Character Assassination of Julian Assange

The actions of WikiLeaks sparked a worldwide media barrage and has changed the face of journalism. Julian Assange, the leader of this organization quickly rose to prominence, initially because of the unprecedented public attention from the WikiLeaks revelations. Then sex scandals and smear campaigns, along with threats from the Pentagon threw him further into the eye of the typhoon of public attention. Rhetoric from some US right wing politicians and pundits escalated to calling for his murder. Many eyes have been glued to the news feed reporting on the progress of his extradition to Sweden, all the while the leaks have continued unabated.

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Assassination is the intentional killing of a prominent person for political purposes. The death of John F. Kennedy shocked the world with newspapers and the TV broadcasting his tragic end. Soon after Dr. Martin King delivered a speech speaking out against the Vietnam War at New York’s Riverside Church, his voice was also shut down by an assassin’s bullet.

Political aims can also be accomplished by way of character assassination. When someone emerges into public perception who thinks and acts independently or who works at cross purposes to those in power, they often face character assassination. This is done by scandalous gossip columns in corporate tabloids or partisan news outlets. Whatever the method, the final destination for the target is the same – the death of their active characters as agents for positive change; being cast into the abyss of collective forgetting. How is this different from physical assassination? Character assassination is the murder of someone in the public consciousness. While physical assassination is carried out instantly with a bullet, character assassination is a gradual process of destroying the public image, thus incapacitating the person’s ability to freely act. This occurs without public awareness of the machinations and intentions behind the events and often without revealing who actually pulls the trigger.

Assange emerged into public perception with a fresh genius and charisma as well as an unshakable commitment to freedom of information. Amongst those yearning for true change, Assange’s example provoked a sense of great expectation.  NewStatesman (2010) nominated him on the list of 50 people who matter in 2010 and he won Time Magazine‘s reader’s poll for Person of the Year, while finishing third as the editor’s pick. Assange however quickly became a controversial figure. His image was soon colored by words such as traitor, high tech terrorist, and enemy combatant. Former colleagues and media partners joined the fray with tabloid style hit pieces, in articles and tell-all books that portray him as controlling, volatile or unpredictable.

So, how is character assassination accomplished? Unlike physical murder, it is rarely carried out by single individual. The deadening process occurs out in public. The speed and effectiveness of the bullet is increased by the public’s compliance in accepting the manipulation of the target’s public image.

In The Unconscious Civilization John Ralston Saul described that “in a corporate society, most people in positions of responsibility… are rewarded for controlling language. ‘Knowledge is Power.’” (p. 43, 1995). This control of language is used to manipulate perception. Those who become professionals often perform the role of middlemen within a system that is manipulated to support elite interests. Associate professor of journalism and mass communication David S. Allen explained how this professional legitimacy was backed up by the methodology of science. Quoting Morton J. Horwitz, Allen (2005) described how “’the attempt to place law under the banner of ‘science’ was designed to separate politics from law, subjectivity from objectivity and layman’s reasoning from professional reasoning’” (p. 71).

One’s subjective bias and personal agenda do not magically disappear from the sphere of observation and analysis by simply claiming neutrality. Yet the creed of objectivity has become a powerful tool that serves to cover for the motives and influence of special interests or a particular ideology and legitimatizes their power. Unconscious conformity to the group and absolute identification with it sustains this perceived authority.

Membership in this type of closed group requires maintaining a line between themselves and perceived outsiders who ostensibly do not belong or share their values. Those in power create characters that seem to threaten the security of this shared belief system or sponsor those who promote it by simply manipulating the image of outsiders and representatives within a group, with a Photoshop brush in the sanctuary of the editorial room.

In his recent article Bill Keller and WikiLeaks (Jan 29, 2011), WL Central editor x7o explored the editorial policy of the New York Times. His observation of Times executive editor Bill Keller reveals a general attitude shared among major news establishments toward WikiLeaks and the fundamental practice of so called “professional” journalism as a courtier of power.  x7o analyzed how Keller’s piece is tabloid style journalism, crafting Assange’s character with a certain agenda:

The sheer length of Keller’s piece is insurance against its comprehensive rebuttal. It weighs in at just under 8000 words. It is far more than a mere compendium of Assange rumors, but a concerted and sophisticated color piece, casting each of the events over the last seven months in the worst possible light. Assange is portrayed as “elusive, manipulative and volatile”,  “arrogant, thin-skinned, inspirational and oddly credulous.” Middle class distaste is openly courted by the revelation of unnecessary details about his appearance, clothing, and body odor, the signs that this is somebody who just doesn’t fit in.

x7o is pointing to a systematic practice within this influential corporate news venue to obfuscate the real news of the leaks with a piece that subtly attacks the credibility of the messenger. This is one way that they support or at least certainly never challenge the power of US political elites. The ultimate accomplishment of this practice is a merger in perception of the public interest with the narrow interests of those elites. National discourse is skillfully crafted and the line of class division is dissolved under the banner of ‘national interests’. Much of what passes for valid knowledge becomes simply the individual’s unconscious acceptance of the dominant view.

“Knowledge is Power.” As with the biblical seduction in the Garden of Eden, the serpent at the Tree of Knowledge offers the promise of power that would lead to greater control of the environment and material wealth. People are tempted to eat the forbidden fruit that nourishes the body of knowledge. This knowledge is often used to gain power over others, subjugating others will to their authority.

Knowledge generated and indoctrinated into each individual now becomes the moral compass that guides their actions. With language and framing of events as a means of control, authority guards the gate of public perception. In the age prior to the time of ubiquitous internet communication, the gate was tightly governed. It was like the eye of a needle that very few could get through to participate in unfolding perception. Thoughts and emotions that are not validated by this orthodox knowledge are easily shut out.

Jungian analyst, Toni Wolff described how “’everything unconscious is projected; i.e., it appears as a property or activity of an object” (as cited in Jacobi, 1973, p. 92). Psychologist C. G Jung wrote that it is those repressed materials that one meets outside in the form of projections and that this projecting is carried out unconsciously (Storr, 1983).

Blindness of one’s unconscious emotions and the mechanism of projection makes one vulnerable to manipulation. People are impelled to react to outer compulsion. Control of perception works to activate repressed emotions and desires. The public then becomes like a group of rats in a lab. With simple stimulus of threat or reward the desired responses from the people are attained.

The power to control can move mountains and sway whole populations without lifting a finger. People can be corralled to passionately defend narrow ideologies, usually by fighting those branded as a threat to the group. Pushed into the reactionary mode of fight or flight, people are driven by fear of ‘red scare’ or ‘threat of terrorists’ into simple minded ideology charged with emotions.  They are always driven to chase ever-changing mirages of an enemy that was predefined for them.

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Another instance of this perception control was seen recently in US politics. After a long period of loathing by a large part of the population for the decrepit acts of the Bush administration, Obama’s campaign of hope and change was a well orchestrated, targeted PR campaign. When the frame for perception of the masses was rife with the rhetorical discourse of fear, for those who control perception the next logical step was to tap into unconscious desires for hope. Before people could withdraw projections and have a chance to look deeply into the root of fear within, a new product magically emerged. Instead of constructing an enemy, a friendly hero figure was created that stimulated this yearning for positive change. No matter how empty the promises and slogans were, the people were driven by unconscious impulse to cast a vote for a vague illusion of hope.

This legitimacy of authority is sustained through this mechanism of projection. Those in power guard the inception point where events can be seen as they are without filters. Once the control filter is inserted into the perception process, it is not easy to see anything else beyond the enforced border of that control. When someone emerges into public sight who is not easily defined or controlled by outer crafted images, this shakes up projections held in the collective consciousness. For a moment, a crack opens in public perception, a kind of void that is left open for engagement. This opened space brings a possibility for people to turn inward and confront their manipulated frame of reference. It is this possibility of a shift inward, the first step toward greater awakening that the appointed experts, the gatekeepers of perception try to shut down. They quickly move to fill this void with manipulated images that sustain the mirror of projection and keep perception under management.

This is experienced as a battle for the activity of perception. Something new struggles to be accepted into consciousness. The messenger resists being redefined, yet once a target is captured, he or she is made into an intruder, a threat to the perception held by mass projections. Power does not need physical weapons to engage with force to attack. Weapons of mass projection can be quite adequate for the intended result. Through labeling and stereotyping, they compress the complexity of personalities like Assange into a cage. Tackled by collective projections, the free act that cuts through the illusion is met with unconscious resistance. Those figures that carry new impulses, upon entering and disrupting the prepared public perception are soon distorted and targets for assassination. They are quickly judged and executed from public consciousness. One by one, those who rise to the forefront to bring new potential are taken down in the stadium of hype and hyperbole.

It is the assumed legitimacy of expert authority that prevents people from becoming conversant with reality from out of their own capacity to think critically. The foundation of conventional knowledge that lies in one’s unexamined subjective agendas concealed by the pretense of objectivity is inherently judgmental, creating an abstracted and manipulated duality of good and evil.

Whether it is through politicians, pundits or other well paid celebrities, the actions of the general populace are often driven and controlled through manufactured puppets, whose strings are pulled by hidden masters -the new priests that arise to convert the public to their prescribed moral judgments. The huddled masses only act blindly as such by being programmed to interact with carefully projected images emerging on the screen of shared perception. These are shadows of distorted reality, projected through people’s simple fears and emotions.

Assange is an example of individuals who stand out from the herd, going against the grain for the good of the larger whole. Through confronting the authority of official and expert knowledge, he challenges the legitimacy of the whole system and lifts the closed gates of controlled perception. He began exposing the corrupt culture of official secrecy and rightly questioned the legitimacy of governance by those with too much to hide from the public. His unshakable commitment to justice makes him appear at times stubborn or intransigent. What he exemplifies is a sense of individuality that contradicts or challenges ways of being that have become the norm. John Saul revealed the true nature behind the idea of Western individuality:

The primary loyalty of the individual is not to the society but to her group …. the Western individual, from the top to the bottom of what is now defined as the elites, acts first as a group member. As a result, we exist primarily as a function, not as a citizen, not as an individual. (p. 33)

This shows how what is considered independent thought is actually often not ones own. It is a kind of false individuality that promotes conformity to whims of outer legitimacy conferred by professional politicians and experts. This conformity supports a system  that inherently diverges from the common good. Any means available will be used to quell truly independent thought. Therefore, Assange has become a prime target of character assassination.

Former Reagan administration official Paul Craig Roberts shows when character assassination fails real assassination will follow in the case of Assange:

When you have someone that is dangerous to you and you don’t really have a case against them, you slander them. And, this is the way the department of Justice works. It uses the…. media to slander the victim so that the victim is guilty before they even gets into a court. In some sense they would achieve their purpose even if he wins the appeal, because he is now slandered. The real question will not get investigated.

What are the motives behind character assassination? Those in power strive to control the images of authentic individuals, radicalizing and demonizing them to keep the public afraid, preventing people from attaining self-knowledge and the realization of their own creative power within.

What those in power absolutely fear is a collapse of the projections that guard the system of expert knowledge, which has replaced individual capacity to listen to ones own conscience. They are afraid of people marching side by side with those individuals who refuse to carry the given script and instead create their own and walk through the gate of the future on their own terms.

What WikiLeaks has done is lifted up the perception of the masses that up to now has been governed by illegitimate authority of ‘expert’ knowledge. People are beginning to trust and act out of knowledge informed by their own experience and to share this directly with others, instead of consuming the disseminated disinformation fed by corporate media. The unprecedented revolutions in countries such as Tunisia and Egypt and now spreading into Libya and beyond are a part of dissolving manipulated, preconceived perceptions about the world.

Those crucified by character assassination are often the pioneers of the future. They show what true individuality is, something that is systematically denied by institutionalized moral corruption. In spite of their flaws, individuals like Assange remind the world of old cherished virtues of democracy, liberty and acting for the public good, which seem to have become empty slogans or a convenient mythos only given lip service in the corporate age.

Character assassination is the murder of the true individuality in the public eye and is a symbol of the death of independent vision and inner conscience. Led by the choir of a cheer-leading mass media, these figures are assassinated through a form of channeled mass hysteria. People march along not knowing that by shooting the messengers who reveal their inherent power, they are leading themselves to their own funeral.

I don’t think you trust
In, my, self righteous suicide
I, cry, when angels deserve to die
In, my, self righteous suicide
I, cry, when angels deserve to die

Father, father, father, father
Father into your hands, I commend my spirit
Father into your hands
Why have you forsaken me
In your eyes forsaken me
In your thoughts forsaken me
In your heart forsaken, me

– Chop Suey! by System of a Down

Why have you forsaken me? In a sense, with these words we are asking the question: Why have we forsaken ourselves? We forsake ourselves when we fall asleep in the herd and look outside for saviors, then ask leaders why they have forsaken us. We deny our own individuality just to get along and join the dance of the dead. One by one we nail the living to the cross of our own unexamined life. In self-righteous suicide, all that is left are tears. Our tears are the tears of angels, who patiently wait beyond the Tree of Knowledge. It is only through confronting what has become the foreign enemy within that each finds the newly discovered strength to create. Guided by a higher moral of our shared humanity, the individual efforts become truly collective, giving birth to a new civilization.


Allen, D. S. (2005). Democracy, Inc.: The press and law in the corporate rationalization of the public sphere. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Jacobi, J. (1973). The psychology of C. G. Jung. Yale University Press.

Saul, J. R. (1995). The unconscious civilization. New York: The Free Press.

Storr, A. (1983). The essential Jung. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

About the author

Nozomi Hayase is a contributing writer to Culture Unplugged and a global citizen blogger at Journaling Between Worlds. A phenomenologist by training, she brings out deeper dimensions of modern events at the intersection between politics and psyche, fiction and reality to share insight on future social evolution. She can be reached at:
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21 Responses to Character Assassination of Julian Assange

  1. j.booij says:

    excellent piece of writing and thinking. I wish I could write like that, instead I use pieces like this to structure my own thoughts and ideas to explain to others what you wrote here, thank you, keep going

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  3. raven says:

    What a load of elitist, self assuaging, overly simplified muck. Instead of taking the time to write this you should have video taped yourself licking the sole of Assanges’ shoes. It would have communicated the same message.

  4. Joseph says:

    Julian Assange is an enemy of internet freedom.

    He has paid a neo-Nazi to deliver cables to a dictator, and democratic liberals have suffered as a result.

  5. I think that loyalty to which you refer comes consciously from individuals who mistakenly believe that the establishment will allow things to improve in the long run fairly for all.
    Amazing writing. Thanks for sharing it.

  6. Timothy Scott says:

    This was a GREAT article! Thank you for expanding on so much detail in this! My only hope is that everyone might be able to read this and now allow that collective group think blind them from the truth!

  7. ahmed Agrama says:

    Thank you for your insightful article. It was a pleasure to read, in-spite of the Machiavellian reality it depicts so clearly. I love how you bring it all around to such a positive note in the end…. Perhaps the reason the AlJazera news network is having such a difficult time gaining access to main stream media outlets here in the United State has to do with the shattering effect it would have on the, carefully constructed, existing perceived reality we live under. Thanks for swinging your hammer so well at our invisible restraints.

  8. Nicely put, and I agree with you in so many ways you can´t imagine. But.. because there is almost always a but, isn´t it? By the way, where is yours?
    I didn´t cheer or meet any of the highfives from the Wikileaks crew when Swedish authorities suddenly decided there was no case for rape. I didn´t, because I knew the damage was already done. Julian had lost – at least temporarily.
    There was however ample room for wise decisions. Like saving Wikileaks by stepping down. People with worse allegations than his have made comebacks despite character assassinations, especially if they are not very well founded.
    It is also more convincing for a victim not to answer smear with smear – or more and more unreasonable attacks on – by now – almost everyone. At least if you want to become a more credible martyr.
    I can´t say I blame Julian, most of us would have great difficulties making wise decisions under that kind of tremendous pressure. I don´t think I would have handled it better.
    But I also don´t think it serves him or anyone else to resort to a thinking where martyrship is the only and inevitable choice left. Despite your doom and gloom, people prove as we speak that revolutions are indeed possible. But.. again this annoying but.. revolutions say nothing about what will become of our new leaders, and how well they handle the true pressure ahead: To keep to the path they claimed was their only object.
    Right now, sadly, I feel that I am more interested in the truth than Julian Assange himself. To me, that is a very bad sign. That does not mean that any of us have to loose faith in that truth is always a very good answer – even if we seldom have any real or complete saviours to deal with.
    Cause is not lost, Julian is not lost. Good ideas and inspirational people never are. And I truly believe that hard times always gives us a rather golden opportunity to rethink – and to do better. What never helps us in a huge task like that, is to be so terribly onesided as you prove to be in this piece.
    Are you sure you have no buts to handle?

  9. NeoGaia says:

    I think Wikileaks has done a great service to the world. I also think Julian Assange is a brave man for his role in Wikileaks. That said, don’t you think everything the author said applies to her. I cannot comment on his innocence or guilt in the rape allegations because I wasn’t there.

    Why do people automatically assume that a famous leftist cannot be a rapist? That’s *not* a reason you can use to automatically disqualify someone from rape. Group identification in this case is causing a lot of problems. I’m an anarchist but that doesn’t mean I think anarchists are superhumans who never ever could do anything bad. I understand now why people tell you when you want to fix the world you have to start with yourself. I’m not giving my group any special passes because I want to live in a just society. Are there governments out there who wish to harm Julian Assange? Yes. Does that have anything to do with what happened between Assange and these women? Not a lick.

    Ideological blindness is almost as bad as deference to the establishment. It is clear to me that none of you even think it is possible that it is even possible that this happened. Not asking you to think that he is guilty, but it is clear to me, you don’t even think its possible, and you wouldn’t do that if it wasn’t someone not on your team.

    • certainquirk says:

      It’s clear that you are not paying attention here. Detained for over a year and a half as a POSSIBLE suspect in a POSSIBLE crime is not “Ideological blindness.” This is tyranny by government. The ensuing MSM coverage that neglects these and other facts is libel. It’s smearing.

      Again, house arrest for over a year and a half because you are wanted for questioning–something that could be arranged in an official capacity at your residence with lawyers and the appropriate state reps. Not recognizing this is your own ideological blindness and innability or unwillingness to comprehend the law and the facts around it.

      You are correct, you should start by waking yourself up.

  10. oldgaia says:

    Neogaia, to soothe your concerns I would recommend you to read this:

    “Assange: The Case Against Sweden”

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  12. Patricia says:

    Thank you for writing this article. It is more obvious now than ever that the powerful and the elite have much to gain from a self serving media and using it to destroy Julian Assange and Wikileaks . It has been painful to witness the character assasination of Julian Assange. It is politicly abusive and a desperate display of tyranny. It is unfortunate but true that many people have become too dependant on government. It can at times be described as a governance of guardianship rather than a body of elected representatives. Society has been secure in leadership that has been perceived as one of integrity and good deed. Now that there is a crack in the wall of the fortress and stronghold has been penetrated, the powerful have engaged in a fight that they feel they are entitled to win at all costs. Not only have the people become dependant on the guardianship of government but the government can no longer function by integrity and good deed.

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