The MSNBC website’s caption for the recent pro-Assange Rachel Maddow segment was hilariously begrudging. The caption reads:
“as detestable a character as Assange may be, the charges are an assault on American press liberties.”
Now that many of the media propagandists who, for all intents and purposes, helped create the current crisis for journalism are being forced to backtrack in their war against Julian Assange, it seems insulting his character is their only way to even partially save face.
Indeed, they’ve gotten themselves into an alarming situation—one that all other Americans in the journalism and reporting world are unfortunately also subject to. It’s been revealed that the Trump administration wants to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act, a charge that specifically applies to his journalistic activities. Establishment pundits like Maddow are siding with Assange because this threat to press freedom has become too big to seriously deny, which makes the incident a bittersweet affair. Still, the U.S.’ move to prosecute Assange for espionage is backfiring in many ways.
The Intercept’s Robert Mackey has written about the consequence of the Espionage Act charge:
“The uproar could make it easier for Assange’s lawyers in the U.K. — where he is currently serving a 50-week jail term for violating bail — to argue that he is wanted in the United States primarily for embarrassing the Pentagon and State Department, by publishing true information obtained from a whistleblower, making the charges against him political in nature, rather than criminal.”
Such an action would be unlawful under Article 4 of the U.S.-U.K. extradition treaty, which states that “extradition shall not be granted if the offense for which extradition is requested is a political offense.” This may make Assange’s extradition to the U.S. less likely.
Just as important, media coverage and public opinion are now finally shifting in Assange’s favor. The Trump administration has gone too far in its project to set a precedent for prosecuting journalists, and it’s seeing the blowback. For the activists and online commentators who’ve been working to free Assange, the priority should be to make this blowback as big as possible.
We should use our personal online platforms to spread the now undeniable fact that the government is trying to jail and potentially execute a man for engaging in the routine journalistic practice of publishing leaked government information. This can get us to mobilize our friends, family, and social media followers in Assange’s defense. The ways to do this have been summarized in one graphic from DefendWikiLeaks.org, which lists the following actions:
-Inform yourself and those around you about the facts surrounding the Assange case
-Monitor media and correct misinformation with facts
-Contact politicians, unions, press freedom groups, human rights groups, and business groups about the need to defend Assange
-Organize events for Assange
-Promote and share WikiLeaks publications
-Donate to the WikiLeaks official defense fund
-Write to Julian about how much we appreciate what he’s done and what we’re doing to help him
These are exactly the kinds of actions that the deep state has been trying to prevent people from taking in recent years. In 2016, an era began where the centers of power found it necessary to wage an all-out war against dissent. WikiLeaks’ release of the DNC emails caused the corporate media to lose control over the narrative at a time when establishment politics was facing widespread popular opposition, and when massive inequality was causing a rise in social movements. This provoked a crackdown against free speech that’s going to continue indefinitely.
As Chris Hedges wrote in 2017:
“The elites face an unpleasant choice. They could impose harsh controls to protect the status quo or veer leftward toward socialism to ameliorate the mounting economic and political injustices endured by most of the population. But a move leftward, essentially reinstating and expanding the New Deal programs they have destroyed, would impede corporate power and corporate profits. So instead the elites, including the Democratic Party leadership, have decided to quash public debate. The tactic they are using is as old as the nation-state — smearing critics as traitors who are in the service of a hostile foreign power.”
Throughout the last three years, the big tech companies have instituted algorithms that drive down the viewership of socialist, leftist and antiwar websites. The recent anti-Russian hysteria has been used to create a paradigm where those who speak out against corporate power and imperialism are smeared as Russian propagandists. And the recent jailings of Assange and Manning has come at around the same time, when the Secret Service violently arrested Veterans for Peace activist Gerry Condon as he tried to get food into the Venezuelan embassy. Ray McGovern has judged the assault of Condon to represent a moment of “turnkey tyranny.”
In a 2013 interview, Edward Snowden popularized the phrase “turnkey tyranny” to describe a point where America’s system of government changes in a way that allows for the state to hold unprecedented control over the population.
Snowden predicted that at some point, “a new leader will be elected” and that “they’ll find the switch” to use America’s police and surveillance systems for more authoritarian purposes. Trump is that leader, and the campaign against dissent that the political and media class has embraced is enabling his push towards dictatorship.
Assange’s prosecution would be a major step in the process of turnkey tyranny, one where the illegality of basic acts of journalism becomes essentially codified. But if we free him, it will be a massive victory for the civil liberties movement, as well as for the socialist and anti-imperialist movements whose causes are, in all honesty, tied in to the fate of Assange. We must win this battle, both for ourselves and for the man who’s done so much to hold power accountable.
Recently, while in the notorious Belmarsh prison, Julian managed to get into contact with the journalist Gordon Dimmack and write these words to his supporters:
“I am defenseless and am counting on you and others of good character to save my life. The days when I could read and speak and organize to defend myself, my ideals, and my people are over until I am free. Everyone else must take my place.”
Let’s fulfill his request.