Hugo Rifkind

Julian Assange is a narcissist and a nut — and if America comes for him we should take his side

The big Wikileaks disclosures were callous and brutal. But once you start banging hacks up for being stupid and nasty — well, where will it end?

23 August 2014

9:00 AM

23 August 2014

9:00 AM

Poor Julian Assange. Call me a contrarian but I’m genuinely starting to feel sorry for the guy. He’s just made such a mess of his life, hasn’t he? And with such promise. Only a few short years ago he was the world’s most prominent anti-everything activist, with hair like an indie guitarist, feted and worshipped wherever you might find hot Scandinavian revolutionaries, smug old men who work for ‘theguardian’ and Jemima Khan. Now he’s a hermit with hair like Noel Edmonds who lives in a cupboard. It’s a hell of a fall.

Most crushingly, he’s become a figure of fun. Perhaps you noticed him holding a press conference last week, to announce that he might soon leave the Ecuadorian embassy but probably wouldn’t, or something. Journalists did, and Twitter resounded with their hoots of derision. This chump! Remember him? What, does he have a book out?

As it happens, yes. He does have a book out. But nobody will care. There was a time, not so long ago, when British media was in awe of Assange, broadsided by scoop after scoop from sources we couldn’t get near, via methods we couldn’t comprehend.

Yet the Assange show got old, long ago. Those who worked with him he turned upon. Those who merely watched him have observed a sketchy relationship with the truth that makes even the most dubious tabloid hack look like a priest with his hand on a Bible. So often has he shouted the words ‘house arrest’ and ‘detention without trial’ that he possibly even believes them. But nobody else does. Assange has had no trial because he refuses to go to Sweden, where any trial would be. He’s under house arrest in the Ecuadorian embassy only because he himself refuses to leave it. A ‘siege’, his people call it, perhaps while touching themselves intimately. They claim that Britain has spent £7 million on keeping him there. But Britain isn’t keeping him there. He is.

He has taken the rhetoric of the truly dispossessed and persecuted, and made himself into a blasphemy of it. His fear, he says, is not of trial in Sweden (he is wanted for questioning on allegations of sex offences) but of subsequent extradition to the United States. This may even be true; almost certainly he’d be out in Sweden by now even if he’d been found guilty and been banged up for it. But his demands are absurd.

He wants America to rule out charging him over Wikileaks; Sweden to question him here instead of there; Britain to let him board a flight to Ecuador. He claims half the time to be a champion of those for whom oppression means violence and brutality. To him, it means not rearranging your legal system to his maximum convenience. He may of course be guilty of nothing in Sweden whatsoever. But he is wholly guilty, here and now, of being a right royal pain in the arse.

The terrible irony, of course, is that many journalists are poised to swing behind Assange, and have been for years. The big Wikileaks disclosures were brutal, callous exercises in journalism; the very definition of great publishing power exercised without any responsibility at all. Yet that makes him a nasty and stupid journalist of a novel sort, not a criminal or a spy. And as all hacks know, once you start banging hacks up for being stupid and nasty — well, where will it end?

Assange is a blinkered zealot, a conspiracy theorist, a narcissist and a nut. He has the politics of a teenage boy who has read too much Chomsky (which is any Chomsky). But he is not a stupid man, and there remain few people who understand the frontiers of digital freedom with such precision. He got there backwards, I think, hacking not for liberty, but preaching liberty to justify his hacking. Yet in the end that doesn’t really matter. Possibly he will never go to Sweden and probably, if he does, America will never come calling for his scalp. Yet if America ever does, it’s worth remembering that his unpleasantness, irresponsibility, ego, mendacity and even his alleged sexual proclivities shouldn’t change which side we ought to be on. We just have to hope he doesn’t enjoy it too much.

Scottish playtime

A remarkable thing. The Scottish independence referendum is actually getting interesting. Wait, no, not interesting. Weirder than that. Fun. A month ago, everybody was bitter, grinding and bored to tears. Not any more. There’s a euphoria. A hysteria. They’ve basically all gone mad. I once watched the entire Westminster lobby pack, after three weeks of party conference exhaustion, chase Boris Johnson around a conference hall in a pack, surging through doorways, giggling like children. Lord knows what he’d done; shagged Liverpool perhaps, or insulted somebody’s wife. Scottish politics is like that, but more so.

This referendum has been coming for three years now, and in all that time nobody in Scotland has been allowed to speak about anything else. Now the end is in sight, and it’s all kicking off. Everything is heavy with irony. Alex Salmond was on telly the other night playing bowls. Nobody knows why. Jim Murphy is carrying around an Irn Bru crate, putting it down in random places, standing on it, and shouting. Alistair Darling is morphing into Anne Robinson. Finally, they’re all actually enjoying themselves. It’s beautiful.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Hugo Rifkind is a writer for the Times.

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Show comments
  • davidshort10

    Well, at least he’s someone who’s achieved something without the help of a former Cabinet minister as a father and the doors that open for a not very prominent career in political journalism.

    • Cymrugel


      I cornered this line of comment with Hugo ages ago.

      He got very huffy as I recall.

      It’s not fair to call a chap on Daddy’s influence.

      • Kennybhoy


    • Arbed121

      I keep asking Hugo if he can please ask his dad to get GCHQ to stop illegally spying on us all. I mean, Hugo could earn himself the kind of public trust that a Snowden or an Assange gets if he persuaded Pops to stop mass-surveilling us, couldn’t he? Then again, I wonder if Hugo’s clear dislike of Assange has quite a bit to do with Daddy’s job…

    • Kennybhoy

      Gie the man a break! As I wrote above this is actually a no’ half bad effort compared to his usual keech! 🙂

  • I still don’t know why “if America comes for him we should take his side”. I used to be on his side but my patience ran out very quickly. To put it simply: The freedom of the press should be upheld no matter what because the press hold the powers at be to account (even Murdoch and the Daily Mail). However I don’t consider Mr Assange a journalist, nor do I consider the blanket publishing of secret documents a product of journalism.

    • Tarik Toulan

      I still don’t know why “if America comes for him we should take his side”.
      Had America had any credibility in the world, Julian Assange would have had no credibility or popularity – that simple.

      • SiMoebus

        Losing focus on the real role of Wikileaks has decreased any popularity the organized gained when “appearing” on the world stage. It is not an end game, but a position where renewed focus could make it a powerful media organization.

  • Cymrugel

    Glad you are enjoying the show over independence Hugo.

    Doesn’t reflect anyone up heres experience though.

    Its been a tough but stimulating debate, whatever the know-nothings’ in the British MSM say.

    • Kennybhoy

      Nah. As swatnam wrote over by…

      “” But it won’t have changed anyones views one bit. The Scots made their minds up weeks and months and even years ago.”

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Don’t stint on the bedside manner with them Swedish chicks, because if one wakes up with a bad case of buyer’s remorse in addition to a hangover, she has carte blanche to scream “Rape”.

    • Kennybhoy

      Speaking from experience Jack?

  • 1stAmendment_101

    As an American I would like to see Assange and Snowden tied together and dropped into a very deep rocky abyss!

  • Kennybhoy

    “He has taken the rhetoric of the truly dispossessed and persecuted, and made himself into a blasphemy of it.”

    Nice line describing an increasingly common phenomenon Maister R.

    “He has the politics of a teenage boy who has read too much Chomsky (which is any Chomsky).”

    And again Maister R! Nice one!

    “He got there backwards, I think, hacking not for liberty, but preaching liberty to justify his hacking.”

    Hat trick!

    The “Scottish Playtime” section apart this is your best effort hereabouts.

  • Kennybhoy

    “…”if America comes for him…”

    Don’t know much about Sweden or US-Swedish relations do you Maister R…? lol

  • Tarik Toulan

    “Assange is a blinkered zealot, a conspiracy theorist, a narcissist and a
    nut. He has the politics of a teenage boy who has read too much Chomsky
    (which is any Chomsky).”

    But, ironically, avid readers and admirers of Prof. Chomsky are on the right path of truth, since the man is, in fact, an exemplar of fair and objective thought in this age.

    • SiMoebus

      No one person has a monopoly on the true.

      There is disappoint with Chomsky, among many Assange’s apologists who just refuse to accept the seriousness of Assange’s current legal problems. Instead he has rehashed the same old false arguments.

      Chomsky among should demonstrate their objectiveness by tell Assange to go to Sweden.

    • Leif Leifnephewson

      “an exemplar of fair and objective thought in this age”
      No, he is not. The “collateral murder” video was dishonestly edited and named by Assange to improve media reception. That is not the work of someone fair or objective.

  • Innit Bruv

    ……too much Chomsky(which is any Chomsky)….?????????????
    You’re not fit to polish his boots!!!!

    • Fergus Pickering

      What do you know about Chomsky? His area of expertise is linguistics. He made a major contribution there. About anything else he knows no more than anyone else.

      • Innit Bruv

        And you are?????

        • Fergus Pickering

          I am Mrs Chomsky.

          • Innit Bruv

            Ha ha ha!! That is so funny! (not)

  • Tarik Toulan

    While I am not in a position to decide how truthful the leaks of guys such as Assange and Snowden are, I find a question posing itself in this regard : Why have such leaks gained that popularity and public interest?

    Actually, the illusions and, sometimes, lies accompanying the so-called ‘War on Terror’ culminating in the invasion of Iraq and its odious consequences left the public, particularly in the US and the UK, with a sense of frustration and despair of official narratives. So the people, with that unsatisfied thirst for truth, have found in these leaks, not exactly the truth, but perhaps just a clue leading to it.

    • SiMoebus

      It can never be understated that whistle-blowing is an important component of a health democracy, where leaking is not. It has not gained popularity. It is the huge volume with the leaks by Manning and Snowden that has caught the public’s attention. The disturbing revelations contained in some of the leaks got the public upset.

      The “War on Terrorism” can be considered an oxymoron, but getting caught up with a term misses its purpose. The program is about safety and should be referred to as “anti-terrorism programs.” Individual rights are being challenged (if not violated) by those programs. That doesn’t diminish the need to improve the program to provide safety for all with respect to individual rights.

  • SiMoebus

    It is not hard to feel sorry for Julian Assange’s predicament. Grabbing on a conspiracy theory he has made things worse for himself. He most recent press conference was an embarrassment by him making a premature announcement, with not even a request made to the courts.

    With whether or not America requests Assange extradition we will have to wait. We know nothing about the particulars of America’s federal prosecutors are investigating Assange and several individuals is about. Such a request if it comes will have to work its way through the courts.

  • 1stAmendment_101

    Assange, Snowden and those like them are terrorists. They steal information then make it public with the caveat that they are doing a public good, NOT! Their actions have endangered countless lives and countries.

    These people are treasonous and should be permanently silenced!

  • Sara

    Who ever wrote this article is an old boring person. Assange has brought the truth to millions of people. I am wondering what did that writer do all his life aside maybe working undercover for the CIA *sarcasm*? This article is so boring and filled with so much propaganda that I couldn’t finish it. Next!

  • Pounce

    In the immortal words of Nelson Muntz:

  • Leif Leifnephewson

    He’s not wanted for what he’s published, he’s hiding from prosecution for two counts of rape and sexual assault.

  • Shorab

    Thats not a good Journalism too when you mixed one story with another !!!!!! is it ???

  • Bonkim

    Assange was to be extradited for an alleged rape – not for his exposing secrets.

    • TheUntalentedRiply

      He is the perfect candidate to be deported to a newly independent Scotland; I figure that he will get on well with the likes of Salmon and his English-hating ilk. Ample punishment for both Assange and the nationalists…