Given my druthers, I’d like to fashion a striking white robe and a pointed hat, mask included, for Julian Assange. I’m sure that somewhere in the linen closet of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London there must be a spanking white sheet and a spare pillowcase, of an equally white hue, that can be put to just such use. I am sure that it will go nicely with his fading blond mane.
Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 presidential for a number of reasons, some of them due to her limitations as a candidate. However, one of the reasons she lost is assuredly a combination of the “Comey Effect” (the FBI head James Comey’s release of a statement threatening action against the Democratic nominee ten days before the election and then its withdrawal on the eve of voting) and the incessant release of emails from either Clinton or members of her staff; in fact, the closer to Clinton the aides (John Podesta, Donna Brazile), the more likely the release by Wikileaks.
The Wikileaks effect was especially damaging because it was so relentless. A dump every few days, fuelling the fire – otherwise known as Hillary’s “untrustworthiness” (“Lock her up!” Donald Trump urged his followers at the Republican convention in Cleveland in July, a chant that did not ease up) – that was already fanned to a white hot flame by the denizens of right wing radio.
Trump’s right-wing radio promoters-in-chief, Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh, and, last but by no means least, Sean Hannity, had a field day with the Wikileaks releases. Their listeners, and the Breitbart crowd, ate it up and we now know what it wrought: a president-elect Trump.
At no point did Assange release any damaging documents on Trump. This from a supposed champion of free information; data gathering and its dissemination, in the Assange universe, has only one focus.
It is difficult to say if Wikileaks Trump dump would have had any effect, but there can be no doubt that the effect of the Clinton dumps was to install the most unqualified candidate in American history to the highest office in the land. With consequences to which Assange could not have been blind; in other words, his wilful attack on Clinton foretold the kind of violence that was happening right in his neighbourhood. Granted, a neighbourhood he is being forced to occupy against his will, but the effect of Britian’s Brexit vote on vulnerable constituencies could hardly have escaped his notice. Still, he persisted. The Other be damned. Collateral damage, making Assange the George W. Bush of the internet wars, in league with the likes of Steve Bannon, Rudy Guiliani and Newt Gingrich. Venerable company indeed.
Whatever Assange’s beef with Clinton, or, the Clintons, or the Clinton Foundation, there can be no excuse for this relentless attack on Hillary. Having seen the massive increase in attacks on immigrants, Muslims and other minorities in Britain in the wake of June’s Brexit vote, Assange could not have imagined that the effect of his attacks on Clinton would not unleash similar demons in the US. To make matters worse, the history of racism in the US has a much more violent history than in Britain.
What Assange did, then, was to sanction exactly this kind of violence. By “criminalising” Hillary, he gave licence to the core Trump supporter, a breed of political animal not known for its tolerance or regard for the safety and well-being of the Other. In fact, just the opposite. The vile rhetoric that emanated from Trump, beginning with the depiction of Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “murderers,” all the way through to the release of that now infamous Access Hollywood tape that, for all intents and purposes advocated predatory sexual behaviour, was taken up by his supporters. In the build up to the election, hardly a day went by when the likes of Hannity did not slobber over the most recent Assange assault.
Already, less than 48 hours after his victory, reports about attacks on gays, communities of colour, and other minority constituencies are on the rise.
Trump’s loyal followers, with their exceptional whiteness once again affirmed after the much detested Barack Obama era, now regard themselves free to reclaim “their country,” to reassert “their values” (of the Judeo-Christian variety, no doubt), to deport immigrants, to threaten Latino school kids with violence (that happened today – 10 November, 2016, in Orange City, Iowa; white kids in the schoolyard asked the Latino kids if they’d begun to pack their bags), to intensify the attack on black bodies, to traumatise gay couples with the prospect of revoking their marriage status (yes, local state boards are not hanging around for inauguration, they’re moving right on it). The list goes on.
Of course, Assange did not secure Trump’s victory by himself. No, even him and Wikileaks. The Trump core, composed not only of that by now-mythical figure, the “non-college educated white” (man, to be precise) but also those suburban college educated white woman and men who responded to Trump’s appeal to their whiteness, and especially those older white voters whose resentment is not, it turns out, anachronistic, but eminently of the moment, retrofitted for a new generation of disaffected whites, was already going full bore before Assange made his intervention(s).
But he can by no means claim innocence. He fed that beast and, in so doing, made more vulnerable those constituencies who have been, for centuries, historically subject to white violence of both the individual and the superstructural variety – the US state and its white citizenry have long regarded black, Latino, immigrant and gay constituencies as subject to their authority. The state, in the guise of the police force or as vigilantes, has acted with impunity against vulnerable constituencies.
Once again, that is the mood of the moment. Once again, vulnerable communities are bracing themselves for violence.
Assange and his strategic releases has aided this process. Young (or old) black men and women, Muslim women in hijabs or Muslim men who wear a fez, gay or bisexual or transgender people, Latinos and Latinas, the undocumented (how exactly does one distinguish one from the other?), they know, now as they have not for a while, that what beckons, what is already here, is ominous: it is open season on the Other.
This Assange has enabled. In mythical terms, if, in Harry Potter-speak, Trump is Lord Voldemort, then Assange belongs in the first rank of the Dementors – right next to Guiliani, Bannon, Chris Christie and Kellyanne Conway. Exalted company, indeed.
Is it possible for Assange to hide from his responsibility for this in the Ecuadorian Embassy when the violence escalates? It is, of course, possible for him to remain holed up for who knows how long, but his, let’s call it his moral responsibility, the ways in which he gave, continues to give, political weapons to the champions of whiteness, how will he dodge that? There is no refugee status for that. No, but, there is an extant uniform that fits him nicely.
Main Photo: Donald Trump’s ascension to the White House can, in some part, be attributed to the partisan information dumping by Wikileaks — Gage Skidmore