Monday, April 15, 2019
Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, arrested: A look back at the wrongdoings of the prophet of anarchism
History sometimes swerves quickly. That's what happened in recent days, when Julian Assange was effectively ejected from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. He had been there since 2012 claiming asylum even as many Western nations were seeking to bring criminal charges against him.
The fact that he was ejected from the Ecuadorian Embassy means that he is now in the hands of law enforcement officials in England and extradition proceedings have begun in which the United States government, having filed official criminal charges against Assange, is now going to seek his extradition to the United States. The United States is not likely to be alone. Other nations are also likely now to bring criminal charges against Assange. He is now stripped of the protection he had had by diplomatic immunity after he sought refuge in 2012 in the Ecuadorian Embassy.
The story here just gets more interesting the closer you look. First of all, we're talking about the entire superstructure of what has been called WikiLeaks. We're talking about the revolution of information. We're talking about this entire movement that was actually labeled as whistle blowing, but turned out to be a cover for anarchy. And we're talking about Julian Assange himself, who turns out to be one of the most colorful, if distasteful, figures on the world scene in recent years.
Let's backtrack a little bit and understand why most people around the world came to know his name. He came to be famous before he was infamous. Famous because he was an advocate of open information. He gave a TED talk that was at the time considered a pretty important cultural milestone for the cultural elite. He was often celebrated by people, especially on the political left. One of the mottos of WikiLeaks and of others who follow the same kind of worldview is that information yearns to be free.
They also claimed a basic morality that came down to the fact that powerful institutions and governments should be exposed. They should have no right to private information. It was simply claimed that it was an act that benefited human flourishing and human freedom, if there were to be giant dumps of data. The left celebrated this enthusiastically. This also goes back to the fact that one of the major intellectual impulses on the left in Europe for the last let’s say 80 or 90 years has been anarchism. There's a history to that that goes back long before the last eight or nine decades, but especially on the left, especially in the student rebellions of 1968, and to be honest, many of those students rebels are now at about retirement age, and many of them holding to the same worldview that they held as teenagers and young adults. They are now retiring from senior positions and European governments.
You are looking at a massive cultural revolution. But let's remind ourselves of what anarchy is. Anarchy is a political philosophy that became particularly popular in the 19th and 20th centuries. It holds that the center of all meaning is the individual and there should be no social coercion of any form. There should be no social hierarchies, there should be no government that would have any authority to coerce the behavior of its own citizens. This is a danger that is spoken of directly in Scripture, the danger of having no government, having no authority.
Thus we see in Judges 17:6, the statement quotes, "In those days there was no king in Israel, everyone did what was right in his own eyes." That is a statement of God's judgment upon the people. They did not have a king and every man did what was right in his own sight. The Bible makes it very clear that that leads to a social disorder that is itself not only a rebellion against God, but something that is deeply injurious to human liberty. Human liberty, biblically understood is an ordered liberty. It is a boundaried liberty. The Bible makes clear that government is one of God's gifts. You see that even in the Noahic covenant, in which you would take some kind of government to fulfill the responsibility of justice that is mandated in Genesis 9.
Then of course, in the New Testament, you think of a classic text, such as Romans 13, in which Paul inspired by the Holy Spirit, makes extremely clear the fact that government as opposed to the non-existence of government is a gift of God to his people. The role of government is to uphold justice and to punish the evildoer. Jesus himself famously said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and under God the things that are God's.” Christians are sometimes tempted to remember the second part of that command rather than the entire command. Even as we are to render unto God what alone is God's, we are also to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, meaning the government. There is a legitimate claim upon us by government.
Anarchism heroes, especially in the 19th century, made efforts to overthrow monarchies and empires and existing governments. There were anarchist movements here in the United States that led to riots that were eventually put down by the government. Far more radical anarchist movements emerged elsewhere throughout Europe. If you look at the history of the 20th century, right down to the Bolshevik Revolution, right down to riots in cities in Europe, such as Brussels and London and Paris, you are looking at the threat of anarchy.
Julian Assange was a prophet of anarchism. He held up anarchy as a social good, and he intended to bring about the destabilization of the powers that be by the release of data that would be subversive to and injurious to governments, big institutions, big corporations, even big political campaigns, as Americans found out in 2016. But of course, Julian Assange, like everyone else has a history, and that history is very revealing as we think about the headlines these days. No newspaper's done a better job of dealing with that than the New York Times, especially last Friday in a front page article entitled, “A Divisive Prophet of the Public's Right to Know,” written by reporters Scott Shane and Steven Erlanger.
In their article, they cite the fact that going back over 20 years, going back to 1997, there was a book that was published and titled Underground, that dealt with the emerging hacktivist community. This goes back to the early digital age when groups known as hackers using a new verb to hack were breaking into vast government and industrial information systems, and in the name of human liberation, were at least attempting not only to break into those systems, but to release vast troves of information. Again, claiming that they were doing so for the human good.
That's one of Julian Assange's trademarks. It became one of the trademarks of both anarchism and the hacktivist community. We are doing this for human welfare. Of course, what this meant was often breaking the law and it often did not lead directly to human welfare, but rather to something very different. It is interesting to note that Julian Assange is not mentioned in that book by name. But the young Australian teenager is in the book. He is there under the name of Mendax. He was already known to the hacktivist community. He was already known as someone who was going to make a name for himself.
The name used at the time was my Mendax, that's M-E-N-D-A-X, which likely has a tied to the word mendacious, meaning to deliberately deceive. The Times reports in 1991 at age 20, Mr. Assange was charged with a long list of hacking offenses to which he pleaded guilty and got off with a fine and a warning. "There was just no evidence that there was anything other than intelligent inquisitiveness and the pleasure of being able to, was the expression, serve through these various computers." That’s the statement made by the judge at his sentencing back in 1991. Notice that the judge did not take seriously what he was dealing with. He thought he was dealing with an inquisitive teenager, it turned out he was dealing with someone who would eventually become an international mastermind.
The reporters for the Times also point out that like so many who were involved at the edges of the law and morality, Assange felt himself morally superior to others in the hacktivist community. He did not seek to sabotage, he did not seek to vandalize, only to liberate data according to his own morality. But of course, most people around the world who know the name Julian Assange know him because of WikiLeaks, a network relatively informal but also a series of events that included the fact that this activist community got ahold of vast amounts of information, and then released that information to the public.
But here we need to note something else. This was not an equal opportunity, hacktivist ambition, it was particularly directed at the time towards the United States government and prominent American institutions. We also note something else here, a couple of things in human nature. This is very important from the biblical worldview. Number one, anarchism doesn't work. Someone eventually has to lead even movements who say they are absolutely opposed to leadership eventually have to have leaders or they disappear. So, there is something of an irony in the fact that Julian Assange, who really did represent an anarchist impulse became something of a spokesperson and symbol for anarchism.
Something else we need to note is that when there is a big release of this kind of hacked information, it tends to please certain people and to displease others. We are living in a situation, and here Christians need to think very carefully, where one of the most precious commodity on planet earth is information. One of the most precious realities is truth. When you have a vast amount of information that is released, it's hard to tell right away or perhaps even over time, whether or not the information is true. But whether or not it's true, it is often politically, sometimes even militarily useful. This became a big issue, because much of the movement of the left at that time was in open opposition to United States military efforts, particularly the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. WikiLeaks included the release of information that was embarrassing to the government and to the military of the United States and its allies.
But we have to note that was not the immediate issue that lead Julian Assange to claim political asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. No, the primary reason was that the Swedish government wanted to arrest and try Julian Assange, not for political subversion, not for releasing information, not for hacking, but for sexual assault and rape.
Assange rather skillfully played that card indicating that it was a political persecution that was being driven by the political opposition of the United States. Why was he in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London? Well, it was because at the time, Ecuador had a socialist, very liberal government opposed to the United States and thus, it appeared to be an opportunity again to embarrass the United States of America. Why is Julian Assange out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London now? Well, it turns out there two reasons. The biggest reason probably has to do with the fact that there has been a change in the Ecuadorian government, that government is now seeking to be an ally of the United States, or at least on much friendlier terms with the United States and certainly not trying to take advantage of its North American neighbor.
But you also have something else, it turns out that Julian Assange, there's no surprise here, it has been known for some time, is a real jerk. He was a horrible guest. It turned out that not only was he obnoxious, even refusing to bathe or to take care of his cat and involving himself in protest against the very people who were giving him asylum, it also turns out that he was hacking his hosts. That you might say was a step too far.
As it happens, Assange threatened his Ecuadorian hosts and later, mysteriously enough, embarrassing photographs of Ecuadorian political leaders began to appear in the world wide web, out there in the great mega system of information. Ecuador had enough and on Thursday, they showed Julian Assange the door. But then we have to ask the question, what are the precise legal charges that the United States is bringing against Julian Assange? The charge is not the publication of information he did not have the right to release. No. Instead, it is more or less what amounts to a criminal conspiracy, in which he sought to help an inside intelligence analyst in the United States military to use a password that would enable that person to steal data, while impersonating a third party. That is the precise charge that the United States is bringing against Julian Assange.
How Julian Assange acts as the explosive center point for the cultural shifts on the morality of information, the #MeToo movement, and the transgender revolution
But that brings us to another big insight Christians need to understand on three different big moral issues. There's a huge difference between 2012 and 2019. One of them has to do with the morality of information and its release. As I said, generally when this kind of information is released, it makes someone happy, it makes someone else very upset. But eventually the tables get turned. When the initial release was made, the political left was extremely happy. The information turned out to be embarrassing to the United States government and particularly to the administration of George W. Bush. The left was jubilant. But then in 2016, the tables were turned when WikiLeaks became instead a threat to the Democratic Party in the United States, in which we now know infamously that WikiLeaks participated in the release of information that was extremely embarrassing to the political candidacy of the then Democratic nominee for the presidency, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
But then there was more than that, it turned out that there was a parallel interest between WikiLeaks and Russia, given Russia's own mendacity and involvement in the United States political campaign. The big issue we're looking at here is a change in the moral judgment about the release of information. By the time both the right and the left became embarrassed by the release of this information, and we're looking in the larger culture, Americans now tend all of a sudden to be very concerned about privacy, about the privacy of information, about not wanting this information to be released. The average American does not want to have his or her data released on the World Wide Web, even if it's supposedly is an effort to try to embarrass a huge multi-national corporation, which just turns out to have that data.
But there's a second huge issue that has shifted so much since 2012. This just goes by the hashtag, #MeToo. Back in 2012, remember Assange sought asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy because the Swedish government was trying to arrest and try him on charges of sexual assault and rape. He claimed that those charges were trumped up by American authorities. But the woman who has made those allegations is now asking the Swedish government to reinstate those charges. Just imagine how the situation is vastly different now than in 2012. No major political leader is going to be able to say, “We are not going to take those charges seriously.” Those are two huge moral transformations. But I said there were three, here's the third.
Well, let's look at the specific charge against Assange. It was working in cooperation with an individual who was then a low level intelligence analyst in the United States military. The big issue here is the moral revolution on LGBTQ issues. Perhaps you didn't see that coming. But that's because the person with whom Assange was working was then an army intelligence analyst known as Bradley Manning. But you'll notice an almost all the media, this individuals referred to as Chelsea Manning. Why? Well, it is because even during the time that Manning was in the military and later discharged from the military, even serving a prison term later commuted by President Obama, Manning was undergoing sex reassignment, claiming a female rather than a male identity.
One of the interesting things to note here is how many in the media simply refer to Manning as Chelsea Manning, even speaking of events that took place before Chelsea Manning was identified as Chelsea Manning. That leads to a very interesting quandary, which you would think would be troubling to the press. That is that if you take say, a story from the New York Times, having to do with Bradley Manning from 2012, and then you take the same newspapers coverage of the current issues, you will see two different names, with no logical explanation of the fact that this is or is not the very same individual.
Here is a part of the irrationality that is now simply being accepted within the moral revolution on LGBTQ issues. The T again, becomes the most morally subversive of all of those letters, in the sense that you now do not even know who someone is referenced in a story of international media consequence.
We've given so much attention to this story today, because it's not just one story. It's multiple stories and these stories are explosive in their ability to reveal so many of the most important worldview issues of our day. The revolution is in the morality of information in the #MeToo movement and now, of course in the transgender revolution, all of these find an explosive center point in the controversy surrounding Julian Assange.
His legal team made very clear that he is going to fight extradition to the United States. But as I said, you can probably see nation after nation line up in order to bring its own charges against Assange. But there's another point to be made here, and that is this. Anyone who has embarrassed so many people, so many governments, so many networks worldwide is a man who has too many enemies for anyone to handle. If Julian Assange had the slightest degree of an instinct toward self-preservation, he would probably turn himself over to American authorities, because actually in American custody is probably the safest place that Julian Assange could possibly be.
Authorities arrest suspect charged with burning 3 African American churches: Why we should celebrate when the system of justice works as God designed
But next, I want to turn to big headline news here in the United States, sad news of the burning by arson of three church buildings in just one parish in Louisiana. All three of them owned by historically African American congregations. This has gained a great deal of attention in the United States, a tragic story that should have our attention. The suspicion was and the evidence came in the burnings whereby arson they were intentionally targeted by definition, and the three churches were historically African American. Thus we had the burning of churches that was clearly making a racial statement, and around the United States, there was immediate horror at the fact that this had happened.
But here's where we need to note something. We often know when the justice system fails to deliver when you have a breakdown in the system of justice. We need to note on the other hand, when the system of justice works, when government, which is one of God's gifts actually works. In this case, apparently that's exactly what happened.
Erin Ailworth, reporter for The Wall Street Journal tells the story this way, "State investigators arrested a 21-year-old Louisiana man in connection with the burning of three historic black Baptist churches since late March. Holden Matthews of Opelousas, Louisiana, was arrested Wednesday afternoon on three counts of simple arson on religious buildings. Each charge brings a maximum 15 years in prison. The story then goes on this way in the Wall Street Journal, "Mr. Matthews, who is white is the son of a local Sheriff's Department employee.” Governor John Bel Edwards of Louisiana said last Thursday these were evil acts. This is a reflection of one depraved individual. This is not a reflection on the state of Louisiana.
Now, as the story goes on, you find the details about the three church buildings that were destroyed; the St. Mary Baptist Church, the greater Union Baptist Church, and Mount Pleasant Church. All three of them burned and destroyed by arson. The story unfolds telling us that investigators used a charred gas can and evidence of a truck and evidence drawn from cell phone records in order to put this one individual at the scene of all three of these church burnings, and eventually they were able to find an evidence trail that led them to make an arrest.
The New York Times reported the story this way from Opelousas, "While the victims prayed for the soul of whoever burned down their houses of worship, investigators rushed to assemble the scant clues worried the assailant would strike again." The story then goes on to indicate how law enforcement officials identified the suspect and eventually made an arrest. Almost all the major media identified demand arrested with words something like this. In this case, the words come from the Times, "A 21-year-old white man who was the son of a local sheriff's deputy."
That's actually big news. It's big news when you look at a justice system that is functional and operating, in this case, very quickly. You had the mobilization of law enforcement in this parish and throughout the state of Louisiana determined to find who was starting these fires, determined to prevent further churches from being burned and determined to prevent any harm that might come to human beings by this individual's crimes. And then you have the fact that the man was arrested was a white man who is the son of a deputy sheriff in the very same parish.
Now, that's important. It's very interesting. Almost everyone in the major media has pointed to this. But let's just point to the fact that when we are looking at the story, we are looking at the unfolding of an investigation, and now a prosecution that appears to be doing exactly what government should do. Now, when government fails, we tend to note it. When government succeeds, we need to note that too. This just underlines the importance of the fact that God has given us government, that government is assigned by God not just by the sovereignty of the people, the assignment to uphold what is just and to punish the evildoer. When government does what government is assigned by God to do and when in a situation with so much foment and controversy and with so many sensitivities, when you see government doing what government should do with every single circumstance in the story, crying out for detailed moral attention, then we ought to note such a fact. Again, to remind ourselves that government isn't just a good human idea. It is one of the institutions that God has given to us human creatures, because He loves us, and because a rightly ordered society is what He intends for us.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
I'm very excited about a trip I'm going to take this coming Fall. I'm going to be leading a teaching tour that will concentrate on the Christian heritage of Great Britain. On this tour, we're going to visit locations including London, Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh. We're going to be going to visit historic cathedrals, churches, abbeys. We're going to be in some of the most incredible historic sites available anywhere in the United Kingdom. We're going to be looking as students of history at not only what these places are, not only what happened here, but what does this mean? If you're a student of history, particularly church history, I invite you to learn more about this opportunity by going to albertmohler.com/tour. That's albertmohler.com/tour.
For more information go to my website at AlbertMohler.com, newly redesigned. I'd love to know what you think. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.