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If you spend even a small amount of time looking into Bitcoin or talking about Bitcoin, it may seem that everyone in the crypto world kind of, you know, shoots lasers from their eyes. Maybe it’s because crypto enthusiasts often believe in the powers of cryptocurrency so ardently, their stare can feel like a powerful photon beam. Or because they can talk in a way to seem like their vision penetrates more deeply than most people into our collective technological fates.

Or maybe it’s because they post photos of themselves shooting actual lasers out of their eyes.

Here is Bitcoin podcaster Preston Pysh:

Here is Meltem Demirors, Chief Strategy Officer for digital asset managers CoinShares:

Here is Anthony Scaramucci, who seems to have pivoted from excommunicated White House communications director to Bitcoin super-bro:

We have been noticing this phenomenon for the past year or so. People who work in crypto or trade crypto blasting the rest of us from their avatars with star beams, as if they’re angry Supermen stuck in traffic. As if they’re Cyclops from the X-Men getting his pupils dilated at the optometrist. The question is, why? Why lasers? When did it start? Who is responsible? And is there a conspiracy behind it in which the crypto unbelievers will die in a firey ball of laser dust?

So I began to investigate. And I have a few things to report.

How did it start?

“Laser eyes,” as the phenomenon became known, got its start in the winter. Like all significant pieces of contemporary culture, it began as a meme. In February, a single Bitcoin was worth around $40,000 and climbing. A Twitter user who goes by the handle Chairforce had made a hobby of creating avatars for members of Twitter’s Bitcoin community. Seemingly on a whim, he decided to stick lasers on some friends’ avatars, and then they hatched a plan: once Bitcoin reached $50,000, they’d replace their avatars with the laser versions and begin promoting a hashtag called #LaserRayUntil100K. The concept being that they would blast lasers from their avatars’ skulls, and hopefully so would others, all as a sign of enthusiasm and solidarity until a single Bitcoin  was worth $100,000.

The campaign launched on February 16. It grained traction fast. Adoptees would come to include Elon MuskParis Hilton, and Sean Hannity. A Dutch Libertarian Party candidate went laser on a billboard. Ohio Congressman Warren Davidson gained laser eyes, and so did Cynthia M. Lummis, the junior Senator from Wyoming, whose office put out a statement explaining why: “Sen. Lummis is a big supporter of digital assets and financial innovation, and the laser eyes are showing that support.”

The meme, as memes about the value of certain viral investments sometime do, caught on. Some people got pretty serious about it. For instance, in May, Michael Saylor, the Chairman & CEO of a software company called MicroStrategy, posted: “Laser eyes proclaim a technology to guarantee the human rights of life, liberty, & property. Laser eyes channel action even as they protect from dilutive distraction. Laser eyes signal intent to make #Bitcoin an instrument of economic empowerment.”

Who’s this guy who invented laser eyes and does he live in a secret mountain redoubt in Switzerland? And what did he say?

Laser eyes inventor Chairforce, as he prefers to be identified, has a day job working for Bitcoin Magazine. His role there is Chief Shitpost Officer. (Yes, he confirmed this is his actual title.) I asked how it felt, seven months later, to see so many people still wearing lasers, Elon Musk be damned. “It feels good,” he said. “I love seeing the community bond. I actually believe that laser eyes will now be a permanent signal for Bitcoin Maximalists.”

Bitcoin Maximalists are people who basically believe that Bitcoin is the end-all be-all of crypto-currencies – and I guess the Laser Eyes meme suggests that all the other coins can fry in their laser gaze. “You’re talking about a Bitcoin Maxi meme that kinda peaked around the time the El Salvador tender news broke,” Aaron Lammer, the host of the crypto crime podcast “Exit Scam”, told me. Lammer was referring to the moment in June when El Salvador declared it would recognize Bitcoin as a legal currency, and its president, Nayib Bukele, of course, acquired some laser eyes of his own. (Bukele later would lose his lasers, though apparently not his crypto fervor: El Salvador recently increased their stake to 700 coins.) And also basically saying that Laser Eyes weren’t cool anymore, if they ever were. (Lammer is not a Bitcoin Maxi.)

The more important thing I needed to understand, Lammer explained, was that the crypto community had become tribal over time. Different factions preferred different coins – Bitcoin, Cardano, Dogecoin, etc. – and used motifs to communicate membership in different clans. Lasers were for Bitcoin fam, which made sense to me, seeing how they matched the typical bro’s Alpha energy. Ethereum fans, on the other hand, preferred unicorns and pastels. They also might add an “eth” to the end of their Twitter handles, as if gaining a new surname through marriage, and the same for Bitcoin hive, who liked to add “btc.” (Chairforce’s full Twitter handle was Chairforce_BTC.) Then there were those who used their avatars to display their NFTs, as if hanging a new painting on the living room wall, whether it was a penguin, a CryptoPunk, or perhaps a pet rock with, well, laser eyes.

So why the laser eyes?

“The purpose of laser eyes was to get you to talk about laser eyes, and therefore talk about Bitcoin,” Lammer said. “That means the laser eyes have succeeded. If you think it’s a little culty, I don’t think people are worried about that. It’s like NFT trading. There are people trading JPGs on the internet right now for hundreds of thousands of dollars. There’s no way to do that without people thinking you’re ridiculous. There’s no JPG you can trade where people are going to say, Oh that’s appropriate. But the mistaken idea is that the people who are trading the JPGs care very much what other people think about them.” 

“Everyone was saying how batshit these crypto people are,” financial correspondent Felix Salmon told me. “that they’re this club of crazies who run around the web terrorizing people who claim to like dollars. Rather than continue to fight that and pretend to be normal, they’ve gone in the other direction. We’re completely insane and we’re going to give ourselves laser eyes, and we dare you to question it. They’re embracing their belief in who they are and what they stand for.” 

So when will the trend be over?

To some people it probably already is. But Paris Hilton is still beaming. Scaramucci is still beaming. Tom Brady, quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, adopted them in May and has worn them since, even though his faith in Bitcoin seems to have been tested. When the coin’s value dipped in June, Brady wrote, “Alright the laser eyes didn’t work. Anyone have any ideas?” Earlier this month, when Stephen Curry asked for crypto advice, Brady responded, “Whatever you do… don’t laser eyes!” And yet the high beams keep shining.

“I’m certain that when us laser-eyed cyber hornets swarm normie Twitter for whatever reason in mass, we appear to outsiders as a hivemind cult,” Chairforce told me. But it was more about a diverse community, he explained, people from all over, that believed in what they took to be not just Bitcoin’s promise, but its ideals. Detachment from governments. A shift away from crony capitalism. A new financial future to improve the lives of the underprivileged worldwide. How long would the photons be on blast? “I don’t think they’re going anywhere in the near future,” Chairforce said. “The $100K milestone was the campaign goal, but they’ll remain long after.”

Shine on, you crazy lasers.