Julian Assange views the world through the prism of mathematical metaphor, one might gather from his article “State and Terrorist Conspiracies.” In this article, Assange describes terrorist networks as connected graphs, a mathematical concept involving nodes and connections between them. In Assange’s words, “take some nails and nail them into a board at random . . . take twine and loop it from nail to nail without breaking. Call the twine connecting two nails a link . . . not every conspirator trusts or knows every other conspirator even though all are connected.”
Through this dry, mathematical language Assange views his place in the world, and—describing the United States government in the same terms as a terrorist conspiracy—the roles of states as international actors. But if everything is a conspiracy, one might wonder, why hasn’t the entire system collapsed yet? One can explain this by concluding that while every conspiracy works to the detriment of every other conspiracy, those that do survive do so more efficiently than others—creating a market system and an international realpolitik—both consistent with, say, the Washington Consensus and other popular views.
Something more familiar to liberal readers is the notion of the “deceiving conspiracy,” although conservative readers should also be familiar with this notion by now. Assange says there are a number of these conspiracies, all of which function in the following way: “Since a conspiracy is a type of cognitive device that acts on information acquired from its environment, distorting or restricting these inputs means acts based on them are likely to be misplaced. Programmers call this effect garbage in, garbage out. “In the United States, says Assange, “the programmer’s aphorism is sometimes called ‘the Fox News effect’.” That is to say, Assange believes the world contains information structures that restrict access to the truth in the interest of the members of those information structures. This is a typical liberal interpretation of Fox News, and typical conservative interpretation of MSNBC. It should come as no surprise that Assange also believes this—it simply means he has been paying attention, or at least as much attention as most of the American public.
His next point aims to break those conspiracies. “If all conspirators are assassinated or all the links between them are destroyed, then a conspiracy no longer exists.” Modern-day industrial-relations consulting relies on making communication impossible, disrupting the actions of union organizers and distorting the information that does get across (a “deceiving conspiracy” of its own). The way in which Assange’s principles are enacted in the workforce leads him to his next point: “Instead of cutting links between conspirators so as to separate a weighted conspiracy we can achieve a similar effect by throttling the conspiracy—constricting those high-weight links which bridge regions of equal total conspiratorial power.”
A parallel can be drawn between this strategy of weakening the information flow between key actors and the Republican plan to “defund the left,” a widely-known plan to raise litigation against established liberal organizations in an attempt to reduce their operating budgets. Rather than making members distrust each other, as Assange plans to do, the Republicans planned to (and still plan to) loosen the monetary bonds allowing groups to communicate with each other and with the public at large. So in this respect Assange is as radical in his methods as the Republicans were in addressing liberal groups on college campuses and in Washington.
So, in regards to his view of the world, Assange is no more radical than the United States military, which actively works to disrupt terrorist networks; in regard to his view of the media, he is no more radical than most of the country; in regard to his general strategies to enact his vision, he is no more radical than the Republican strategists currently operating.
The key difference, of course, is that Assange is willing to leak documents from inside large institutions and make them public to the world. Instead of publishing—via interview—the movements of a terrorist organization or a detailed account of the SEC’s findings, as the government can, Assange publishes the internal documents directly for the public at large to review.
This is, of course, a radical step, and one that sets Assange apart from the rest of the world. But the foundations of that step—viewing the world in terms of conspiracy, or viewing media structures as “deceiving conspiracies”—are no more radical than that which is believed by most Americans today, or practiced by major political parties, or by any regional studies analyst.
But how is Assange viewed in the media? _Forbes_ describes Assange as the boogeyman going after “your money”; considering its target audience, their claim might not be too far off from the truth. Diane Feinstein, editorializing in _The Wall Street Journal_, calls Assange “an agitator intent on damaging our government, whose policies he happens to disagree with, regardless of who gets hurt.” But this is inconsistent with his stated interview responses, which are as typical as those of any political figure. In an interview with _The Guardian_, an English newspaper, Assange says that during WikiLeaks’ four years of activity, “there has been no credible allegation, even by organizations like the Pentagon that even a single person has come to harm as a result of our activities. This is despite much-attempted manipulation and spin.”
There’s that moderate view of the media and power structures, again. It appears that Assange does care whether he is breaking the Espionage Act, as has been claimed—because he respects the law, perhaps, but more certainly because he respects people’s perception of WikiLeaks or the simple act of answering a question truthfully.
In the same interview, Assange says the West has “fiscalized its basic power relationships through a web of contracts, loans, shareholdings, bank holdings and so on. In such an environment it is easy for speech to be ‘free’ because a change in political will rarely leads to any change in these basic instruments.” In this sense, Americans must operate outside whatever conspiracy he witnesses while Assange, on the other hand, must address the conspiracy’s internals. Assange views the U.S. and Europe as only nominally “free societies,” at most, since their citizens are allowed to speak; but speaking does very little because no matter who is convinced, the society remains unchanged, given that the power relations have developed to stifle society (since contracts must be revised individually).
From the left, Assange is typically portrayed as a journalist: e.g., _The Atlantic_, which criticizes “other journalists for not standing behind him,” which pales in comparison to Feinstein’s denial that he’s a journalist at all, and Newt Gingrich’s claim that he is an “enemy combatant.” When not portrayed as a journalist, Assange is considered someone with whom journalists should have solidarity regardless (e.g., _The Atlantic_, again, or in remarks by Daniel Ellsberg, the leaker of the Pentagon Papers and a hero to many). _Salon_ conveys a sense that all of the left supports Assange, going so far as to smear his rape accuser.
As for the media’s reception of Wikileaks’ documents: Assange’s view is that by not redacting them he has allowed newspapers to make their own decisions in reporting the files; yet refusing to redact caused many of his co-workers to abandon the project.
What may encapsulate Assange’s project is his final response in _The Guardian_ interview: “Cable Gate archives is in [sic] the hands of multiple news organizations. History will win. The world will be elevated to a better place. Will we survive? That depends on you.” In other words, Assange’s motives are almost entirely unselfish—a strong claim matched only by the extremism with which he attempts to defend liberty from the conspiracies he sees.