People who challenge power are often viewed by their supporters as more icons than human beings thus missing the personal costs of their actions, a reality that Julian Assange’s mother revealed to Randy Credico and Dennis J Bernstein.
By Randy Credico and Dennis J Bernstein
June 19 marked the fifth full year that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange spent at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he was given asylum against the threat of arrest from a Swedish prosecutor pursuing a sex-abuse investigation (since dropped) and possible extradition to the United States for a potential espionage charge related to publication of U.S. secrets.
To gain insights into what this long ordeal has meant to Assange, an Australian native, Randy Credico of WBAI’s “On the Fly” and Dennis Bernstein of “Flashpoints” on Pacifica Radio interviewed Assange’s mother, Christine Assange. The interview also explored the deep history that led her son to found Wikileaks and to challenge the enormous powers of the U.S. and British governments by exposing the truth about their dangerous, deadly and often illegal policies.
Randy Credico: I guess I should begin by asking, how long has it been since you’ve seen your son Julian?
Christine Assange: A number of years, but we communicate.
RC: Yes, you communicate, but it’s not the same, so far away. It must be difficult. I mean he’s not in prison, but it may as well be prison. I know for a mother to be separated from her son like this, it must be grueling, and a difficult row to hoe on a daily basis.
CA: It is. It’s very hard to put into words this experience that we’re going through over the last seven years. There have been periods where I’ve coped and periods where I haven’t. It tends to go up and down, as I guess Julian does as well. And it’s very hard to communicate with your son when you know that every phone call that you’re making, every text that you’re sending, is being listened to. Or even a letter that you write. You end up feeling that it’s almost useless trying to communicate anything real.
RC: That must really take its toll. So it will be five years [on June 19th]. Five years! Can you believe that he’s been there for five years at this point in time?
CA: No, the idea is horrifying to me actually. I mean we know that he’s been detained for seven years without charge, but five of those have been in the Ecuadorian Embassy [in London], and we thank the people of Ecuador for their protection.
But during those five years, Randy, the U.K. government and the Swedish government have refused all of Julian’s requests for the normal one hour a day of life-giving fresh air, exercise and sunshine. It’s a human right abuse of the grandest order.
Anyone who is involved with rights of refugees around the world should be highlighting his case. Here we are in the Western supposedly free world, interning someone without charge, and then denying them the rights that even people in Third World prisons get, including the right to have medical tests. He had a very bad shoulder with bad chronic pain for years, and they refused to allow him to have an MRI test.
Dennis Bernstein: Let me just ask you this question: do you remember the last time you were able to give your son a nice big hug?
CA: Yes, four years ago.
DB: Could you tell us what you remember about it?
CA: It’s hard keeping up with all the fighting, Dennis. It’s very hard to explain. But I got a big hug when I left. I was only there for a few weeks. I’ve actually got a few things here that I’ve got to look after. But probably the best time I remember him is the one with the picture you’ve got on your show, of me and him with his arm around me. That was when he’d just gotten out of prison, and I’d gone over there to campaign for him.
And we were out in the snow, at about 3 o’clock on the morning, outside of the place that he was staying. And that was with an Australian television crew and we were all Aussies together in that moment. And I was giving him a big hug, and they were cheering, and it was a really good moment. It all feels so far away, and so foreign for us all to be there together. And for me to hold Julian, with his countrymen around giving support, was a really good moment.
DB: And now that we’ve got Julian’s mom on the phone, could you talk a little bit about … the first clue that he was going to be perhaps an interesting person, a troublemaker, or somebody who was really interested in public affairs? How do you remember that beginning?
CA: Well I don’t think there was any one point at which it happened. Julian had always been an incredibly curious child, and always wanted to know why — wanted to know how things worked. And I actually encouraged that in him as a child. He would ask how something would work, and rather than say, this is how it works, I would ask him, how do you think it works?
And then we would explore theories at his age level about how something would work, and he was very turned on by all that. I also read him a lot of books. From the time he was a baby, he was read books every day, from fairy tales, to Greek legends, to the adventure heroic classics — Tarzan, for example, where good was trouncing evil, and there were heroic adventures.
The justice part of it was not to any form of ideology, it was just about showing empathy and fairness in everyday life. So I think all those things together — and he came from a creative background — all that enabled him to sort of explore justice, and the power to change.
Then he wanted to know how the world worked. He wanted to be a physicist because he wanted to get to the bottom of it. And he went to university for physics and was disappointed that most of the job opportunities involved working for the US government, developing weapons, etc., and so he wasn’t very happy with that.
And then the next thing I remember, we were having a discussion about the ills of the world and what could make a change in the world and I asked him, what do you think would lead to a change? And he said he thought there are two possibilities: one was a cataclysmic event that knocked some sense into people because they’d have to really look at their environment.
The other one was technology. And I think Wikileaks was the result of the technology that he saw would change the world.
DB: You said something very interesting: that it wasn’t about grand things, but about fairness in everyday life. Can you think of one of those everyday examples that sort of blossomed into the Julian Assange that we know in terms of his vision now for information?
CA: Well not anything specific in terms of day-to-day life, but just in general with people we were dealing with in the family or with neighbors: we wouldn’t walk past somebody who was lying in the street, for example. If there was someone lying in the street, whether they were drunk or if it was a drug overdose, or if they were sick — we would stop and ask them if they were alright. And Julian would continue that. We were in a situation where we were helping some people involved in a justice situation that had to do with the court system, and Julian was boots and all defending people.
But also when he was a young teenager, he was very into computers. So I bought him a computer, and he went exploring on it, and later on he joined up with some other young people. And there was not a lot available in terms of being challenging and adventuring in the suburbs, but these bright young friends of his were challenging themselves on computers, and one of the ways they were doing it was to what they called “look-see” hacking, which was where they’d break in and they’d look at things, they wouldn’t damage anything, but let people know their system was insecure.
Now, in the process of doing that, I remember during the Gulf War that he got in and had a look, and he told me, “There’s stuff going on here that’s not right, there are people doing things that are not right here, and we’re not being told about it — it’s not coming out in the media.”
And I think that also galvanized him into his concept of Wikileaks, which was basically a concept around really good media. And that is that the media hold the governments and the corporations through, basically the truth, responsible to the people.
RC: He has done an incredible job. We are much better off — we are more knowledgeable about our government’s evil actions around the world, and obviously he’s being penalized for that. First of all, he’s been vilified by these phony allegations. How did you react when these allegations came out of the Swedish government prosecutor’s office?
CA: Well I remember the time exactly. It was about 11 o’clock at night when I got a phone call, and the person didn’t even introduce themselves, they just said, “Mrs. Assange, how does it feel to have your son accused of a double rape?”
And straight from my solar plexus I just said, “He didn’t do it.” Because I know my son, and I know that Julian wouldn’t do it. But then I had to go through the whole process of investigating the case because, to defend him, I had to know exactly what was going on.
And so, like those who defended him with knowledge, we had to troll through all the documents, to find out the basis of the allegations, and then what we found was a complete and utter set up. And that was a horrifying feeling to find out that your son would actually be set up on something as serious as a rape allegation, purely because he published the truth about corrupt power.
DB: Where exactly are you right now?
CA: I’m in Australia.
DB: Oh, you’re in Australia! You’re very far away, but you’re very close to us here, and we’re really appreciating the kind of material that you’re sharing about Julian Assange on this, his fifth year of his being held captive, really you have to say by threats of the United States government, who has a special penchant for hurting whistleblowers.
I’m thinking of this carpenter — this illiterate carpenter — who actually fled from fascist Italy and ended up in fascist Argentina. And he used to spout these phrases, and one of the things he used to say is, “Truth has few friends, and those few are suicides” [Antonio Porchia]. Now that’s a very dark comment, but it does seem, if you think about Julian Assange or other great truth tellers, what was waiting for them was a jail cell, or a bullet. Your thoughts on that — that courage that it takes to go forward?
CA: Well the original truth teller was Jesus Christ, wasn’t he? He was throwing the money changers out of the temple. And now 2,000 years later we’ve got defense contractors, the oil industry and Wall Street. And he said, “And you shall know the truth and it shall set you free.”
And nothing has really changed since then. We still have corrupt power consolidating itself, and really destroying the world, and not working on the behalf of people. And it sort of brings me back to what we should be doing, as people. What should we do? Our leaders let us down again and again. They say they’re going to do something and when they get in power they’re either bad leaders who were leading us on, or they’re good leaders who are under pressure themselves. And they’re fighting each other and name-calling, but it’s still not working, is it?
So I see Wikileaks as a uniting point for everybody — from the Left and the Right and everything in between — uniting around the First Amendment, which is what you call it in America, or the free press around the world, to hold our leaders in the business world and in the government accountable through transparency and truth.
And good leaders are actually supported by Wikileaks because if they are indeed under pressure from the Deep State — for example, supposing we assume that Donald Trump is a good guy, and does want to, as he says, “drain the swamp”, which is the Deep State, then he’s going to need Wikileaks — not just during the campaign, when Wikileaks was wonderful and he loved Wikileaks, but even more so now, when the Deep State is going to try to prevent his campaign.
Now if he’s not in fact a good guy, but a bad guy all along, then of course he’s going to want to suppress Wikileaks. And our assessment of Donald Trump very much hinges on whether he is going to protect Wikileaks and Julian.
DB: We were just speaking with one of the attorneys, Jesselyn Radack, who has worked with Julian Assange, and we were talking about the message that might be being sent now by the very strong crackdown and arrest of the most recent whistleblower coming out of the National Security Agency [Reality Winner]. Does that give you pause or concern that Julian might have a tough row ahead?
CA: Oh, I’ve always known he’s going to have a tough row ahead, you only have to look at the way they’ve treated their own whistleblowers, as you said, in their own CIA and NSA. The Obama administration arrested and prosecuted more whistleblowers than all other presidents combined, so things were certainly not looking good, even before this change of administration.
I’m not talking about Reality Winner. I’m not sure where she’s coming from but, even so, wherever she’s coming from, the protocol should still be the same. And I don’t know if that’s the case. If you are a whistleblower there should be protections for you and then it should be investigated and authenticated. And there should be a transparent legal process, and your rights should be protected during that time period. The reason I say I don’t know where she’s coming from, is because they’ve been talking about so-called leaks about Russians, and all the rest of it, and we know that they’ve been set up, that the Russians didn’t hack the DNC.
They’re going to say that there were leaks and they’re not leaks, but because we don’t know who, that’s the reason why we need to protect all whistleblowers, including her, and why it should go through due process, the same as for any other citizen.
DB: We know that Julian was pretty troubled by the way in which The Intercept blew their source in this context. He seems to have been a lot more careful in his work in terms of protecting sources. I’m wondering if you noted that.
CA: Oh, absolutely. I remember when Wikileaks was being set up, that Julian was saying to me,”We’re going to spend two years with the best minds in the world, to create an anonymous drop box, so that nobody can crack it, because we want to protect our sources. And we want people to feel so comfortable in leaking to us and not to feel frightened that they’re going to be revealed”. So he’s kept to that, even to the risk to his own life and liberty.
Wikileaks has never revealed a source — no source has been exposed by Wikileaks. Chelsea Manning exposed herself on the Internet. And very few other media have been willing to rise to that challenge. So it’s best to leak to Wikileaks if you’re going to leak. It’s a pity that she [Reality Winner] didn’t leak to Wikileaks.
RC: Yes. I must say, he really is a remarkable individual. I am not a techie, but he really knows all of this stuff really well, he’s brilliant, but he comes off so genuine. It’s really amazing to see him on all of these talk shows, on radio — how well he comes off. And he’s got a great sense of humor, he’s got an incredible education, he’s so well-spoken, so dignified when he’s on. Does that amaze you?
CA: Yes… well yes and no… because he’s grown up with me, and I’ve seen him, and he’s always been a refined person. He’s never been a crude person. He’s been an honest person and an empathetic person, and he’s always been very bright, so that he got to where he is on the world stage doesn’t surprise me.
Though of course in another way it does, and I’m in awe of him as well — not in any kind of demigod way, but just as a human being with such resilience and courage, and so strong in the truth. And taking the most incredible amount of attacks, not just from governments and corporations, and what they’re getting up to behind the scenes, but trolls.
I mean the thing that probably hurt me the most when watching him stand up for his work, was seeing other journalists, particularly UK journalists, trolling him on Wikileaks with the most vile, immature, picky, vicious comments. I couldn’t believe that this was coming out of the mouths of so-called journalists! And he’s resilient, and the ability to rise above it is quite awe-inspiring, isn’t it?
DB: And he continues on despite it all. He certainly has a resolve and a focus that borders on super-human. He has not been distracted from the work, in fact he has managed to expand it. It’s sort of a bit of a miracle.
CA: Well, Julian is very grounded. His convictions come out of critical analysis, they don’t come out of an easy path of jumping on some ideological bandwagon, so that when the going gets tough, he’s grounded in where he’s coming from. Because he drove himself, he’s not easily shaken by attacks, by ideological attacks, for example, or personal attacks. I think they’ve called him every “ist” there is –narcissist, racist, marxist, capitalist — and on and on it goes. But he knows that the reason he’s doing this is about media truth and justice, and government transparency, and he’s grounded in that reality, and that’s why he’s not so easily shaken.
RC: He is the most fearless individual. I mean he’s got the entire Intelligence Community, the Military Community [against him] — not just here in the U.S. but in Britain — even your own government.
What is your own government doing to protect one of their citizens? Under Prime Minister Turnbull?
CA: They’ve never done anything under any of them! The Labor government under Julia Gillard called what he did illegal and wanted to take his passport away, and she actually said she was quite happy to hand him over to the U.S. and change our extradition laws specifically to make it easier for him to be handed over.
Basically we don’t have a real government, we’ve got a puppet government — it’s just a U.S. puppet, and they’re constantly auditioning through the US Embassy for a place in the spotlight. Prime Minister Turnbull was an ex-Director of Goldman Sachs Australia. Not sure if you’re familiar with the term “government sets”? That’s where big US banks put their people in governments around the world.
So basically it would appear that in the Australian political landscape, if you want a promotion, you will swear on your credentials that you’re willing to tow the line on Assange.
DB: And finally, we’ve got Julian’s mom here, and I have to end this way — forgive me, Mom, but what are you most proud of in terms of your son? What part of his actions, his work, makes you the most proud as his mom?
CA: That he’s standing ethically in truth for justice, with courage. That he’s willing to risk his life and his liberty for his fellow man, basically. And that’s what he’s doing — he’s risking his health, his liberty and even his life, because we’ve heard all the horrible stuff coming out of various commentators: things like “We’re gonna shoot the son of a bitch” coming from Bob Beckel, a Democratic strategist.
And all the horrible things that Mike Pompeo said about him being a demon and “an unsafe intelligence actor.” And nonsense stuff about him being involved in child pornography from both sides, trying to set him up. I mean most people would have fallen over by now. But I think that because Julian is standing for something that’s good and right and correct, I think that’s where he derives his strength.
RC: He does have a lot of support, and I’ve been getting a lot of support from his supporters for this show, on Twitter and social media.
[…] What can people do? What do you recommend people do to help out Julian?
CA: […] Some of the American supporters have been very busy lately. They’ve organized the Boycott UK and it’s under the hashtag #BoycottUK and also the hashtag #FreeAssangeNOW .
This is a very good idea because we all know that money makes the world go round and in fact some are saying that a lot of the opposition to Julian is from greedy corporations because he exposes things like some of the reasons for war, and some of them profit from defense contracts. They also know that by reducing profits for major corporations, they will lean on government to change their policy. So boycotting big UK businesses until they free Julian — all big businesses that are operating in the UK.
Another California supporter … has put up a campaign called “5 dollars for 5 years” and that is about how Julian spent five years in the Ecuadorian Embassy giving the truth, fighting for us, for our right to know. How about if we donate five dollars — a dollar for each year that he spent there? And that will go to top up the Julian Assange Defense fund which is at justice4assange.com. And you can donate your five dollars there.
Also on that site there’s a lot of information — it’s the best site in the world for finding out the facts about what’s been happening to Julian Assange for the last seven years. And let me tell you, it reads like The Bourne Conspiracy — what the government’s been up to to try to shut my son up is criminal and unbelievable.
So, just in America, just these last few weeks, American citizens have been standing up to fight.
But what you’re doing is also incredibly important, Randy. We find that when people are apprised of the facts about Wikileaks, and the facts about Julian, that most come onboard to support him, and some even come onboard as very active supporters. So it’s about getting out the facts, because there’s an awful lot of propaganda and lies. But once people know the facts they are supportive, so that’s also very important that people talk to each other about the facts, find out the facts. And there’s a very good FAQ at justice4assange.com.
So getting out the facts is really important, boycotting is very important, and funding Julian and funding Wikileaks is also important. We often feel very alone and powerless in the world at the moment, but we do have two things that we can still do.
One thing is where we spend our consumer dollar. It might only be five dollars, but if a million people donate five dollars, that’s really putting Julian and Wikileaks in a strong position to fight.
The other thing is the vote: keep your politician on speed dial and yank his or her chain every so often to remind them that we actually pay their wages, and we expect them to stand up for truth and government accountability, we expect them to not get in bed with corruption, and we are not impressed with them persecuting truth-telling media.
So there are just three things you can do straightaway. And of course you can always form your own Free Assange group — it can be a group of one or two or more. And this is what some ladies have done in America and around the world — nice people who have formed Free Assange groups. They are just ordinary people — they’re not actually highly political people, they’re often mothers who want to see the world protected for their children, and they often have no political experience, but a lot of heart and drive and creativity. And they often make the best advocates.
RC: Well, Ms. Christine Assange, I really appreciate you being part of this show. You are welcome back anytime. You are really doing an incredible job on behalf of your son, who is a hero. And I would like to give you the last word. If there’s something you want to convey to Julian and his supporters there in London, I’m going to give you the last word.
CA: Well, firstly, I would like to give my heartfelt thanks to all the supporters around the world who have stood up and fought to protect and defend Wikileaks and Julian. Sometimes you’ve only done one action, sometimes you’ve done more — it doesn’t matter, you did something.
The people in London at the Ecuadorian Embassy have just been troopers. Both Ecuador and its embassy staff and the people of Ecuador and the people from the Julian Assange Defense Fund and Wise Up Action — those guys who stood outside that embassy, day-in, day-out — in the rain, hail, snow and sun — to support my son and protect him. And at one stage, when they tried to raid the embassy illegally and grab Julian, these people were his protectors. And I would encourage anybody who is visiting London anytime to drop into the embassy and stand outside the embassy and join these historic groups.
Show Julian that you care. Show the powers that be that the people care and they’re not going away. Wikileaks, after all, is supplied by the people, with information for the people, for their protection. It’s 100% funded by the people, and it’s defended and protected by the people, including our lawyers. This is a people’s publisher, and it just goes to show you what the people can achieve when they get together. Wikileaks is rocking the halls of power, and they’re terrified. And they have come back as bad as IS [Islamic State] terrorists against the truth, but the people are standing firm.
And to my son, I love you, I’m still here, I’m still fighting, I’m incredibly proud of your work. You’re a terrific human being, and we’re all standing here and we will keep fighting until we get you out of there.
Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net.