The embattled founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, is no stranger to political pressure from governments and media outlets around the globe. Publishing secret Guantanamo files, Sarah Palin’s emails, diplomatic cables, classified military videos, and of course more recently John Podesta’s emails and the CIA’s Vault 7 have made Assange plenty of enemies.
Unsurprisingly, the critics and supporters of Assange and WikiLeaks wax and wane along with the targets of his releases. After having her emails exposed by Assange, Sarah Palin asked in 2010, “why was he not pursued with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders?” Then in January of this year, she apologized to Assange in the wake of the Podesta email leaks.
Similarly, media outlets like CNN and Fox News have given Assange a platform only when it directly benefited them. Assange points out that left-leaning publications have recently tried to capitalize on the Department of Justice’s newly reinstated pursuit of charges against him, simply because they can frame it in the larger context of Trump’s war on the media. Fox News, on the other end of the political spectrum, brought Assange on Sean Hannity’s show in January to dispel the Trump administration’s alleged collusion with Russia.
The Washington Post has also been all over the map on Assange. In January, in the wake of the DNC scandal, The Post published articles saying that Assange exaggerated the media’s ‘collusion’ with the DNC and said that Assange distorted facts when he said that he did not work directly with Russia. Now, they are publishing headlines like, “The government wants Julian Assange in jail. That could hurt the rest of us.”
The variance of opinion regarding Assange tells you all you need to know. Assange is not in anyone’s back pocket. In a way, he is an anarchic wild card, seeking to destroy any government entity that sits protected in an ivory tower. On the other hand, Assange is calculating, working to push government toward more transparent operations. In either regard, Assange’s work has removed many of the insulating measures from the interaction of government with the people they serve.
WikiLeaks and Assange have not shocked us with any of their content, though. We all have known that the political parties were run by an elite class and that our elected officials operate without their constituents in mind. We have always suspected that the country’s spy agencies have worked in shadowy ways against even their own citizens. We have also known that the media is largely in the pocket of the political elites and is easily manipulated by the government. However, Assange has offered us tangible evidence that these things are real and widespread.
Appearing in an interview with Ron Paul’s Liberty Report, Assange says that:
“The CIA is the organization that gave us Iraq, al Qaeda, the destruction of democracy in Iran, Pinochet, the destruction of Libya, the effective rise of ISIS, and the Syrian Civil War. So this is an organization that goes around engaging in actions that are either deeply incompetent or which – from even the perspective of American Power are counter to its purposes.”
This is not new information, it is simply that the media and the American people have pushed those details to the back burner in favor of trusting our government to protect us. When we question the actions of an organization like the CIA, the American people feel more vulnerable.
The corporate media and our elected officials are constantly selling us conflict with superpowers like Russia or China, or unpredictable entities like North Korea or Islamic terrorists. Our leaders rely on the fact that the American people will entrust our country to do what is needed to protect us, regardless of the cost. If our government wants to strip away our rights or sign lucrative deals with arms manufacturers, we are willing to give our consent out of fear that some external force is more dangerous than the one in place in our own country. The information published by WikiLeaks simply serves to remind us of that uneasy relationship.
Assange’s goal isn’t to promote one side or the other. He isn’t picking Russia over America or terrorists over our military. Likewise, he doesn’t favor a political party over another. His goal is to force the government’s hand into being better while simultaneously giving citizens the tools to ask informed questions of their elected officials. In an interview with Amy Goodman and Juan González for Democracy Now!, Assange says that he is simply trying to remove power from the political establishment and return it to the people:
“Party politics in the United States is something that everyone has to get away from, this creation of two polarities by different elites that then suck up all the political energy in the country.”
With all of that said, Assange is not perfect. He was not simply exiled to the Ecuadorian Embassy for his anti-government releases. His original legal troubles stem from accusations of sexual assault by Swedish authorities, which obviously hurts the reputation of the man some hail as a hero. He has also been relentless in his personal attacks on those that seek to discredit him. Controversial Swedish reporter and colleague of Assange, Johannes Wahlström, attempted to disparage the women at the center of the sexual assault accusations, in police interviews. Additionally, Wahlström’s father, Israel Shamir, a controversial journalist in his own right, has been accused of providing WikiLeaks intelligence to the Lukashenko regime in Belarus to round up and torture political dissidents.
Assange is indeed a controversial figure. He has, however, provided an unprecedented look into the governments that we know shockingly little about. Various political agendas have been championed and likewise destroyed by the work of Assange and WikiLeaks. Assange has equally little trouble taking down a Sarah Palin or a Hillary Clinton, a Fox News or a Washington Post. On any particular topic, Assange is not on one side or the other. When we ask whether or not we can trust Julian Assange, we must ask who is asking us not to and what agenda are they pursuing.
*This story was corrected to reflect that the sexual assault accusations were brought forth by Swedish police.