ambitious influencer herself, had helped retain the profitable Stake sponsorship, however Mr. Armstrong’s personnel idea BEN Coin was once a unholy concept. They anxious that it was once an clearly cynical cash seize and didn’t need him to advertise the challenge at the BitBoy YouTube channel.
On the identical while, Mr. Shedd was once forming to listen to alternative worrisome tales about his industry spouse. In a September lawsuit, he accused Mr. Armstrong of “unlawfully directing and diverting” up to $50,000 a pace to Ms. Wolfe, with whom he was once having an extramarital affair. Mr. Armstrong had additionally stolen tens of 1000’s of greenbacks in crypto from the company, the grievance mentioned, together with a number of virtual collectibles referred to as NFTs. Mr. Shedd prompted a clause within the preserving corporate’s running pledge that allowed him to shop for out Mr. Armstrong’s majority stake.
Mr. Armstrong contested the claims and filed a form of complaints difficult the buyout; he argued that the bills to Ms. Wolfe had been completely felony, and that the lacking NFTs belonged to him. However his global was once collapsing. The felony struggle, which remains to be unfolding, became up various allegations of misconduct: Mr. Armstrong have been abusing steroids, one go well with mentioned, and had occupied in a space of beside the point and on occasion violent conduct on the workplace, from sexual harassment to “throwing filled bottles of protein shake” at personnel. (Mr. Armstrong has denied the accusations.)
Upcoming got here the extreme misspen. In September, a crypto investor named Carlos Diaz, who moved in the similar social circles because the HIT Community executives, requested Mr. Armstrong to signal over the name to the Lamborghini. Mr. Diaz was once a onetime BitBoy superfan. “There was a spiritual connection,” he mentioned in an interview. “I really felt like this was God talking to me through him.”
How precisely Mr. Diaz ended up asking his non secular information for a $350,000 sports activities automobile rest the topic of substantial felony dispute. Mr. Diaz mentioned he had misplaced cash on a immense funding in BEN Coin, whose price had plummeted, and sought after to promote the automobile to recoup the price range. Mr. Armstrong insists that Mr. Diaz offered himself as an agent of HIT Community who was once serving to the corporate carry cash. Finally, Mr. Armstrong mentioned, he felt bodily threatened and sought after to achieve some more or less agreement.
BitBoy’s two-year tenure as a Lamborghini proprietor led to a Walmart parking accumulation, the place he met Mr. Diaz to finish the forms.
‘The Duke and the Duchess’
Within the risky global of crypto, a YouTuber’s reserve can get up and fall as inconsistently as any cartoon-inspired meme coin. By way of December, Mr. Armstrong was once making an attempt a comeback. With Ms. Wolfe by way of his facet, he flew to Las Vegas to announce his participation in “influencer fight club” — a crypto-themed boxing tournament scheduled for February in Mexico Town.
One night, Mr. Armstrong mingled with Ms. Wolfe and a couple of alternative crypto influencers at the patio of Gold Spike, the downtown bar the place he was once selling the development. Most commonly he sought after to discuss the lacking Lambo.
“It’s in a showroom in Fort Lauderdale,” he defined to his buddies, together with a YouTuber referred to as Crypto Keeper. “I have photos.”
Because the dialog became to much less thrilling subjects, Mr. Armstrong pulled Ms. Wolfe near and stroked her hair. Crypto Keeper inclined over to mumble in Mr. Armstrong’s ear.
“The duke and the duchess,” he mentioned. Mr. Armstrong grinned. “The duke and the duchess,” he repeated.
At the back of the scenes, BitBoy’s issues had been mounting. He was once streaming once more on a fresh YouTube channel, Ben Armstrong Crypto, shorn of the impaired BitBoy branding, however audience had reacted to his downfall with a mixture of pleasure and schadenfreude. “He is all that is cringe about crypto,” a columnist for the business outlet CoinDesk wrote.
Mr. Armstrong was once additionally below rising felony drive. He had misplaced lots of his belongings and had spent greater than $150,000 on legal professionals for the reason that summer time. Again in Georgia, 3 male workers at HIT Community had long past to the native government to accuse him of touching them sexually, together with by way of grabbing them within the crotch or rear finish, consistent with police studies reviewed by way of The Unused York Instances.
Mr. Armstrong said that his studio had a “locker room” atmosphere; he blamed his impaired colleagues for by no means hiring a human-resources officer. However he denied harassing any person, and he hasn’t been charged.
Nearest the publicity of his affair, Mr. Armstrong released a video by which he and his spouse, who’ve 3 small children, pledged to paintings in the course of the extremity and book their folk in combination. For a age, Mr. Armstrong idea each girls would aid him: At an early listening to in his lawsuit towards HIT Community, he sat within the court docket with Ms. Wolfe on one facet of him and his spouse, Bethany, at the alternative.
Upcoming, in October, Ms. Armstrong filed for break-up. Courtroom data display that she has rented a forensic accountant to evaluate the scale of her husband’s crypto holdings.
Mr. Armstrong denies concealing any price range. However he’s defiant in regards to the affair with Ms. Wolfe. “I like her better than my wife,” he mentioned. “Not to be too crass, but we have a really, really great relationship.” (A legal professional for Ms. Armstrong mentioned she “looks forward to presenting her side of these events in court, if it leads to that.”)
Because the summer time, Ms. Wolfe has been running with Mr. Armstrong to rebuild his fan bottom and struggle for keep watch over of his corporate. Ahead of she were given eager about crypto, she thought to be regulation college, she mentioned, and ran a petite sanatorium for public who sought after to constitute themselves in court docket — most commonly males in break-up instances.
Ms. Wolfe, who has been married and divorced 4 occasions, met Mr. Armstrong at a convention in 2022 as she was once seeking to produce her method within the crypto business. A couple of months upcoming, an astrologer she had discovered at the gig paintings web page Fiverr informed her that any person was once about to “change the trajectory” of her occupation.
“Based on the eclipse degree, she’s like, ‘You know this person, but you don’t know about the opportunity,’” Ms. Wolfe recalled. “She was talking about him.”
In Las Vegas in December, Mr. Armstrong and Ms. Wolfe were given matching tattoos of the BEN Coin brand, a form of intersecting arrows illustrating the forex’s slogan, “Be Everywhere Now.” Ms. Wolfe mentioned BEN Coin was once a significant endeavor, a approach to inspire public to dabble in crypto. She and Mr. Armstrong are running on a take charge of to trade in the coin in specialised A.T.M.s plastered with pictures of BitBoy, tooth clenched, elevating his fist in defiance.
However whilst he talked up his hour, Mr. Armstrong couldn’t aid lingering at the occasion. Just about each and every dialog in Las Vegas rotated again to the similar long-winded theories in regards to the manifold techniques he was once betrayed and the simmering jealousies that may have determined the scheme to dethrone him.
Mr. Shedd all the time acted as though his sports activities automobile, a Nissan GT-R, was once “better than my Lamborghini,” Mr. Armstrong complained. “I didn’t even know what a GT-R was until he bought it.”
‘He Stole My Lamborghini’
A while upcoming, the duke and duchess returned to court docket. Mr. Armstrong had begun the pace with a form of posts accusing every other leading influencer of becoming a member of a “pedophile ring” in Thailand. “Ben is on one this morning,” Ms. Wolfe mentioned as she restrained at a Starbucks alike the courthouse in Marietta, Ga.
Mr. Armstrong has sued part a quantity of his impaired colleagues. However essentially the most non-public fight comes to his Lamborghini — the emblem of his luck as a YouTuber and crypto’s attainable to generate life-changing riches. In court docket filings in Georgia, Mr. Armstrong has argued that he was once bullied and extorted into moving the automobile’s name to Mr. Diaz, the BEN Coin investor.
In September, Mr. Armstrong had pushed to Mr. Diaz’s house out of doors Atlanta, bringing a gun. Taking a look raveled in a sleeveless blouse, he stood in the street and started to livestream a rant in regards to the lacking car.
“This man is extorting me,” Mr. Armstrong informed the police then they arrived to interfere. “He stole my Lamborghini.”
Now he was once making ready to argue that case in a Cobb County court docket.
Below cross-examination by way of Mr. Diaz’s legal professional, Mr. Armstrong replied a form of questions in regards to the Lamborghini. Everybody correct that the name to the automobile have been in his title, however Mr. Armstrong wasn’t positive whether or not the fee for it had come from his non-public price range or his corporate’s accounts. He mentioned he have been fearful of Mr. Diaz, and simplest reluctantly signed over the name.
Mr. Diaz’s legal professional requested in regards to the livestream incident, which resulted in Mr. Armstrong’s arrest on still-pending misdemeanor fees.
“Did you repeatedly scream, ‘Carlos, Carlos, I’m not afraid of you anymore, Carlos’?” he inquired.
Nearest about two hours, Pass judgement on Jana Edmondson-Cooper dominated in partial of Mr. Diaz. An extortion case calls for the misappropriation of any person’s component, and the pass judgement on concluded that Mr. Armstrong had didn’t turn out the car was once “not a company car.”
The Lamborghini of BitBoy’s desires had by no means belonged to him within the first park. Mr. Armstrong slammed his hand at the desk. “The judge is corrupt,” he mentioned as he marched onto the elevator. Two individuals of his felony staff exchanged appears; their shopper had a observe document of intemperate posting. “Take his phone,” certainly one of them informed Ms. Wolfe.
BitBoy was once wounded. He wasn’t getting the automobile again. Screenshots from the arrest video had been offering grist for never-ending memes. And the fresh channel was once languishing at 90,000 subscribers, a slight fraction of the 1.5 million who had adopted BitBoy at his height.
“There’s no win ever for me,” Mr. Armstrong fumed as he stormed clear of the courthouse.
However the impaired bravado was once again earlier than lengthy. Nearest a couple of days, BitBoy — like everybody within the crypto global — was once having a look towards the then weighty alternative, the pace costs would surge once more.
“I’m a very complex, misunderstood person,” he mentioned. “I’m going to be rich again. Everybody kind of sees that. It’s just a matter of how and when.”
Kitty Bennett and Alain Delaquérière contributed analysis.