Last month, mobile billboards appeared throughout Washington, D.C. demanding an end to the U.S. government’s attempts to jail Australian journalist Julian Assange. Designed and executed by comedian-activist Randy Credico and funded by popular donations, the billboards are mounted on trucks and displayed strategically at national landmarks and busy intersections, intended to make tourists and residents aware of the government’s intention to silence those who publish the crimes of the U.S. military and intelligence agencies.
Julian Assange established WikiLeaks in 2006 and worked with whistleblower and former U.S. Army intelligence official Chelsea Manning to publish massive files documenting U.S. war crimes beginning in 2010. He lived under a political asylum agreement in the Embassy of Ecuador in London from 2012 until 2019, when he was sentenced by the UK to over four years in prison. During his asylum, the U.S. had gone so far as to devise plans to assassinate Assange; and in June, the U.K. government authorized Assange’s extradition to the U.S. under the Espionage Act — a law which has been used for over a century to persecute leftists, radicals, and activists. Today, only an appeal by Assange’s legal team stands in the way of his trial in the U.S., where he could face a sentence of up to 175 years in prison.
Credico’s billboards are exceptionally effective at identifying the harmful and hypocritical effort by Biden’s Justice Department. One of the billboards reads: “US commits war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan and then persecutes the journalist who exposed it. Jail the killers NOT the messenger.” Another highlights the famous photo of Joe Biden and Saudi Arabian Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s fist-bump, behind the words “It’s a deal. I won’t mention Khashoggi if you don’t mention Assange,” making reference to the assassination of a Saudi Arabian journalist ordered by bin Salman in 2018. During his campaign, Biden insisted that the Saudi Arabian government would be “held accountable” and his administration later released a report concluding that bin Salman personally approved Khashoggi’s execution. Yet Biden’s commitment to a free press is clearly a sham — he continues to engage in friendly diplomacy with bin Salman and, of course, furthers the persecution of journalists like Assange who expose his own country’s crimes against humanity.
The U.S. government and Democratic Party talk a big game about protecting the ability of journalists like Khashoggi to criticize their government. When put to the test in the case of Assange, however, their commitment to these ideals fails. It is an extraordinarily low bar to expect journalists to have the right to bring to light the hidden crimes of a government — Assange has the support of even the U.N. human rights chief — but it is a right that the Democrats aggressively refuse to protect. We have learned much about the U.S. military and C.I.A.’s torture campaigns, secret wars, and undemocratic coups through the work of Assange and WikiLeaks, and such work is critically important if we hope to build a just society.