Benny Goldstein, the Town of Canajoharie’s new supervisor, has spent $20,000 of his own money developing a cryptocurrency protesting COVID-19 vaccine mandates. While Goldstein, who was officially sworn in on Monday, says he originally conceived the FucVax coin to be a fundraiser for the town and as a possible form of currency to be used in Canajoharie shops, those ideas have fallen away, leaving Goldstein with a digital protest and personal side project about which he is very passionate.
Goldstein, who said he is personally vaccinated but not boosted, said the idea for the coin started during his supervisor campaign. In addition to local issues, he said the top concern among residents was vaccine mandates, particularly mandates that were affecting people’s employment.
“The government is forcing people to take the vaccine,” Goldstein said. “I experienced this firsthand when our close friends were getting laid off from their jobs just because they chose not to get vaccinated. This is a matter of pro-choice. I believe what goes inside our bodies is predominantly our choice.”
So Goldstein, who is a big believer in the future of cryptocurrency, began developing the digital protest coin, FucVax, which officially launched on Dec. 9. Despite Goldstein’s position as supervisor, the coin has no affiliation with the town of Canajoharie. He said the coin can be used to protest vaccine mandates in two ways. One is that by simply holding the coin in digital portfolios, owners of it signal that they agree with the coin’s underlying message protesting vaccine mandates. The second way is that Goldstein says he will use 10% of all profits he makes from the coin on legal fees fighting vaccine mandates.
The coin rollout comes as COVID-19 daily cases in New York state have reached their highest levels ever, according to New York State Department of Health data. Hospitalizations have been increasing as well. More than 10,400 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 in New York state on Monday, according to state DOH data. That’s up from about 2,200 in early October and about 1,000 more than the spike in hospitalizations about a year ago, the data show. In the Mohawk Valley, 121 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Monday, down from 162 about a month prior.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s data through Nov. 27 show that for all adults 18 and older, the cumulative COVID-19-associated hospitalization rate was about eight times higher in unvaccinated persons. In addition, CDC data for the month of October show unvaccinated people were 14 times more likely to die from COVID-19.
Goldstein said he created 7.19 billion FucVax ERC-20 digital tokens, making 200,000 tokens available for trade in a digital pool, with each token valued at a penny. He said each token is now valued at 24 cents. Goldstein, who is originally from Israel and has lived in Canajoharie for about a year, said the 147 current holders of the coin live across the globe, with about 30% residing in Florida, where Goldstein has previously lived. But more than a dozen holders live in Canajoharie, according to Goldstein.
Those holders include 40-year-old Nick Kane, who said he bought a house in Canajoharie in October. He also bought $500 worth of the FucVax coin to protest vaccine mandates.
“It’s kind of like a silent protest,” Kane said. “I wanted to purchase some to basically say hold off on these mandates.”
Kane said he’s currently employed as a maintenance worker at a school district in Dutchess County, where he met Goldstein — Goldstein lived in the Kingston area prior to moving to Canajoharie — but Kane’s considering submitting his resignation if the district decides to impose a vaccine mandate. The district currently allows staff to test regularly instead of getting the vaccine, he said.
Kane said he doesn’t want to take the vaccine because he is worried about the long-term side effects. He said in 2005 the yearly flu vaccine affected his immune system, leading to a lung infection that put him in the hospital for two weeks. He’s worried that information on vaccines keeps changing, and breakthrough infections give him pause.
“I’m very skeptical. People believe people in the white lab coats, but they can be wrong, too. So my whole thing is I want total transparency,” Kane said.
The CDC says the vaccines are safe and that serious side effects are extremely rare.
Robin Davis bought $300 worth of FucVax. She said she is considering moving her childcare center, which has been in operation since 1994, to Florida or South Carolina if she were forced to take a COVID-19 vaccine.
“If this vaccine is mandated for school-aged children to attend public schools, my family is ready to relocate to another state where these mandates do not exist,” she said. “I should be in control of what goes into my body and my minor child’s body, not our government. I’m so tired of the unvaxxed being singled out and people trying to shame you for not wanting the shot.”
Stefanie Ackerknecht, who works with mentally and physically handicapped adults in Montgomery County, said she will quit her job if she is required to get a COVID-19 shot or undergo weekly testing.
“You should be able to do what you want to do for yourself and your body. Everybody should have that choice,” Ackerknecht said. “Nobody should be told what they can and cannot do with their body.”
Like Kane, Ackerknecht fears potential side-effects from the vaccine and doesn’t trust CDC numbers.
“I think everything that you see on news outlets like CNN, and everything that comes out of the CDC and WHO is manipulated data,” Ackerknecht said. Ackerknecht, who has two children, 10 and 16, said she became more worried when a teenager she knows developed a heart condition shortly after getting the vaccine.
Ackerknecht, a longtime Canajoharie resident who is now Goldstein’s neighbor, said she invested $300 in FucVax, despite having minimal familiarity with cryptocurrency, because she sees it as another way to spread the message against vaccine mandates.
“The word needs to be spread, but there are limited ways we can take a stance,” she said.
To acquire FucVax, people must first buy its father coin, Avalanche. Avalanche is available through apps like Coinbase, which allow users to purchase a select number of cryptocurrencies, including more widely traded coins like Bitcoin and Ethereum. Once acquired, Avalanche can then be sent to a separate decentralized digital wallet, such as MetaMask, where users can trade Avalanche for FucVax via various swap websites, Goldstein explained. He said he originally made 200,000 FucVax coins available, but he has the ability to release the total of more than 7.19 billion digital tokens.
Cryptocurrencies are known for being volatile. Avalanche’s history shows an initial price of under $5 in July of 2020 climbing to a high of more than $130 in November of last year. It was about $105.50 at the time of writing.
‘You need to be bold’
Goldstein said he chose the name of the coin to be bold, much like former President Donald Trump, whom Goldstein supports. During the supervisor campaign, Goldstein, a Republican, leaned heavily into his Trump loyalty. Goldstein eventually beat Ronald O. Dievendorf, a well-known Democrat in town who was twice the mayor of the Village of Canajoharie, by four votes after Dievendorf chose not to contest four ballots on which people filled in his middle initial.
“Someone said to me, ‘hey, look at Donald Trump. He’s very out there, he says these statements, so that gets media attention and he believes what he says,’” Goldstein said. “But as a person who watches his mouth and doesn’t say any of those bad languages, I wasn’t sure at first. But the people that advised me, they said in this situation you need to be strong, you need to be bold and say it this way. The message needs to get across.”
Now, as Goldstein’s four-year term begins, the public and the Town Council will be interacting with Goldstein’s message on a regular basis. There will be a natural adjustment period, said attorney Greg Dunn, who represents the Village of Canajoharie and has lived in the area since 2005.
“Whenever you have somebody new that’s not familiar there is always a learning period,” Dunn said. “I encourage [Goldstein] to be thoughtful and listen to the people on his board and hear what their thoughts are.”
Goldstein is a man of big ideas. He was a patent attorney in Israel and he said he made about $500,000 by creating the Solocam selfie stick. He also appeared on Israel’s “Big Brother” reality TV show and in 2013 and 2015 ran unsuccessfully for Israel’s Knesset.
In the United States, Goldstein said he works in real estate management. The town of Canajoharie’s supervisor position pays a stipend of $6,814.
Goldstein said he originally conceived the FucVax coin as a fundraiser for the town — his white paper calls for providing 5% of proceeds to the Town of Canajoharie. However, he said he has not yet been able to get state or town approval for this. Goldstein also had the idea of setting up small kiosks with QR codes in Canajoharie stores, allowing customers to pay for goods and services using FucVax. However, no business was willing to adopt the system, he said.
Dunn said he agrees with the message behind Goldstein’s FucVax coin.
“I agree with the message that he’s trying to send. He informed me that it’s a message against the mandate, and as a lawyer who has an understanding of our constitutional rights, I don’t believe the government has the constitutional authority to mandate what each and every person can do with their body.”
Dunn thinks many people in town would be supportive as well.
“I think there would be a lot of supporters for it, especially if the message was explained to them. If you just see the word, it can conjure up many ideas, but if you take time to listen and explain it, I think most people would support it,” he said, adding that many people in Canajoharie “feel offended when the government tries to force them to do certain things.”
However, Dunn said Goldstein will be wise to do more listening than talking in the early days of his term, suggesting the experienced board may be able to bring Goldstein’s grand visions back to reality.
“Benny is a newcomer to town, and I’ve heard a lot of different ideas, and I love that about him. But you want to create an atmosphere of encouragement by not overstepping bounds. You want to unify your board, and it takes time for people to trust you,” Dunn said. “Benny is going to have some neat ideas, but maybe this board and Canajoharie will slow him down so he takes into consideration the things you can and can’t do.”
Still, Dunn believes Goldstein’s heart is in the right place, even if his affect can be scattered.
“He seems to want to better not only himself and his family, but he seems to want to add benefit to the communities he’s involved with,” Dunn said. “But if all you do is come in with new ideas and you’re not listening to people, you’re not going to get very far.”
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.