Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Is there a WikiLeaks Cult?

Since the news emerged at the weekend about the allegations being made against Julian Assange, there has been a general sense of shock and disbelief.

The correct approach, of course, is to allow due process to take its course; for Mr Assange to have the benefit of the presumption of innocence; for the complainants in turn to be accorded respect as anyone complaining of a rape or molestation should be accorded respect; and for the rest of us not to jump to assumptions about the culpability or credibility of anyone involved.

However, since the news emerged, there appears to me that there is a couple of worrying aspects as to the reaction of some supporters of WikiLeaks.

First, and without any evidence whatsoever, there has been repeated claims of US government involvement.

The reason this conspiracy theory is concerning is that those who support WikiLeaks often claim that its role is to place documentation into the public domain for other people to consider and form their own conclusions.

Thereby, in the circumstances, it is at least odd for some supporters of WikiLeaks to assert as truth a theory which has (as yet) no evidential basis at all.

It makes one wonder what credibility such supporters have when they tell us what certain leaked documents mean, for these supporters seem complete strangers to any evidence-based approach themselves.

Indeed, some WikiLeaks supporters seem nothing more than knee-jerk conspiracy theorists.

Second, a minority of WikiLeaks supporters seem to find it appropriate that they should now smear and dig dirt on the complainants.

The assumption is that the complainants "must be" lying and have improper motives.

However, this is (in my view) a deeply sexist and unacceptable assumption.

And it is ironic that the only smears which can actually be documented so far are not of the US government smearing Mr Assange, but of some WikiLeaks supporters smearing the complainants.

WikiLeaks is a good thing. Whatever the outcome of the current investigation, any sensible person hopes that WikiLeaks thrives.

The complaints are being investigated; they may be dropped; or there may be charges.

It is too early for anyone to tell.

But if the enemies of WikiLeaks had actually wished to bring discredit on it with some smearing conspiracy, then they would not have brought WikiLeaks as much discredit as some of its supporters have managed by themselves in the last few days.

Are the conspiracy theories and the misogynist rubbishing of complainants really necessary?

Do some of its supporters really have to behave as if WikiLeaks is just a cult?


No purely anonymous comments will be published; always use a name for ease of reference by other commenters.


Anthony said...

Wikileaks isn't a cult. It's just another manifestation of the pathological hatred of the US that is so common these days.

David Meyer said...

You don't have to smear the complainants to point out how classic-smear-like the whole affair has been. The complaints and abrupt withdrawal thereof simply - as a whole - make no sense, other than as a smear.

The reaction of the Swedish authorities to their own state prosecutors also suggests this was not a proper complaint.

LR said...

When I heard this I did wonder if the US gov was smearing JA, hardly surprising as they have made it clear they want to get rid of him. As you say, though, until it goes to trial we can't really say anything about it.

A US smear seems unlikely as Sweden is hardly their closest ally (although you could argue that it makes a good place for an attempt).

Either way I'm pretty sure Wikileaks will survive this and in a way JA taking a knock might be good. It will remind people that there are lots of others working on Wikileaks, not just him

Torsten said...

David Meyer: on the contrary - it makes perfect sense. As you can read in the Guardian Assange had sex with two different Wikileaks supporters in one week.

If this is his normal behaviour, personal ramifications had to be expected. Add the Yellow press with good connections to the police and everything fits perfectly without any conspiracy and smear campaign.

Simon said...

Any organization, of any kind, will have unpleasant and unthinking supporters.

I'm surprised that anyone exposed to the internet for any length of time could continue to find this worrying or odd.

planetmarshalluk said...

"Thereby, in the circumstances, it is at least odd for some supporters of WikiLeaks to assert as truth a theory which has (as yet) no evidential basis at all."

It's not odd in the slightest. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has a threshold at which they are willing to throw reason and rational argument out the window and let their instincts drive their opinions. While we might all be better off if all arenas of life were run like a clinical trial, human beings are just not built that way.

It's all too easy to play the skepticism card until our own beliefs are criticized, and then it becomes doubly difficult to 'step outside' and judge ourselves by the same standards we would hold others to. I include myself in this, and I cringe when I look back and think of some of the childish arguments I've had when I really should have known better.

David Meyer said...

@Torsten - Well, we don't know if that's his normal behaviour, but then again the man, a nomad, does not live a normal life by most accounts.

I totally agree due process is needed, but that is precisely what has been denied Assange by the sudden, unexplained withdrawal of the complaints. Again, this is how smears work - to point this out is not to malign the complainants personally, as we simply don't know for sure what happened.

Daniel C said...

I must admit my first reaction, taking into account the appropriate timing of it all, was to assume that Assange must be innocent (without intentionally putting the blame on either the complainants or the US authorities).

The overall point though, "Don't Assume Anything", is of course correct.

However I do disagree with your use of "mysogynist rubbishing" or "deeply sexist" to describe challenging of the complainants. Isn't that itself a sexist assumption, that all challenging/questioning of them has come from men?

There are indeed questions to be asked of the complainants, particularly with regard to the timing of it all; one place immediately springing to mind is Madam Miaow's blog at - and as stated there, the complainants themselves would be "guilty of trivialising serious misogyny" were it to turn out that Assange is guilty of nothing more than two-timing.

Again, I agree that to jump to conclusions/conspiracy theories is wrong; these women may indeed be victims of a serious crime; but to deny there are (IMHO reasonable) questions to be answered on both sides (or to assume they are sexist or mysogynist) is also, in my opinion, the wrong attitude in this case.

Robert Morgan said...

Unlike you, I haven’t seen much comment from the wikileaks nutters, it sounds like much of it was unpleasant. My knowledge about this is all from news sources.

It seems you’re confusing several different positions. Obviously, the correct thing to do if you are the Swedish justice system is to allow due process to take its course – anything else would be quite wrong.

You as a legal blogger probably ought to do the same. This always seems to be your approach.

Furthermore, anyone who knows the complainants, or can expect to be overheard by them, should of course treat these serious accusations with compassion and care.

But the rest of us are just watching all this unfold on the internet. We have the luxury of being able to make a rational assessment of the facts. Not just the facts of the case, ALL the facts. Assange essentially put the world’s biggest bullseye on his head a few weeks ago. Pentagon sources have been openly after him, briefing amongst other things that they had the right to arrest him on foreign soil.

Some kind of legal challenge, dirty trick or smear campaign was not hysterical fantasy. It was widely expected, and happened more or less immediately. When third party commentators are therefore sceptical, that’s not conspiracy theory, that’s Bayes’ Theorem.

Which is not to say I think these claims are false, just that we can bring more to bear than can the police.

I’m really making only one point here, which is that the fact there’s a price on his head, and he’s gone to battle with a superpower, changes the dispassionate analysis of the facts for those who can afford themselves that luxury.

It’s a shame the wikifreaks have been so unpleasant, but the tone on your side has at times been just as shrill. The complainants must be treated fairly and due process must take place. But to paint the other side as misogynist, or somehow calling these women “sluts”, just because of doubt brought on by the wider picture, seems to drag everyone down to the gutter.

Charon QC said...

1. Due process in all criminal cases is essential

2. A nonymity is an issue which may well lead to fairer trials generally - there does seem to be an element of trial by blog, twitter, newspaper if details are provided in advance of trial - but that is a complex issue and not one I am addressing in this brief comment

3. I don't see the sexist (your point on twitter) or mysogynist point - I see why you are saying it for the purpose of your blog post - but I don't see the issue as raising either issue. Perhaps I am being less then helpful or just dense. Probably the latter. Open to opinion on that, of course.

4. Freedom of information and speech carries with it responsibilties (the plural is important?) for accuracy and protection of the rights of others? I may have missed the point, of course, on these ideals.

Perhaps freedom of speech means freedom of speech for the writer, the blogger, the tweeter, the drunken libertarian - the dystopian - to say and reveal what he / she / it (we must not discriminate against entities)wishes to reveal ?

5. I am not sure of my position on the Wikileaks revelations yet - let alone the latest situation. So, I shall reserve a view on that, simply because I find it quite useful, late in life, to take into account information and thoughts before coming to a view - and even then, I don't always feel the need to express a view - because I don't happen to think that my view is that important. if I did - I would have gone into government or media.

I often agree with your analysis - but on this one... simply not made my mind up. Hey... I'm a bit slow - it is August.

Ian said...

Robert Morgan: "briefing amongst other things that they had the right to arrest him on foreign soil"

This is correct in US law. Archaic provisions in US law related to bounty hunters permit this. Obviously this doesn't alter other jurisdictions view of this as kidnapping (cf. Italy and the CIA) or even potentially as a causus bellus.

One point that hasn't been raised, and certainly has evidential value, is the public announcement of the charges by the Swedish authorities. Normally where one sought to arrest someone, particularly someone as mobile and peripatetic as Assange, you would keep the knowledge of the arrest warrant to a restricted audience. That is if you wished to successfully arrest them. If you wished to discredit or smear them, publishing the charges would be the natural course of action. That the Swedish authorities published isn't probative of malice in itself but is, in my opinion, highly suspicious.

rushyo said...

In my mind there are four factors which raise suspicion to a reasonable level.

1. There have been substantiated rumours of US intentions to discredit Wikileaks internationally for years.

2. The chief prosecutor Eva Finne had stated "I don't think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape"

3. The timing is atrocious is it not? The world hears about Assange... and suddenly he's committed multiple crimes. That will always makes people suspect foul play - quite reasonably.

4. Crying 'rape' is something that, unfortunately, is a real fact of the world. People have been known to do it for incentives - I know a few people in my own life who have been affected by it, so imagining it happening to one fellow seems quite reasonable.


Of course the correct response is to let process take its course. Unfortunately, if he is proven completely innocent he will still have his reputation sullied. Due process cannot remedy or reverse that. That's how a smear campaign works... and it would be a gross abuse of the judicial system - it's annoying to imagine that no one would be held to account if that were to happen because, purportedly, they are beyond reasonable suspicion.

Barry de la Rosa said...

@Simon: I don't find it odd, but I still find it worrying.

Sandrine Lopez said...

I think wherever you have a degree of hero worship, and I'm sure a lot of people consider Julian Assange a hero, you get a cult following - a small but very devoted group who see no wrong in either a person and/or group. Admittedly, Assange is in the public eye now like a modern Robin Hood, stealing from the arcane and giving to the uninitiated. But he is still human, and if anything no matter how you view it, the incident in Sweden - whether it was deliberate or accidental smear, or a series of unfortunate and coincidentally timed events - it proved this point superbly. He can make mistakes.

For the record, I still believe we need sites like WikiLeaks while our governments, armies, corporations and finicial institutions continually fail to be honest and transparent. But perhaps now, more than ever, any 'cult' or 'hero' following of Assange and WikiLeaks should take an objective look at them too and not put them on to high a pedestal. I'm not saying 'down with WikiLeaks or Assange' either. I want them to remain objective and keep revealing wrongs, but - as with Jack of Kent - let's keep things in a proper perspective as much as, dare I say it, humanly possible...

Gwenhwyfaer said...

"People have been known to do it for incentives - I know a few people in my own life who have been affected by it"

Are you absolutely sure about that?

luna17 said...

An unfortunately misguided post, in my view. The real issue - and scandal - here is the disgraceful smearing of Julian Assange, which cannot in any way be justified. Re-framing the whole business in the way attempted above just isn't good enough.

Why have most people suspected the involvement, directly and indirectly, of US authorities? Because that's what it looked like. There are people in the US administration who have made their desire to destroy Assange and Wikileaks very clear (see Pilger's article on this in New Statesman).

You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to recognise the pernicious role played by US intelligence services in many different countries, and through a variety of methods.

Finally, this post is the first time I've encountered any suggestion of people attacking the women involved. I haven't actually encountered any examples of that (any evidence to offer?). Raising such an issue looks to me like an irrelevant distraction.

Torsten said...

David Meyer:

"Well, we don't know if that's his normal behaviour, but then again the man, a nomad, does not live a normal life by most accounts."

I agree. I wanted to emphasize: the complaints are not unplausible. Even if we assume Assange is not guilty - his social situation is prone to attract difficulties.

"I totally agree due process is needed, but that is precisely what has been denied Assange by the sudden, unexplained withdrawal of the complaints"

The complaints have not been withdrawn. Assange is not accused of rape anymore, that's all. The investigations continue.

SadButMadLad said...

Guilty or not guilty, it doesn't change the fact that Julian Assange is the key person in Wikileaks which has been key in highlighting the abuses carried out by officials in power.

The fact that someone has done something bad doesn't hide the fact that they could also do something good. For instance George Bernard Shaw was in favour of Eugenics but wrote absolutely brilliant stories.

Torsten said...

"Why have most people suspected the involvement, directly and indirectly, of US authorities? Because that's what it looked like. There are people in the US administration who have made their desire to destroy Assange and Wikileaks very clear (see Pilger's article on this in New Statesman)."

It's good to keep your head up. But there is a difference between prudent suspicion and outright ignorance. There is absolutely no evidence for involvement of the US government yet. The CIA does a lot of atrocities, but this plot is a little bit above their heads.

How could they lure Assange to have sex with two different woman in three days when Assange was warned as he claims now? And the CIA does not like to go on record in allied countries.

charlesbarry said...

It has been suggested that a good rule of thumb in these situations is to look for "cock-up" rather than conspiracy.

It seems to me like the Swedish prosecutors got their wires crossed and told the press conference they were charging JA with rape, not molestation. Only when they came on air did the back-room boy tell their superior what they had actually meant to say.

Of course, none of this detracts from the fact that JA is now charged with molestation, still a serious offence in itself.

As for the supposed US involvement, I have to laugh. There literally is no evidence of any of it and anything that anyone says to the contrary on this comments page has either got a hot-wire to President Obama or is just making shit up.

rivqa said...

You are correct insofar as legal proceedings go, but trial by media is a different thing.

It does all seem fishy but I think greater care to keep high-profile arrests quiet is worth considering. Whether or not a smear is Pentagon-planned, this will function as one if he is innocent.

GT said...

How strange that folks might think that a rape allegation that was rushed to print (leaker-to-press unknown, but the police and prosecutor seem untarnished) and then fell apart in 100 minutes, might have the US government 's grubby pawmarks on it.

I mean obviously 'serious people' - who think that the carnage being perpetrated by the US is something about which one must talk qquietly over canapés - can't 'rush to judgment'... your job is to be 'serious' until every fact of the case is known (and the reputational damage, if any, is done) and then tut-tut about it in hushed tones.

As someone who has been the target of trumped-up accusations (of anti-semitism and holocaust denial in France, for writing that laws against revisionism were silly if revisionism was silly and had no place in civilised society), I am certainly one of those who will screech like a scalded cat when I see a smear in progress, and I will mock those who give it oxygen as it collapses in real time.

And 'serious' pundits will sit on the sidelines until it's all over, and then go back to discussing the quality of the smoked salmon in the fingerfood.

Meanwhile, us crazies are going to stop the political class from continuing to perpetrate crimes against humanity... and people who work within tyranny's machine will leak to us, everything we need to fend off every smear that is attempted.

Not to put too fine a point on it: For a soi-disant 'skeptic', you're awfully good at retweeting self-interested puff pieces from American rags wherein the Pentagon and the smearers's advocates self-exculpate. or you were until yesterday.

I'll post this to my own blog in case it's too anti-semitic for yours...



Alex B said...

I find it interesting that a lawyer could state "WikiLeaks is a good thing. Whatever the outcome of the current investigation, any sensible person hopes that WikiLeaks thrives."

Whilst undoubtedly WikiLeaks has released some interesting documents, and some of these have been in the public interest, the unquestioning assignment of "good thing" to WikiLeaks needs examining.

In societies with a functioning rule of law (I would include the US, the UK and most of Europe in this category) there should be things the state can hold secret and these should only be released under due process. I cannot imagine Jack would approve of sensitive court documents being splashed around the internet pre-trial, nor can I imagine him being particularly supportive of the names and addresses of witnesses or jurors being released if this would cause them threat.

I understand that WikiLeaks claims to be "responsible" in releasing documents and that they will redact information that may threaten harm. However, in many cases only the originator of sensitive documents truely knows what makes them sensitive. Without a competent body to balance the right of the state to keep sensitive data secret against the right of the citizen to monitor the state's activity it seems we would be going down a very dangerous path.

By all means argue for stronger FOI legislation and argue for those who conceal information to be held to account; however, I cannot believe that you are arguing for the unaccountable anarchy that WikiLeaks espouses.

Lifewish said...

It's not paranoia if they really are out to get you. Various branches of the US Government have the capacity to make life hell for someone like Assange who causes them trouble. I'm thinking particularly of the CIA (remember Castro's exploding cigars?)

Or it could have been the Scientologists. They have a documented history of harassing people who publish their stuff. I'm sure there are other people Assange has annoyed.

That said, remember the old saying: once, chance; twice, coincidence; three times, enemy action. We're still only on "once" here. There's certainly no justification for acting like an asshole on the basis of conjecture.

pb said...

Jack, I wondered whether this might not be a PR/smear vaccination strategy: get people on your own side to trump up charges that get outed as groundless (hence look like a smear) to back up what you've been claiming for weeks: you are going to be the target of a smear campaign and nobody should pay any attention. Thus, this is 'proof', and now every bad news, smear or otherwise, won't go viral because the public and media have been 'vaccinated' to be sceptical.

maclauk said...

The reason so many people were initially sceptical of the rape claims was because everyone who had taken an interest in Wikileaks in the past few months was waiting to see if something would happen to Assuage. And the rape charges certainly looked like the something we were waiting for.

Then the charges are retracted the same day they were announced which is hardly normal practice so there is little surprise that some more excitable people took it a bit far.

That being said I had not come across posts by mega conspiracy theorists, nor attacks on the accusers but I would be astonished given the nature of the internet if they were not there.

I was, however, surprised by the strength of your blog on the issue. Yes due process should be allowed to take place but the coverage I have seen has not argued against this.

piratebrido said...

I of course don't know if Julian Assange committed a crime or not, but the whole affair confuses me. How does it impact on wikileaks? If Julian Assange does become a convicted rapist, does it really impact the legitimacy of what wikileaks is doing, or has done. It won’t make the leaked documents any less true. Am I overlooking something?

Niklas said...

I have to agree with Jack of Kent - let the Swedish legal system process the allegations and decide whether to bring him to trial. And wait for evidence beyond the circumstantial before crying "American wolf".

In answer to some comments above (in particular luna17), simply stating that the allegations are a "smear" as if it is the complete truth is an attack on the women involved. If it is a smear orchestrated by the US then the women must have been "honey traps" and thus essentially paid to cause a miscarriage of justice. Surely that in itself is a serious allegation of a crime?

Oh, and I've just found Craig Murray trying busily to discredit Assange's accusers. One of them is *shock horror* "a feminist lesbian who owns lesbian night clubs": I would like to know how Mr Murray thinks that is relevant. As a victim of sexual smears himself he should know better than to try to blacken someone's name that way. Disgraceful.

Niklas said...

Two important factual points to bear in mind as well:

1) The lawyer acting for both women, Claes Borgström, has appealed against the Chief Prosecutor's decision and says that both cases should be treated as suspected rape. He has read the transcripts of the interviews police had with the two women, but comes to different conclusions from Prosecutor Eva Finné. See: and (in English)

What I find remarkable is that Mr Assange still doesn't seem to have been interviewed by police as of yesterday.

2) The definition of rape under Swedish law is rather wider than in most other European countries, essentially covering any coercive sexual intercourse or exploitation of someone unable to give consent (e.g. asleep or very drunk). So the blogger who describes forcing women to have sex without a condom as a "violation" but not rape is probably not accurately reflecting Swedish law: to my knowledge that would be considered rape.

Lifewish said...

If Julian Assange does become a convicted rapist, does it really impact the legitimacy of what wikileaks is doing, or has done.

No, but it would seriously damage their funding, impact their credibility with the general public (who on average aren't as rational as you), screw up their organisational structure and in general make it difficult for them to proceed. There is a real danger that wikileaks would cease to exist as an organisation.

So, if he is innocent, it's worth getting defensive about.

Nick Gordon said...

The BBC reports today (1 September ) that a Swedish prosecutor (apparently more senior than either of those previously engaged) has reopened the investigation on the basis that there seems to be something worth investigating. The report says that one of the women concerned has pushed for this.

Perhaps if we had a proper and full investigation, we could actually garner some data to settle the debate between the "US dirty tricks" and "I always knew he was a wrong'un) schools of thought.

Not that facts ever spoiled a good conspiracy theory