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A Land Uncharted: the Persecution of Julian Assange

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

“The freedom of the press is not safe. It’s over. And I think our republic is in its last days, because unauthorized disclosures of this kind are the lifeblood of a republic.”

Daniel Ellsberg

The persecution and arrest of Julian Assange is the first and most definitive step toward full blown global fascism. The symbolism of a gravely ill journalist being manhandled by uniformed henchmen is the exact imagery it needed to send a chilling message to whistleblowers and the press. The assault and eventual dismantling of what remains of a free press has always been that first step, and it is what lies on the horizon barring mass dissent. For decades the mainstream media has acquiesced to the demands of the corporate world of high finance that now owns them outright and the military and surveillance state that informs their narrative. To be sure, many of them must be trembling at the events that unfolded in London.

That so many prominent American liberals are cheering this on is hardly surprising. History is replete with examples of how the privileged bourgeoisie are the first to capitulate to fascism. It happened in the 1930’s in Germany, Spain and Italy. It happened in the 1970’s in Argentina and Chile. It is happening now across the supposedly “democratic” western world. The animus they possess for Assange is not over his personal ethics, politics or affiliations, which are indeed open for criticism and debate. Like any human being, he is flawed. It is rooted in sore feelings over Wikileaks exposure of the machinations of the corrupt Democratic Party and their Wall Street favoured war hawk, Hillary Clinton. None of what Wikileaks revealed was untrue, but they blame the failure of their deeply flawed candidate on it nonetheless. They care little about the war crimes the platform helped expose through the courage of Chelsea Manning or the threat his persecution represents to press freedom itself.

That the fascist despot Trump has disavowed Wikileaks is hardly surprising either. After all, he may have used the leaks to his benefit, but the man who has relentlessly demonized the press will undoubtedly use this moment to his benefit again. Wikileaks as an organization isn’t perfect and, like any other media outlet, it is not beyond criticism. But nearly every major news outlet has used and published its material, without appreciation or gratitude, because it provided an unprecedented glimpse into the nefarious activities and guiding principles of the ruling elite. The veil had been finally lifted. But with the arrest of Julian Assange this makes all of those news outlets vulnerable to state or corporate repression and censure.

With the Trump administration chomping at the bit to launch a war against Iran and Venezuela, this must come as welcome news to them. After all, it was Wikileaks that exposed the war crimes of the Bush administration in Iraq, not the corporate media. So they can be assured little reporting, aside from a few courageous citizen journalists or those embedded with the troops who parrot Pentagon talking points, will be done to expose the Empire’s war crimes now.

Indeed, Trump has been given a green light with this one event to continue and expand the American Empire, moribund as it is, without reproach. And like a bloated corpse, it will undoubtedly infect and defile everything it touches. More brutal violations of the global south, more coups against democratically elected governments, and bolder acts of authoritarian cruelty at home. He has made no pretense of this. His minions, Pompeo and Bolton, are working tirelessly constructing the next war. And in the past several weeks he has purged his administration of monsters he deemed “too weak” when it comes to crackdowns against immigrants and asylum seekers. A classic tactic of all tyrants. He has anointed the rabid white supremacist, Stephen Miller, in this 21st century pogrom and has also toyed with the idea of making the military in charge of internment camps for migrants. Only a fool would not find such a thing chilling to the bone.

Indeed fascist leaders around the world, along with the military/surveillance establishment and their neoliberal enablers, are celebrating the silencing of Assange. After all, Wikileaks has represented a major thorn in their sides for a decade. From Netanyahu to Duterte to Bolsonaro to Modi and even Putin, all will be emboldened to expand their own attacks on press freedom. All of them will feel empowered to be even more unrestrained in their brutality.

We are on the eve of a sweeping, global, fascist tyranny. Thanks to the continued proliferation of nuclear arms, endless corporate and military assaults on the life sustaining biosphere, catastrophic climate change and the systematic dismantling of democracy, it is a land uncharted. Journalists, especially those who are independent of the corporate stranglehold, are being routinely and relentlessly persecuted and even murdered around the world. They are a bulwark against fascism we dare not lose. But the arrest of Assange is representative of a free press now under constant threat of annihilation. And it will without a doubt grow even more difficult for them to navigate through the mendacity of a ruthless ruling order that has become utterly unrestrained.