The Case of the Sovereign Individual: Unlocking the Mystery of Rey Rivera
This essay is now available in audio format:
On the evening of May 16th, 2006, Rey Rivera received a phone call, left his north Baltimore house in a hurry, and was never heard from again. Several days later, his body was found after his co-workers observed a hole in a lower roof of the Belvedere Hotel, located near his employer’s offices. With the help of the hotel’s staff, they located Rey’s badly injured and decomposed body in an unused conference room. Rey had been dead several days, and it is widely believed he died the same day he disappeared, probably as a result of a fall through the building’s lower roof. Police ruled the cause of his death as “undetermined.”
I generally research and write about disinformation—not unsolved murder mysteries. So in that sense, this case is completely outside of my normal area of expertise. But fate had other plans. You see, the Belvedere Hotel is across the street from my office in Baltimore. And I know Baltimore intimately—its quirks, characters, and irregularities—and I also am familiar with Rey’s former employer, Agora Financial.
And it was through my “Big History” essay series about the events of January 6th that I was directed back to both Agora and to Rey Rivera. After compiling some recent research on Agora’s history, I thought to re-watch Season 1, Episode 1 (Mystery on a Rooftop) of the 2020 Netflix reboot of “Unsolved Mysteries.” My memories about the Rivera case flooded back—and I realized there was a major overlap with my “Big History” analysis.
The show relied heavily on interviews with two investigative reporters, Stephen Janis and Jayne Miller. As fate would have it, I have known both of them for years, and count them as friends. I spoke with both of them at some length, and was able to flesh out my conclusions.
Agora and The Sovereign Individual
Agora Publishing was founded in 1978 by Bill Bonner and James Dale Davidson around a single financial publication called “International Living,” with appeal to people who enjoyed travel, lucrative investments, and importantly, minimizing their tax bills. The US tax code at that time (even more than now) was a labyrinth of loopholes and shelters such that anyone with sufficient motivation could find any number of ways to disguise profits as losses, and minimize taxes to near zero.
Over the next few decades, Agora sprouted a plethora of different newsletter products directed at different sub-audiences. One of the newsletters they started was called “The Strategic Investor.” Its editors were Bill Bonner, James Dale Davidson, and William Rees-Mogg— the former editor of the London Times and a member of the House of Lords—whom they cheekily sold as being connected to the MI5 intelligence agency.
In 1996, James Dale Davidson and William Rees-Mogg published a book called The Sovereign Individual, predicting the rise of phenomena such as cryptocurrency (they called it Digital Cash) and the eventual collapse of the nation state. The book advised people to start shopping for multiple residences and looking for jurisdictions that would give them the “best deal” in terms of taxes, perks, and other living arrangements. The hardcore libertarian investor Peter Thiel (and now CEO of Palantir) wrote the foreword for more recent revisions of the book.
This is the story of how Rey Rivera fell into the secret world behind Agora— and didn’t make it out.
The World of Rey Rivera
When Rey Rivera and his fiancée Allison Jones moved to Baltimore in early 2004, September 11 had occurred less than three years prior. Agora had been under investigation because one of its editors, Steven Sarnoff (grandson of longtime RCA head David Sarnoff) had issued an investment tip on September 9, 2001 indicating trouble ahead for United Airlines and American Airlines parent AMR in his fax-based newsletter, Options Hotline. The SEC investigated Agora (along with Baltimore investment bank Alex. Brown, which had placed some of the recommended trades; Agora’s treasurer, Greg Barnhill, also worked for Brown) as part of the 9/11 commission inquiry, but found no definitive evidence of wrongdoing or advance knowledge of the week’s events.
PayPal had just been acquired by eBay a couple years before, and Elon Musk had just joined Tesla after starting SpaceX. Jerome Corsi ran the successful “swiftboating” campaign against John Kerry in his bid to unseat George W. Bush.
James Dale Davidson and William Rees-Mogg had co-authored The Sovereign Individual in 1996. In 1998, they founded Newsmax, along with the family of the late former CIA director William Casey, who is famous for his quote, “We’ll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false.”
On April 18, 2003, the SEC launched an investigation into the Pirate Investor, an Agora newsletter property run by Porter Stansberry. The newsletter had issued a stock tip on a Russian government-owned company called Tenex. The stock tip turned out to be bogus.
It was into this world—thick with SEC investigations, connections to the CIA, various propaganda outlets, and the Iran-Contra and 9/11 scandals—that Rey Rivera and his fiancée Allison arrived in Baltimore at the invitation of his longtime friend Porter Stansberry for a two year experiment.
From early 2004 until mid-2005, Rivera was employed with Stansberry’s Agora affiliate, Pirate Investor, writing a dubious investment newsletter called “The Rebound Report.” When the SEC ruled against the firm in May 2005, for “falsely claiming that a company insider provided [a tip]”, the company was forced to pay restitution. The company changed its name to “Stansberry & Associates Investment Research” in a bid to salvage what was left of its reputation.
By November 2005, Rey and Allison were married in Puerto Rico, and began to make plans to leave Baltimore. In December, the deaths of an Agora colleague’s sister, and another colleague, Thom Hickling, seemed to hit him especially hard.
The Oxford Club
Rey decided to quit writing the “Rebound Report” and instead began as a video production contractor for another Agora affiliate, The Oxford Club.
In 1986, Missouri Secretary of State Roy Blunt received a mysterious package in the mail containing a cassette tape. On the tape (listen here), an erudite-sounding man with a British accent explained in nearly 22 minutes of soul-crushing detail that Blunt had been selected to join something called The Royal Society of Liechtenstein, through which he could receive privileged investment and tax avoidance advice. Blunt promptly issued the company, which was based in Florida and not Liechtenstein at all, a cease-and-desist letter with the admonition that they were not licensed to issue investment advice in Missouri.
But the company did not cease or desist. Joel Nadel, the Society’s founder, had launched another scam so preposterous as to defy belief. He and a partner, Richard Brown, convinced investors that he had found a way to convert beach sand in Costa Rica into pure gold. The company, Goldcor, had raised a reported $50 million from investors, many of whom traveled to Costa Rica to “observe” the company’s proprietary process. The SEC was not amused. Brown was found dead in August, 1991; Nadel sold the Society’s remaining assets to Bill Bonner of Agora. It was re-christened as “The Oxford Club.”
And it was at the Oxford Club, doing video production work under George Rayburn, that Rey would spend his last few months on this earth.
Solving the Enigma of Rey Rivera’s Death
Rivera’s case has been well-explored by Unsolved Mysteries and also the by the author Mikita Brottman in her book An Unexplained Death. There are entire sub-Reddits dedicated to solving Rey’s case and trying to understand a cryptic note he left behind. The note makes references to Freemasonry, to Porter Stansberry, and to movies he loved, including SE7EN, The Game, and Fight Club by David Fincher.
His reference to “The Game” is particularly apt. The protagonist falls through the roof of a hotel ballroom, where he is saved in a complex series of plot twists. Rey, however, was not saved when he fell through the roof of the Belvedere Hotel into a conference room. He also named Stanley Kubrick and his last film “Eyes Wide Shut.” From his note, one has the sense that Rey had seen or been told things by Porter Stansberry that haunted him and which he wished he could unsee.
We may never know whether Rivera committed suicide, was pushed to jump, or was somehow murdered some other way. Many theories abound. But one thing is sure: Rey is not the first person to have descended into this specific network of secrets, never to return.
“The Black Network”
In 1991, Time Magazine correspondents Jonathan Beaty and S.C. Gwynne called the network associated with the CIA and BCCI “the black network.” In research for their book, The Outlaw Bank: A Wild Ride Into the Secret Heart of BCCI, they found covert smuggling of drugs, arms, and gold, and a global shadow government that operates entirely outside of the rule of law.
Writer Danny Casolaro also found this same network in 1991; he called it The Octopus. He died of a reported suicide while working on his story, and was reportedly harassed and repeatedly warned to back off. Many people think he died because he was “too close” to the truth.
Conceptual artist Mark Lombardi also died of a reported suicide in March, 2000, after pursuing the same networks. His sprawling network maps (much like the one I created for this article) were based on countless hours of meticulous research. (His maps have been preserved and converted to graph data here.)
In 1996, journalist Gary Webb wrote a series called “Dark Alliance” for the San Jose Mercury News, which he released in book form two years later. He was found dead of a suspected suicide in 2004; some think it was because of his work on this network.
Indeed, it is a trivial exercise to confirm that Beaty, Gwynne, Casolaro, Lombardi, Webb, and Rivera had stumbled into the same dark network, filled with gold-bugs, drug runners, secret societies, and intelligence lifers. But Rivera wasn’t necessarily looking to be pulled into this world, and he ultimately paid with his life. And we may never know exactly how or why that happened.
Ties to January 6th
Those of you who followed my “Big History” series on the events that led up to January 6th will not be surprised to see that this network connects directly into the Council for National Policy and to The Sovereign Individual. As we can see, Rivera’s network is at the center of contemporary politics—even the recent run-up of cryptocurrencies.
This was the network of people behind January 6th, as demonstrated in Part Six of my “Big History” series. Rivera found himself embedded in a network that would go on to shape one of the most infamous episodes in American history. And many of the people who planned and organized it have not yet been held accountable in any way.
It’s Time (for all of us) to Talk About It
Anyone researching or writing about this network is eventually confronted with the question, “Is it safe to write about this? Shouldn’t you be careful?” And indeed, it is the very secrecy and walking on eggshells that keeps these things secret, sensitive, and seemingly dangerous.
Have some people who researched this died? Yes, several. Many more have not. While some may have been murdered, others may have simply come into knowledge so overwhelming that they knew no one would listen to them, and that our conceptions about “democracy” are something of a joke. That alone may drive some people to suicide.
But I perceive this differently.
If this network keeps on being a big dark scary secret that is taboo for people to talk about, then it will stay that way. Why? Because it’s easy to harass and apply pressure to individuals. But in the age of social media, when articles can fly around the world and plant themselves in millions of minds simultaneously, all of us can talk about this; all of us can expose it; all of us can be confident that we are safe speaking truth to power, because there is no realistic way to silence millions of voices. Use yours.
Together, it is possible to carefully and correctly expose this. This is a matter of faithfully documenting world history, and it’s time to de-stigmatize the nuanced pursuit of complex topics. And we must do this if we are to regain control of our democracies from global intelligence and organized crime networks.
There is much more to be said about Agora and about how we talk about complex networks. We will get into that another time. But for now, it is self-evident that this network has persisted for decades and will continue to persist until it is disrupted.