Likely Backlash Against Assange’s Self-Righteous Crusade

by Charles Platt

I’m getting an uneasy feeling when I watch Julian Assange using pretentious phrases such as “my philosophy” and “my work.” (See his latest interview, here.) It’s the same feeling I had when I saw the World Trade Center going down. A feeling that I am watching a golden opportunity for people in power to take away some of my freedoms.

Assange’s self-righteous crusade is sufficiently defiant, and is being done in such a pompous style, some kind of retaliation seems inevitable. Already the UN is on record as wanting to “harmonize” efforts to regulate the Internet, in response to Wikileaks. (See this news item.)

I am old enough to remember how publishers got rid of US laws regarding pornography. They fought a carefully executed, incremental campaign. Freedoms tend to be won this way, slowly but relentlessly, in small steps. Media whores who make grand gestures are not useful in this process. They just provide more fuel for backlash.

We enjoy freedoms online because resourceful groups such as ACLU and EFF fought and won test cases. How unfortunate it would be to see those freedoms squashed because of a prima-donna whose “philosophy” and “work” have been of negligible value so far. It’s important to remember that he is really just another content aggregator, and the material that he has revealed has not been of critical significance. Certainly not important enough to justify a battle that we are likely to lose.

20 Responses to Likely Backlash Against Assange’s Self-Righteous Crusade

  1. J DeVoy says:

    Charles-

    Off topic, but I only recently discovered and read your disembowelment of Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed,” which struck me as a mind-bogglingly stupid whine fest for the poor through the eyes of improbable circumstances (i.e. uprooting and moving every two months). I’m glad you wrote such an eloquent rebuttal.

  2. John Kindley says:

    Yeah. I agree. Until I read your post I thought Assange was a courageous hero who deserved our support in the face of the tyrannical retaliation to which he’s being subjected. But now he reminds me of Larry Flynt, who like Assange was nothing but a “pompous” “self-righteous” “media whore” whose “grand gestures” were not useful in slowly winning small incremental freedoms. And that stupid parody interview in which Jerry Falwell recounts his “first time” as occurring in an outhouse with mom? Not material of critical importance, and “certainly not important enough to justify a battle that we [were] likely to lose.”

    In exercising our First Amendment rights, we should be careful not to say or reveal things that are likely to provoke backlash or retaliation from “people in power,” lest they squash our freedom to watch online porn because some prima-donna took it upon himself to publish a bunch of insignificant diplomatic cables.

    • Zero says:

      In exercising our First Amendment rights, we should be careful not to say or reveal things that are likely to provoke backlash or retaliation from “people in power,” lest they squash our freedom to watch online porn because some prima-donna took it upon himself to publish a bunch of insignificant diplomatic cables.

      This attitude scares me. We should never have to “watch what we say” for fear the “people in power” will lash out against us. This is completely contrary to the point of the first amendment.

  3. John Kindley says:

    I mean, is this post a joke? A parody? If so, I’ve been had. Well done.

  4. [...] to The Legal Satyriconistas: You’re lawyers. You got class. Just because some of the people you represent might (or might not) have style doesn’t mean [...]

  5. So your point is that the guy might be doing the right thing, but because he is doing it in a way that might make powerful people angry, he is no longer doing the right thing?

    I can’t agree.

    I can agree that Assange may be narcissistic. I can agree that he might be doing this out of some inflated feeling of grandeur. I can agree that he might be a rapist (highly doubtful, but at least possible). But none of that is a reason to jump on the prosecution’s side because you don’t like his style.

    The road to liberty is paved with less than noble intentions.

    Your point seems to be that Assange has disserved the cause of liberty by over-exercising it or exercising it in a tactfully poor manner. I just can’t sign on to that point of view. In fact, I think that it is our responsibility to help sort out those who are elevating form over substance in this story. I am disappointed that you’re doing the opposite.

    • Clint says:

      Finally someone gets it right. The original post is unamerican.

      Maybe we would could have gotten through the revolutionary war in the 1770s with less causalities if we’d just taken smaller, measured steps, eh? Maybe we could have avoided the war of 1812 if we hadn’t pissed the Brits off. We should hvae done less, damnit.

      I wish there was a ‘dislike’ button.

      • Well, come on, lets not resort to the “unamerican” epithet. I think he’s wrong, but I’m not going to go there — nor let it go unchallenged.

        • Charles Platt says:

          If Clint will define “unamerican” I will be happy to respond to it. Historically it has been most often applied to communists, but I don’t think this is really what Clint has in mind.

  6. Charles Platt says:

    When you go up against the government of the most militarily powerful nation in the world, and it has a recent history of (e.g.) killing some civilians in foreign countries and keeping others locked up for years, it would be a good idea, wouldn’t it, to work strategically. Standing up and saying, basically, “I have a right to do whatever I like with your secret information, so fuck you!” does not advance the cause of liberty, any more than it helps to stand up in front of a heavily armed enemy in a battlefield and make an insulting gesture “because I have a right to do so.” It is not a noble act. It is foolish, and it risks _our_ liberties.

    Currently we enjoy exceptional freedoms online because the ACLU fought and overturned the Communications Decency Act in 1996. None of those activists and litigators, as I recall, sought publicity or made grand gestures. They did their homework, plotted their strategy, and used rule of law to force the government to abandon a plan that would have given it the same control over the internet that it enjoys over broadcasters. The people who achieved that are the ones I admire and respect.

    • Mark Kernes says:

      Seems to me there’s a difference between “working strategically” and knowing when you’re beating your head against a (figurative) brick wall. We’re about to have a Congress whose majority are the direct descendants of the folks who saw Communists under every bed, so OF COURSE they’ll be trying to take down a guy who publishes their “secret” diplomatic dispatches on the internet. It thus behooves us folks who still believe in the First Amendment to oppose such tactics, no matter what we may think of the person doing the posting.

      I think the jury’s still out (so to speak) on whether Assange is (by some semi-objective measure) a “good guy” or not, but it’s undeniable that he’s performed several major public services in exposing documents the government would rather keep hidden.

      I’d also take issue with your assertion that Assange’s posts have been of “negligible value” — just the fact that he exposed the Obama administration’s attempts to keep other countries (notably Spain) from indicting the war criminals living on our shores and under our government’s protection was valuable enough for me, not to mention the one justifying one of our contractors having young-boy orgy parties, and I’m sure others will find their own revelations of interest.

      Finally, since I work in the porn industry, the idea that “publishers got rid of US laws regarding pornography” is almost laughable. I attended one federal “obscenity” trial earlier this year in D.C. (acquitted), one in Tampa (guilty of 10 counts) and one here in Los Angeles in 2008 (to be retried after it was discovered the judge had porn on his website), and one in Phoenix in 2007 (guilty on one count; acquitted of several others), plus I’m in touch with one guy who ran out of money to defend himself from obscenity charges leveled in 2003, who spent a year in prison (as did his wife) for “conspiracy to distribute” obscenity. And this with no objective definition of what “obscenity” even is!

      • Charles Platt says:

        Well, I did say “pornography,” not “obscenity.” You know, it used to be impossible to buy a copy of Lolita (the book) legally in this country. We have come quite a long way since then. And the battles were won laboriously, over a period of about 10 years, pushing the limits one notch further each time. In the trenches, so to speak.

        I wish you the best with your legal battles. A book that I wrote was seized by the British Director of Public Prosecutions, and the publisher went to prison for three months, so I am certainly not taking these issues lightly.

        I think Assange is a “good guy” but has taken on more than he can handle, with no clear perception of the consequences. Someone else compared him to Larry Flynt, which may be apt, and I would expect Assange’s fate to be similar.

        • Mark Kernes says:

          Thankfully, Flynt learned from his run-in with the law (even though he lost the use of his legs in the process), and I’d expect Assange to do the same — not that I think he should be undergoing this persecution, er, prosecution anyway.

          Also: What book did you write that was seized? Sounds like potential good reading!

  7. Charles Platt says:

    The Tiananmen Square protester roused a wave of international sympathy, but I don’t think it was very effective at changing anything, in which case, this surely tends to prove my point.

    • jesschristensen says:

      I’m with Marc. Your argument seems to me to be that because Assange isn’t likable enough, and because he’s arrogant, he’s doing the rest of us harm.

      When-o-when have civil liberties been won by being polite? Aside from perhaps that “velvet revolution” in the Czech Republic, civil liberties are almost always the product of the blood and sweat and sacrifice of the people fighting for those rights (and often “innocent” bystandars too; but mostly the poor).

      Assange may be a narcissistic freak show, but so was MLK Jr. and Ghandi and Larry Flynt and … you name it. In fact, one might argue that perhaps it takes being a bit of a narcissistic freak show to have the cajones and the lack of good judgement and well-crafted strategy to act, to stand up and do the thing that everyone else is too sheepish to do.

      Will there be consequences? I’m sure. Will some of those consequences be unfair, or the result of backlash? Undoubtedly. At which point, the sheepish herd can choose to either submit or push back. Which is precisely how change is made. There’s no such thing as a prudent revolution.

  8. Simon says:

    Where in all this is the presumption of innocence for Julian Assange?
    We hear lots of rhetoric from governments about how bad wikilieaks is & how many people will be harmed because of the information being published – the jury still seems to be out on that one, but we never see any hard evidence presented against Assange. In fact, the Australian Federal Police have recently stated he has broken no laws in Australia.
    Is Australia’s legal framework that different from other “civilised” liberals democracies? I think not.

    Let the rule of law take it’s course with a fair trial before his peers with evidence presented that establishes beyond reasonable doubt his guilt or innocence

  9. [...] Wikileaks could very well lead to greater government over-reach. Comments (0) [...]

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