When Daniel Assange was 16, his father Julian asked him to be a part of WikiLeaks, the controversial group of internet freedom fighters that was then in its infancy. Sceptical of the project’s likelihood of success, and not on the best of terms with his father, Daniel said no.
“I never thought he was going to succeed,” the younger Assange says, four-and-a-half years later. “It was a ridiculous concept, that he was going to actually leak government documents to the entire world.”
As it turns out, the concept wasn’t so ridiculous. WikiLeaks.com is now one of the most consistently reported on websites in the world, and Julian Assange, the public face of the organisation, has become famous around the globe. However, despite his high profile, very little is known about Assange, the man behind the face.
As his only child, and one of the few people who have been privy to his personal life, Daniel, who has completed a bachelor of science degree and now works for a software design company, understands his father as well as anyone.
“I would say he’s very intelligent and has a lot of the characteristic troubles that are associated with high intelligence,” Daniel says of Assange. “He gets easily frustrated with people who aren’t capable of working up to his level and seeing ideas that he grasps very intuitively.”
It’s this high level of intelligence, along with a set of other personality traits, that Daniel believes gives his father the intense motivation needed to participate in an operation such as WikiLeaks.
“He’s always been interested in political activism in general, but he’s also had a great interest in science and philosophy and the general pursuit of knowledge, and the idea that this knowledge should be available to the entire human race,” Daniel says.
“WikiLeaks is the culmination of all these concepts.”
Having grown up in the midst of Assange’s mysterious world, Daniel believes that his father’s best quality as a parent was this desire to share knowledge and discuss it intelligently with his son.
“The one thing I found that I appreciated most was that he wouldn’t treat me like a child when it came to intellectual concepts: he would speak to me as though he were really trying to get me to grasp the fullness of an idea,” Daniel says. “I think that really helped me a lot in realising the nature of reality.”
Despite being the centre of a bitter custody battle between his parents, Daniel’s memories of his younger years growing up with his father are mainly positive. However, as Daniel grew older and Assange became more pre-occupied with his own pursuits, the relationship between father and son became more and more strained.
Shortly after asking his son to join WikiLeaks in 2007, Assange left Australia permanently. Since then, the two have had no contact.
Contrary to other reports, however, Daniel insists that there was no specific incident that led to the parting of ways, and holds no hatred towards his father now.
“It was just a general decline of relations,” he says. “I was getting into my late teenage years, and single father and teenage son don’t mix particularly well in one house.
“As for him not contacting me following that, it’s probably at least in part an attempt to protect me,” he says. “If it was known that I was the son and directly involved in some way, there was a likelihood of a direct retaliation, and my father was quite concerned about such things.”
Daniel believes that previous reports of him being “estranged” from his father have sensationalised the issue, and have also misrepresented him in other ways. The most blatant of these was an August 27 article by the New York Post, entitled “My Wiki dad’s just awful with the ladies”.
The article was based around a tongue-in-cheek comment that Daniel posted on a friend’s Facebook page, which said “that man does have a way of making a lot of female enemies”.
“Somehow from this they gathered that I was making some comment on his capacity to interact with women over the entirety of his life, which I think was a bit of a ridiculous jump,” Daniel says.
The New York Post did not interview Daniel or have his consent to use the comment, and mistakenly reported his age as 21, despite the fact that his Facebook profile clearly shows that he is only 20.
Since his father was accused of r-pe in mid-August, interview requests from reporters have been coming thick and fast. So far, Daniel has not commented publicly on the issue, but he has thought about it extensively, and is not convinced that it is a government set-up, as has been suggested in some circles.
“I wouldn’t say it’s an impossibility, but the general feel of the thing is that, because the women involved actually knew my father directly… that suggests to me that it’s more of a personal matter,” he says.
He is, however, unreserved in his belief that his father will be proven innocent.
“I haven’t seen any evidence that there was any actual non-consensual s-x involved at any point, so it looks to me that it’s just some sort of cultural misunderstanding or general social failure on the part of my father or the women that’s led to the situation,” he says.
As much as Daniel would like the Australian government to step up and offer Assange a greater level of consular assistance, he realises that, in the circumstances, this is not likely. In fact, given the nature of WikiLeaks’ activities, Daniel is grateful that his father is still alive.
“I am very surprised that the governments haven’t actually done what some of the journalists have been recommending, which is to just assassinate him.”
Regardless of what now happens in Assange’s personal life, Daniel thinks that his work should be remembered as groundbreaking and for the greater good.
“I think he’s been doing an excellent job,” Daniel says.
“His actions as a personal individual and his actions in a grand political sense are completely disconnected things, and they should be considered in that sense.”