What, the world’s most ardent defenders of freedom want to know, has happened to Julian Assange? Just a few years ago, he was such an earnest fellow, who spoke all truth to power. Well-known liberals gave him airtime, centrist trade organisations gave him membership and middle-brow humourists gave him plaudits and harbour. Now, all that the honourable can offer him is their disgust. He’s a Russian collaborator, a spiteful traitor, a pussy-grabbing narcissist whose leaks on Clinton place him in precisely the same deplorable basket that emits the stink of Trump.

Julian. WikiLeaks used to be so nice. What happened?

Actually, save for concerted state efforts to keep the organisation from publishing evidence that the world’s systems have begun to fail, little has changed at WikiLeaks at all. It does the same stuff in the same way. This always low-cost, formerly big-impact publisher is going about its dangerous business as it always has. If anyone has changed, man, it’s us.

One of the dominant criticisms of Assange in recent years is that he’s a prick; that he’s arrogant and his ambitions exceed those that can be hoped for by a mere mortal man. Who knows? Maybe he is a prick. But — and, please, let’s just leave the matter of the largely dismissed Swedish allegations to this reliable account — this ought not to be our concern.

Persons in the business of shifting history’s course, for better or for worse, are not often known to be sweethearts. To apply pop psychology — did Julian grow up in a cult? Does Julian have a problem with the ladies? — to an engine of change like WikiLeaks is a bit like understanding the worst excesses of bureaucracy as the fault of its middle managers. WikiLeaks, as was always intended, has a life force all its own and, with or without Assange, it will continue to knock away at the locks on the iron cage of the world’s most influential systems.

[Clinton or Trump, the political is personal]

The Icarus narrative was, perhaps, inevitable. We love it when a guy flies too close to the sun and is undone in all his hopes for flight. If this were anyone else but Assange, he’d go on Ellen and apologise for his hubris. But, this guy, who has always rejected the liberal news cycle of self-improvement and redemption, won’t do that. Instead, he just releases his medical records.

Another dominant criticism is that he is so cruel and mad for power, he doesn’t care who he hurts. Maybe he even seeks to hurt everyday people. Where, people want to know, are the redactions? Of all the critics of this admittedly brutal oversight, Glenn Greenwald is the best. But WikiLeaks, an organisation whose funds have been actively blockaded by financial organisations, has rarely paused to meticulously cross out names. We’re cranky that some nice folks in the DNC had their email addresses leaked, but we were never so worried about the fate of the citizens of Afghanistan. This is not to endorse the potential WikiLeaks has caused for private pain — even though there is no proof that such a thing has occurred. It’s just to say that this is egg-breaking business as usual.

And then there are those claims that Assange is in league with Putin. These are out-and-out bullshit. Moreover, these accusations, now made by many individuals who believe themselves to be independent experts on international relations, feed the Russophobic propaganda so central to the Clinton campaign. I mean, seriously. The Russians are Coming. I’m old enough to have heard this one before and it feels to me as though Noam Chomsky has drawn a cartoon about how to manufacture consent, and the West has mistaken it for reality. In efforts to find a palatable electoral substitute for Islamophobia, Clinton, whose record as Secretary of State is just as interventionist as Putin’s, has us looking for Russians under the bed.

[It’s not easy to love Putin, but Clinton is no better]

One of the more curious criticisms is that WikiLeaks just isn’t releasing explosive documents any more. There’s this end-of-history view that liberal democracy under Clinton will be perfect once more, and aren’t we glad that Hillary has been exposed only as the hard-headed inspiration to the world’s working women she is. I have not yet read the documents published overnight, but those previous releases were “explosive” to some of us. Or they confirmed, at least, our worst suspicions. That Clinton has said to leaders of the financial sector that there is one story that she will tell to them and another she offers the people is “explosive”. That Clinton maintains her faith in Wall St as the site for universal prosperity is “explosive”. That Bernie Sanders never had a chance is also “explosive”.

Actually, some of Clinton’s own comments, including those in her own writing and on TV, are explosive. This is a politician who has been ardent in her support for the TPP, who has chosen a running mate who was still ardent about the TPP days before his selection and who has celebrated the brutal assassination, which included rape, of a leader whose absence has resulted in nothing but bloodshed. I guess if none of this publicly available stuff is “explosive”, nothing that WikiLeaks can offer can be.

WikiLeaks hasn’t changed. It’s still holding power to account. But, as we’ve now largely decided that the next President is a sassy lady whose hawkish foreign policy is not bad but only “just as tough as the boys!” and whose commitment to the financial sector is not just an extension of her husband’s disastrous policy but “the economy, stupid”, we’ve decided that WikiLeaks has gone bad.

No. We have.

Peter Fray

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