There's a reason why Bernie bros and Trump supporters love Julian Assange equally

In this latest tragicomic Trumpian scandal, historical revisionism is key

Rick Wilson
Thursday 11 April 2019 21:58 BST

Julian Assange, looking for all the world like a younger, scruffier Gandalf, was dragged bodily from the Ecuadoran Embassy in London this morning after finally wearing out the welcome his hosts had extended to him for the last seven years.

Shortly after the Ecuadoran government finally kicked the boy living in the cupboard under the embassy stairs to the curb, it was apparent this story would have more endurance than the usual insta-scandal that marks the Trump era. The deep involvement of Assange, Wikileaks, and their Russian intelligence sources with the Trump campaign and its allies means this story isn’t going away.

The legal challenges Assange faces are vastly less compelling than the political consequences of his current circumstances and how it reflects the present American political moment.

The squawking from Assange-backers today claiming his arrest is an affront to freedom of the press is a pure distraction. Journalists and publishers play a unique, Constitutionally-protected role in the United States, and the indictment brought against Assange has nothing to do with the content of what he published during the Chelsea Manning episode but is instead a very narrowly crafted criminal conspiracy charge.

Assange offered to hack passwords in a US Department of Defense computer system for Chelsea Manning to facilitate continued leaks of tens of thousands of highly classified military and intelligence documents concerning the early days of the Iraq War. Hacking — even by a journalist — is no more protected under the law than breaking and entering.

The Justice Department indicated that it reserves the right to bring other charges against Assange, which is likely one reason for the reek of flopsweat at the White House and among its allies today. Those additional charges could remind Americans of the close relationship between Assange’s Wikileaks and the Trump campaign, Donald Trump Jr, Roger Stone, and the president himself, whose own reliance on Wikileaks as a central pillar of his 2016 messaging should not be forgotten.

Make no mistake: Julian Assange was a willing asset of Russia in the 2016 election. He was a vital conduit in their information warfare campaign. The US intelligence community has long known this; even Trump’s current Secretary of State and former Director of Central Intelligence Mike Pompeo said as much in 2017: “It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is… a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia. In January of this year, our Intelligence Community determined that Russian military intelligence — the GRU — had used WikiLeaks to release data of US victims that the GRU had obtained through cyber operations against the Democratic National Committee. And the report also found that Russia’s primary propaganda outlet, RT, has actively collaborated with WikiLeaks.”

The Assange saga is also a window into the scrambled ideological politics of the United States in 2019. The most fierce defenders of Assange come from two seemingly disparate ends of the ideological spectrum.

First are the fans of Donald Trump, who understand that the leaks of Hillary Clinton’s emails were a political neutron bomb that exploded under her campaign in the closing weeks, the ultimate oppo drop.

Joining them are the American Bernie Bros and the Glenn Greenwald demographic of America-can-do-no-good types who look at anything that weakens US influence in the world as a net positive. American political ideology is no longer a line, but a horseshoe, with the extremes looping toward one another in an asymptotic curve of edge-case crazy.

Of course, no current American scandal cycle is complete without a risible level of historical revisionism on the part of Trump and his supporters. In a White House press availability today, the President of Lies said, “It's not my thing. I know there is something having to do with Julian Assange. I've been seeing what's happened with Assange… I know nothing really about him. It's not my deal in life."

History, the internet, and video evidence tell another tale. According to NBC News, Trump praised Wikileaks 145 times in the last month of the 2016 campaign. He tweeted about it repeatedly, making his closing argument against Hillary Clinton with the fruits of a very poisoned tree. Trump’s son Don Jr conducted ongoing messaging with Assange even after his father was elected president.

Trump’s loudest media cheerleaders — Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Breitbart, and others — treated WikiLeaks and Assange as the heroes of the play in 2016. They didn’t care about the Russian provenance of the leaks, only that those leaks were an expedient weapon in their hands. A cursory Google search would have turned up US intelligence and law enforcement community concerns that WikiLeaks was an asset of the Russian intelligence services; it’s not that the Trump team and his supporters didn’t know. They didn’t care.

America’s political system has become a swirling maelstrom since Donald Trump came down the escalator in his eponymous tower in the summer of 2015. We compress years into months, and months into days.

The arrest of Julian Assange is one more twist in the storyline of the reality television show we call The Trump Presidency. The screen is always on, the volume set to ear-splitting levels, and the rotating cast of villains, grifters, scandals, outrages, chaos, and political arson never stops.

Assange, for all his own quite evident self-regard, is still just a supporting actor in the tragicomedy of Trump.

Rick Wilson is a Republican political strategist, media commentator and the author of ‘Everything Trump Touches Dies’

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