How Julian Assange Is Like A Televangelist

Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm. – Psalm 105:15

That verse opened my book, God’s Profits, and referred to an oft-cited piece of Scripture by power-hungry televangelists, who abuse their power financially, sexually, spiritually and otherwise — but don’t want to be questioned. (The last time I cited it here was in reference to the Eddie Long sex abuse scandal.) These televangelists claim to speak for God, to have a special authority to tell everyone else what’s righteous, but: watch an almighty condemnation befall anyone who challenges them.

Such is the way of Julian Assange. His religion might be quite different — an uber-transparency meant to expose the workings of imperialist governments — but his method is the same. Demand worship of the idea, and then of the man, and then deify the man so that not only can’t his mission be questioned, but neither can he. WikiLeaks is The Word, and Assange is the prophet, or even a persecuted messiah.

As Suzie Siegel, blogging at Echidne of the Snakes put it a week ago, “I’m galled that so many others who question authority have no trouble trusting Julian Assange. . . . When you admire a carefully crafted image, when you don’t have a clear idea of a person’s beliefs, it’s easy to project your own onto him.

Keith Olbermann and Michael Moore have become such devoted parishioners of the church of Assange that they’ve written off allegations from two Swedish women, under investigation by Swedish authorities, that Assange raped them; Moore, in fact, called the allegations “hooey.” And this has launched a mighty evangelist, the blogger Sady Doyle, who has been engaged in a cyber-tent-revival of her own, on her blog Tiger Beatdown, and on Twitter, where the hashtag #mooreandme has come to symbolize the refusal of progressive heroes Moore and Olbermann to acknowledge that the rape charges should be taken seriously, and are not a CIA plot to bring down Assange. (For a compact summary of how this played out, see Alex Pareene’s post at Salon.)

Although on Olbermann’s show Moore peddled the “it-was-only-a-broken-condom-what’s-the-big-deal” line, evidence has shown that the charges are far more serious than accidentally torn latex. As The Guardian revealed on Friday, and the New York Times further analyzed yesterday, Assange is accused of forcing women to have sex with him, one woman while she was asleep, another after he manipulated the condom out of use, even though the woman had demanded that he use protection. Notably, many of the Swedish womens’ descriptions of Assange sound disturbingly similar to those of an Australian woman who shared with Gawker emails Assange sent her after they met in a bar.

Doyle has waged a wrenching crusade to get Moore and his supporters to acknowledge the severity of the Swedish womens’ charges, and not treat Assange as a persecuted do-gooder. (This can be accomplished, Doyle and others argue forcefully, without diminishing any commitment to a free press, combatting government secrecy, or ensuring that Assange receives due process both in Sweden and in the U.S., where his lawyer claims, apparently without much evidence, that a grand jury has been empaneled.) Doyle’s blog posts culminated in one Saturday night, in which she recounted the abuse that — yes, anonymous — commenters, Twitterers, and others have put forth in defense of Assange:

[N]ow they’re creating Twitter accounts, posting rape threats, and tagging them #MooreandMe so that the feed is unsafe for women or rape victims to look at. And posting the accusers’ names, over and over, because one of the things we’re objecting to is that posting the accusers’ names is subjecting them to massive invasion of privacy, you can find their names and home addresses online, and that might get them hurt or even, like, raped, . . . .  And threatening to hack my PayPal, and threatening to hack Tiger Beatdown. . . . Every time I look away there are twenty new comments and most of them are calling me a cunt or telling me to make them a sandwich or calling me a whore or naming the accusers or calling all of us whores for protesting.

Assange’s defenders apparently believe that although his mantra is holding governments accountable, he need not be accountable (nor should Moore or Olbermann). As David Allen Green argued in the New Statesman in a different context, although its raison-d’être is supposedly accountability, WiliLeaks itself refuses to be accountable to anyone:

However, no one has voted for WikiLeaks, nor does it have any form of democratic supervision. Indeed, it is accountable to no one at all. One may think that this is a good thing: that with such absolute autonomy WikiLeaks can do things that it otherwise might not be able to do. One could even take comfort that WikiLeaks represents the “good guys” and is “doing the right thing”.

Be that as it may: one must remember that such self-assumed moral authority is conceptually indistinguishable from the vigilante. If transparency is important, then so is accountability.

Apart from the rape charges against Assange, the quasi-religious fervor for unmitigated transparency has its costs. As G.W. Schulz of the Center for Investigative Journalism reported, Matt Schroeder of the Federation of American Scientists, which itself has fought government secrecy, has concerns about WiliLeaks. As Schulz notes, “It’s no small matter that Schroeder and the non-partisan group he works for are criticizing Wikileaks. Manhattan Project scientists who designed the first atomic bombs founded FAS more than half-a-century ago.” With regard to WikiLeaks, Schroeder “argues the records could alert illicit weapons traffickers and insurgents to ongoing investigations and surveillance, causing them to sever contact with undercover operatives, destroy critical evidence or move their operations.” Assange apologists are taking that sort of scorched earth approach — disclose at any cost — to the rape charges, at great risk to the safety of both Assange’s accusers and critics.

Assange is like the authoritarian televangelist: give me your money, support me, admire me, pledge allegiance to me, but don’t question me. I will bring you salvation — or a trove of embarrassing government documents — but don’t ask any questions.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email