In the month of October, my Twitter following has nearly quintupled, in large part due to a series of videos I’ve released or re-released in which I ask the Democratic Party’s presidential candidates to condone or condemn the prosecution of Julian Assange. The most popular of these videos was that of Pete Buttigieg, but the most controversial featured Bernie Sanders, who refused to tell me (and the world) if he will “support” or defend Assange. While the reaction to this content has been overwhelmingly supportive, the critics, though select, have responded biliously and sometimes vilely. We should not be surprised by the unlettered calls for Assange’s death, voices by hopeless victims of corporate media brainwashing, but we must be disappointed, if not outright saddened, by the refusal of Sanders’s impassioned devotees to acknowledge their candidate’s moral failings.
Before we begin, it is regrettably necessary to explain what should be strikingly clear: at no point in my pursuit of answers to “the Assange question” have I defamed or misrepresented a candidate, and never, not even in my stormiest mood, would I humiliate or jeer at a candidate’s supporters. I have not produced these videos to ruin your day; I have produced them because I believe you, as an individual of noble intent, regardless of your political affiliation, deserve to know where these candidates stand on this imperative issue. If these candidates will not stand for Assange, then they will not stand for your 1st Amendment rights, and I do not want you to waste your time or energy assisting a person who will later betray you.
Well-meaning progressives appeared to understand this when I released unflattering footage of Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Castro, O’Rourke, and de Blasio, all of whom answered my question shamefully. Even the Yang Gang recognized their candidate’s “problem perspective” and vowed to reach out to him and try to persuade him—to change his mind, to improve him ideologically. It is only in the case of Sanders that we witness a bizarre and frankly disconcerting rejection of the evidence I have furnished. His committed acolytes dismiss the material out of hand and excoriate me for producing it, as if I have blasphemed by questioning the moral credibility of Bernie Sanders. He has been granted an enduring subcultural immunity, and in challenging it, I must be met with a most profound disrespect.
The defense of Sanders is as follows: as a principled progressive and a longtime defender of civil rights, Sanders is probably sympathetic to Assange, but he cannot express his support until he has won the presidency, lest the military-industrial and political-media complexes collude against him and undermine his presidential campaign. Unfortunately, this realpolitik interpretation is credible much less than it is cynical: are we supposed to believe that the military intelligence apparatus will allow Sanders to betray it, to renege on his implicit promise to yield to its agenda? To openly defy such a preponderant force on the campaign trail is political suicide, but to deceive and swindle it is suicide, full stop. Insistence to the contrary betrays a naïve understanding of American fascism, as well as an impediment of faith in politicians, of which Sanders is probably not the only example.
We shouldn’t blame people for failing to consider every possibility, but they are accountable for their reactions, once the possibility has been presented to them. I will not reexamine my interaction with Lucid Primate, one of Sanders’s most indignant supporters, but I must address my impromptu debate with Brook Hines on 2019/10/30. I never heard of this person prior to our joint appearance on the Action 4 Assange weekly vigil: she presents herself as an inexorable defender of Assange, but like Lucid, she revealed that her loyalty is to Sanders, and not to the world’s most persecuted journalist.
In our discussion, which became visibly heated, she accused me of several baseless offenses: she alleged that I shouted at Sanders, that I asked him an unfair question, and that the setting in which I asked the question was fundamentally different from that in which I questioned Yang. She was swiftly proven wrong on each of these points, leaving her with only one desperate defense: to fall back on the aforementioned realpolitik interpretation. When I discredited this, and when several of the vigil’s hosts discredited it, too, she addressed me with forced and insincere laughter, childish snorting, and a pusillanimously dishonest claim that my arguments were self-evidently foolish. Moments later, she retreated from the vigil, and while I should not ascribe motivation to her, I can only infer that she understood how poorly she had fared in that debate, and how unprofessionally she had come across, and she fled to spare herself further shame.
I am willing to answer questions, and even address challenges, on the content I’ve produced, but I lack the self-hatred required to indulge the puerile calumny of political apologists. Hines has the right to value Sanders’s political career above Assange’s life, but she should not diminish the work done by Assange’s true supporters by presenting herself as an activist. Furthermore, in speaking to me with such disrespect, she disgraces Sanders’s supporters, many of whom voiced strong and poignant disappointment in his attitude towards Assange—without taking any cheap shots at the journalist who asked him a question.
As I explained during the vigil, my support for Tulsi Gabbard is inextricable from her support for Assange. If she changes her mind on this issue tomorrow, then I will write an excoriating piece on her moral failings and will discourage everyone I know from voting for her. Conversely, I am not so rigidly partisan that I am unwilling to acknowledge Sanders’s respectable positions, and as recently as two days ago, I condemned anti-Sanders propaganda. I have undertaken no malicious objective against any candidate, and even less against any candidate’s supporters, but I will not tolerate unfair aspersions on my journalistic character and integrity, nor should I be expected to do so.
Let us hope this is the last we hear from Bernie Sanders’s apologists. I would like to hear more from the best of his supporters.
For more information on Sanders’s moral and political failings, I cannot recommend the following article strongly enough: