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The Cult of Assange


Michael Lind at Salon:

An invisible, stateless, global Panopticon, manned by hidden zealots subjecting everyone in every country to potential surveillance and public humiliation, is a Foucaultian nightmare. Here is the creepy message sent to Wired magazine before a wave of criminal cyber-attacks launched by supporters of Assange:

We are the clear logic used to unveil wrongdoing. The general public, clouded by misleading information mostly by the media with a political agenda, fails to see and understand this wrongdoing. Because of this, those who do the wrongdoing escape unpunished. Anonymous is here to ensure punishment does not go unserved to those who deserve it.

The masked vigilante Batman could not have put it better, in a note to the citizens of Gotham City. This juvenile posturing is worthy of the Symbionese Liberation Army or Subcommandante Marcos or the Unabomber. Or Julian Assange in his online anarcho-libertarian manifesto, according to which all public and private organizations are authoritarian conspiracies — except, of course, for his own organization.

Like other illiberal sects, the cult of Assange rationalizes its contempt for law and ordinary politics by dismissing the “general public” as passive fools brainwashed by the “media with a political agenda.” So much for democracy.

As in other forms of anti-liberal thought, like anarchism and fascism and Marxism-Leninism and radical Islamism, the central idea of cyber-anarchism is that society must be saved by a self-appointed vanguard of vigilantes who themselves are above the law and whose motives are beyond question: “Anonymous is here to ensure punishment does not go unserved to those who deserve it.” So much for liberalism, which dreads arbitrary power, fears hero worship and assumes that charismatic rebels as well as bureaucratic authorities are likely to be fallible, biased and corrupt.

Cult-like political and intellectual movements can be identified by their nonfalsifiability. Cultists deflect criticism by defaming critics. If you criticize Freudianism, you must be sexually repressed. If you criticize Marxism, you must be bourgeois or brainwashed by the bourgeoisie. If you criticize WikiLeaks, as I have done, you must be an agent of the authoritarian “national security state” or its brainwashed dupe. According to Assange himself, Mastercard, PayPal and Visa, which have refused to process money for WikiLeaks, are “instruments of U.S. foreign policy.” By the logic of the cult, the two Swedish women who have accused Julian Assange of sexual abuse can only be part of a global conspiracy at the highest levels to bring him down. The Birthers and Birchers and Truthers now have company.

I’m not going to add anything. Res ipsa loquitur. Let me just repeat this one sentence:

If you criticize WikiLeaks, as I have done, you must be an agent of the authoritarian “national security state” or its brainwashed dupe.


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25 Responses

  1. Ian Welsh:

    Still, I’ve really appreciated the Wikileaks imbroglio, not so much for the information it revealed, but because it has revealed the authoritarians for who they are.

    • It certainly has.

    • And the wannabe anarchists for who they are…people who ultimately don’t care about solutions or accountability. How’s that for a generalization. Almost as good as Ian’s.

  2. Oh snap, now you’ve done it. You could have waited for my popcorn to be ready. {sitting back and waiting for the fights}

    • I haven’t seen anything like this since 2007-2008 when the Cult of Obama was freaking out and flaming anyone who didn’t think Teh Precious was the greatest thing ever.

    • Did someone say a fight? Let me get some coffee first, as my gran gave me decaf and now I have a head ache. :-(

  3. The comment thread at Salon is a huge pie fight/flame war.

  4. You really think Lind makes a good case here? Honestly? I find it extremely weak sauce.

    The basic problem that Lind doesn’t even begin to address is simply that Assange has not broken any laws. None, zip, zippo.

    I am neither a starry-eyed fan of Assange, nor an implacable skeptic of him. I remain unconvinced by either side. (And the anti-Assange side really needs to do a lot better than this flaccid Lind screed.) But the facts are that he hasn’t committed any crimes, and that several of the leaks really did reveal truths that the American people needed to know, and were not told–for instance, the lie about the Yemeni bombing. And there were several others (and no, this information was not generally known, in fact the government went to great lengths to discredit journalists who tried to reveal it to the public).

    What he’s doing is journalism. Investigative journalism. Sadly we’ve seen so little of it in this country that we’ve forgotten what that’s like. But if Assange is a criminal, then so are the Pulitzer-Prize-winning writers who have uncovered government lawbreaking and lying like those at the Toledo Blade who broke the Tiger Force story. Should they also be prosecuted?

    So no, I don’t say that Assange is a saint, and I do question who’s behind him, and there is much that remains unanswered. But arguing that he did anything wrong is…it’s puzzling to me. Why is breaking the government’s silence wrong? Why is it wrong to give US, the people of this country, the right information?

    Again, I don’t know the answers to the mystery of Assange. Frankly I dont’ care about the alleged sexual impropriety–really, I don’t. Let Sweden sort that out. Why should any American give a royal rip? It’s distraction, it’s fluff.

    I am curious to know a little more about who he might be working with. Did he really make a secret deal with the Israelis not to publish damaging information about the SLC? If so, that’s worth knowing. Is he in cahoots with the neocon dream of bombing Iran? Again, that would be worth knowing.

    These are the things people should focus on imo.

    If there is a case to be made against him

    • What he’s doing is journalism. Investigative journalism.

      I think investigative journalism involves a little bit more than just publishing information that has been leaked to you.

    • If Assange is the future of investigative journalism, then we’ve really succumbed to lazy unvetted aspect of the web.

    • HONK!
      DancingOpossum I couldn’t have stated it better myself, but very happy you did! :-)

      HONK, HONK, HONK!

  5. Incidentally, the Toledo Blade reporting on Tiger Force won a much-deserved Pulitzer in 2004 (and is well worth your time reading as an example of outstanding journalism). Here is how the paper explains how it got the story:

    The Blade’s investigation began after the newspaper obtained 22 pages of classified Army records detailing atrocities by Tiger Force….Reporters reviewed volumes of research on the Vietnam War, finding no mention of the Army’s investigation of the platoon’s atrocities.

    They inspected thousands of declassified records of the case from the National Archives in suburban Washington and obtained hundreds of additional classified documents of the case. They also interviewed dozens of former Tiger Force soldiers.

    Are they criminals?

    • I don’t recall endorsing Lind’s argument that WikiLeaks is breaking the law.

      The topic of this post is the cult-like behavior of some of Assange’s supporters.

      But I think it’s a stretch to say:

      Assange has not broken any laws. None, zip, zippo.

      He hasn’t been convicted of anything, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be.

      The presumption of innocence and factual innocence are two different things.

      • Sheesh, myiq2xU you sound like the prosecution here, but I do give you breathing room as I know the Germany stint and all (RESPECT)! Oh, but that doesn’t mean I joined an WikiLeaks Cult!

    • HONK!

      DancingOpossum Keep Going…you are on a ROLL!

      HONK!

  6. The video below interests me, because I am concerned about censorship, FOIA, Civil Liberties, Freedom of Expression and a Free Press. Also, myiq2xu was it not already decided on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals here:

    Bloggers Gain Libel Protection
    Xeni Jardin Email 06.30.03

    The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last Tuesday that Web loggers, website operators and e-mail list editors can’t be held responsible for libel for information they republish, extending crucial First Amendment protections to do-it-yourself online publishers.

    Online free speech advocates praised the decision as a victory. The ruling effectively differentiates conventional news media, which can be sued relatively easily for libel, from certain forms of online communication such as moderated e-mail lists. One implication is that DIY publishers like bloggers cannot be sued as easily.

    “One-way news publications have editors and fact-checkers, and they’re not just selling information — they’re selling reliability,” said Cindy Cohn, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “But on blogs or e-mail lists, people aren’t necessarily selling anything, they’re just engaging in speech. That freedom of speech wouldn’t exist if you were held liable for every piece of information you cut, paste and forward.”

    So, this ruling protects us here, I would bet my morning coffee that it also will protect the basic tenet of the SunShine Press/WikiLeaks whether you agree with them or not, but would we be willing to go down the Censorship Slippery Slope?

    Cenk Uyger interviews Julian Assange 15 15Minutes –DylanRatiganShow-MSNBC 12-22-10.flv

  7. Myiq2xU,

    Miss Cleo has been busy?

    streamsWL Sidhe D’mento
    RT @MrNairobi: #2011predictions Julian Assange becoming president #wikileaks #cablegate

  8. OK, apparently I am here all by myself…just saw the top threads…

    • Well all the hip cool kids have noticed the “Recent Comments” list on the left side and just bounce along those, so you’re fine. But I think it’s late and it’s the holidays, so things are a bit slower.

  9. Woman Voter, thanks for your comments!

    I don’t want to belabor the point, but I think it’s valid to say that Assange and WikiLeaks are journalists, and to remind people that publishing classified documents is not a crime.

    The presumption of innocence and factual innocence are two different things.

    True. But what does it matter if Assange is found guilty in Sweden… a crime he committed in Sweden…to the U.S.? Or to what WikiLeaks is doing?

    • Very good question. And you’d think the focus of most people would be on the leaks, their value or non value, on protecting whistle blowing in general, etc., and not so much on the personality of this one guy, who may or may not be a slime ball, at best.

      I think the point of the post however is that for some reason, that’s not the focus. Instead the focus is on the one guy who can do no wrong. That is, another Obama following type thing happening. It’s very interesting and curios and worth discussing IMO.

      Separate from that are the leaks themselves. And there are some interesting questions about them as well. The push back from daring to question them and what’s happening seems to be more about daring to question the the new precious than about legitimate questions. Very interesting indeed.

      Keep in mind, I’m a pirate all for whistle blowing and getting the rights we should have by many means, some seemingly illegal. But at the same time, I and anyone else doing such things should be accountable and should not be blindly followed. Because if you blindly follow Assange or Obama or anyone else, even if they’re pretty good, you’ll likely blindly follow someone else.

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