US authorities are reported to have prepared charges to seek the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. This overreach of US Government toward a publisher, whose principle is aligned with the US Constitution, is another sign of a crumbling façade of democracy.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo vowed to end WikiLeaks, accusing the whistleblowing site as being a “non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia”. He also once called Edward Snowden a traitor and claimed that he should be executed. This declaration of war against WikiLeaks may bring a reminiscence of George W. Bush’s speech in the aftermath of 9/11, where he said, “either you are with us or against us”, and urged the nation to side with the Government in his call to fight global “war on terror”.
In a recent interview journalist Glenn Greenwald put this persecution of WikiLeaks in the context of a Government assault on basic freedom. He spelled their tactics, noting how the Government first chooses a target group that is hated and lacks popular support, for they know attacking an idea or a group that is popular would meet resistance. He explained: “they pick somebody who they know is hated in society or who expresses an idea that most people find repellent, and they try and abridge freedom of speech in that case, so that most people will let their hatred for the person being targeted override the principle involved, and they will sanction or at least acquiesce to the attack on freedom because they hate the person being attacked”.
Demonising and scapegoating of a particular group or organisation is an alarming tendency toward an authoritarian state. At a news conference recently, Attorney General Jeff Sessions also chimed in to emphasize how Assange’s arrest is a priority. This targeting of WikiLeaks is a threat to press freedom and could be seen a slippery slope toward fascism. Here history is repeating itself. Recall the Weimer Republic just before the rise of Adolf Hitler. He was successfully able to install hatred in the minds of Germans and carry out massive crimes against humanity. Americans often wondered what made many ordinary Germans accept these horrendous acts that led to the holocaust. Now, in Trump’s America, it is not so far a stretch to say that Muslims, Mexicans and other immigrants are becoming like the new Jews, to be a scapegoated under this right wing administration. Once he gained power, Hitler made his word to be above the law. Trump, in his first 75 days in office, turned the rhetoric of hatred into action through passing executive order barring refugees and citizens from seven majority Muslim nations from entering into the United States and enacting mass deportation with the ICE agents acting like Nazi Gestapo to track immigrants.
In Hitler’s Germany, persecution of Jews didn’t happen overnight. It was a gradual escalation. The first thing Hitler did was to control media and create an arm of propaganda. In the US the Trump campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” spoke to middle class America and disfranchised populations who were fed up with corporate plunder enacted under Democrats. His message of putting America first also
This attack against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks is not something new. Consorted efforts to delegitimise the organisation through character assassination and smearing of Assange have been persistent, ever since the site came to public prominence. Assange was called a high tech terrorist by former vice President Joe Biden and incitement for his murder came from high US officials. Assange has been holed up in asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy for five years, despite a UN ruling clearly stating his detention is unlawful.
In the wake of the possible arrest of Assange, the ACLU noted that, “prosecuting Wikileaks would set a dangerous precedent that the Trump administration would surely use to target other news organizations.” We must never forget where hatred-driven identity politics led Nazi Germany. Martin Niemöller reminds us of this: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Whitney observed that fascism begins in the mind. Its seed grows whenever people accept hatred toward someone who has different or opposing views. Enclosure happens when people suspend critical thinking in the hype of fear and turn the other into an enemy. It happens every time when people close their hearts, shunning those who have been made into their enemies. Democracy dies whenever people choose to pick up the sword of ideology, rather than choosing to uphold their common humanity and instead engage in a self-righteous crusade of defeating the enemy.
When Trump signed a Muslim ban into law, outrage spread nationwide and people rallied at airports. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit refused to reinstate Trump’s travel ban and so the solidarity of the people won. Now, the US government is coming after WikiLeaks, a transnational journalistic organization, which has no allegiance to any nation, governments or corporations, only to the conscience of ordinary people around the world. In the darkness that hovers in the veil of ideology, whistleblowers shine a light, through which we are able to recover perspectives that were lost. WikiLeaks, through their act of publishing, lets everyone see views that are forbidden, marginalised or shunned. They are last line of defense and are on the front line in this battle for democracy.
Editor’s Note: From next week henceforth Global Politics column will appear on Thursday edition.