4 Whistleblowers And Modern Heroes (Who Got Screwed Over)
When things go to hell, we don't think it's asking too much for the people who risk their lives to make everything better to be recognized for their efforts -- or bare minimum, be given a duffel bag stuffed with cash. As it turns out, however, that is asking too much, at least judging by how we treated these heroes ...
Dr. Li Wenliang Was Screwed Over For Warning China About COVID-19
When COVID-19 surfaced, it exposed how all the adults in the room -- from big businesses to entire governments -- were laughable unprepared for a possible pandemic that they were all warned ( numerous times!) was likely coming. We'd hold up the survivalist movement as an example of people who were ready for this shit, but those folks are now camped outside city hall, whining about how closing Dave & Buster's means the virus wins.
The thing is, though, things could always be a lot, lot worse -- and it's (arguably) thanks to Dr. Li Weliang that they're not.
Dr. Li was an ophthalmologist in Wuhan, China, and one of the first people to openly raise the alarm about the virus, all the way back in December 2019 -- after he stumbled across a concerning report about a patient who was being treated at his hospital for "SARS coronavirus." Several days later, Dr. Li took to the country's popular messaging app, WeChat, and posted a message to a group of his old medical school classmates, warning them about the potential for a pandemic, and also to start taking precautions to keep themselves and their loved ones safe from whatever nightmare was about to break out.
A member of this group took a screenshot of Li's post and soon it was going viral on forums and social media networks (including WeChat) across the country, where it was read by thousands upon thousands of people. Before Dr. Li could even think of plugging his SoundCloud, however, he was summoned by the ominously-named Wuhan Public Security Bureau over his posts and issued a citation for "making false comments on the internet." Which appeared to dissuade other healthcare professionals from leaking information and possibly clear the way for Chinese authorities to allegedly downplay the extent of the virus, just as they were accused of doing with SARS in 2002 and H1N1 swine flu in 2009.
After his unpleasant brush with the law, Dr. Li returned to work in his hospital's ophthalmology department, where he came into contact with a glaucoma patient suffering from a nasty side-case of the virus. Within days, Dr. Li was diagnosed with COVID-19 and, by February 7, was dead after suffering massive respiratory failure.
Immediately, angry Chinese citizens took to social media to call out the government's persecution of Dr. Li and its wider censorship and repression of uncomfortable truths, which garnered thousands of posts under the hashtag #wewantfreedomofspeech -- or at least, it did before everything was deleted by state censors.
Related: Covid-19 Is Exposing Xenophobia
The U.S. Treats Its Whistleblowers Like Garbage
America has more skeletons buried in its closet than a serial killer. That's where whistleblowers come in -- brave people who risk everything to expose major acts of wrongdoing. Despite the existence of laws designed to protect whistleblowers from prosecution, however, the last few years have seen over a dozen whistleblowers -- including Edward Snowden and Thomas Drake -- charged under the Espionage Act of 1917, a wartime act intended to punish spies and enemy combatants, not disaffected intelligence analysts who grew tired of reading people's sexts.
This was a favorite tactic of the Obama administration, who appeared to love deploying it on whistleblowers almost as much as they loved deploying drones. In 2010, Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35 years for leaking a cache of military documents to WikiLeaks, as well as a video, later titled "Collateral Murder," of two helicopter gunships slaughtering over a dozen unarmed Iraqi civilians and journalists. Manning was freed in 2017 after Obama commuted her sentence ... but was jailed again for refusing to testify before a 2019 grand jury investigation into Wikileaks after citing the obscure legal precedent that "snitches get stitches."
Although Donald Trump has a white (power) hot hatred for Obama, he's following Obama's footsteps in whistleblower treatment. In 2018, his administration imprisoned intel specialist Reality Winner for leaking a classified document to The Intercept, which detailed how Russian military intelligence had attempted to breach dozens of local election systems in the days before the 2016 election. After the boneheads at The Intercept accidentally tipped off the NSA, Winner was arrested and later sentenced to five years in prison as part of a plea deal.
And then there's Gordon Sondland and Alexander Vindman, who were fired from their posts in the Trump administration earlier this year, after testifying at Trump's impeachment trial that he had withheld foreign aid payments to Ukraine unless the country provided political dirt on Hunter Biden, son of presidential candidate Joe Biden. After Trump was acquitted, both Sondland and Vindman were fired by Trump for repeating "[his] 'perfect' calls incorrectly" -- presumably on account of how, when they testified, they didn't sound like drooling doofuses.
The 'Ebola Burners' of Liberia Were Ostracised from Society
In 2014, the Republic of Liberia suffered an outbreak of Ebola, which lasted two years, infected over 10,000, and killed over 4,000. In order to help stem the growing pandemic, the country's authorities banned funerals and burials -- a situation which seems eerily familiar for some reason -- and ordered that in lieu of burial, bodies of infected persons be cremated in mass burnings. The only problem? While it was absolutely the right thing to do, cremation wasn't (and still isn't) the done thing in Liberia, and so people lost their shit at the group of men who took a spiritual one for the team, so to speak.
Throughout the outbreak, the cremation site was the scene of countless protests from angry locals, who hurled abuse, rocks, and epithets at the workers -- so much so that the military was soon drafted in to ensure their safety. After the outbreak, however, their protection disappeared, and they were ostracised from society, even by their friends and families, causing many to turn to drink and drugs -- not just to deal with the horrifying sights they saw and the deeds they'd done, but find some modicum of respite from the abuse and hatred that was flung their way by people who were only alive to fling that abuse because they gave up everything.
Syria's 'White Helmets' Are Being Targeted by an Insane Conspiracy
Although you could be forgiven for forgetting, seeing as it was, like, fifteen geopolitical meltdowns ago, Syria is still in the midst of a massive civil war between the government and a variety of rebel groups who grew tired of being Bashar al-Assad's playthings. (His favorite game? Human rights violations!)
The conflict, which began in 2011, has so far claimed the lives of over 100,000 innocent civilians. There is, however, a silver lining to this unfathomably dark cloud: that this figure would be a lot, lot higher if it wasn't for the work of the 'White Helmets' -- a several thousand-strong volunteer force who rescue injured civilians from collapsed, bombed-out buildings, as well as play a vital role in documenting the innumerable war crimes that the Assad regime (and their main ally, Russia) are perpetrating on the people of Syria.
This is a major problem for Assad and Russia because, as a result of the White Helmets' work, they don't control the narrative of the war. You know what they say, though. When all you have is a propaganda hammer, every problem looks like a nail, and so the last few years have seen the White Helmets become the focus of a major disinformation campaign designed to convince the world that they're the secret bad guys of the war.
The basis of this campaign is a bunch of bullshit conspiracy theories about how the White Helmets are actually terrorists affiliated with al-Qaeda who double twist are also carrying out the bombings to which they're responding. Pro-Assad propagandists and the Kremlin regularly promote these claims, and for the most part, they don't tend to get much traction. Except for April 2017, when the aftermath of a chemical weapon attack by government forces on the town of Khan Shaykhun -- the so-called #SyriaHoax -- went viral among stateside conspiracy mongers like Mike Cernovich, Ron Paul, Tulsi Gabbard, and Alex Jones. The crux of the "hoax" was that the attack was carried out by the White Helmets ("an al-Qaeda affiliated group funded by George Soros and the British government," according to Alex Jones) to make Assad look bad.
While these conspiracies are obvious trash, the trolls and bots and propagandists and media outlets who boost these claims are very good at what they do, and so they're starting to stick. And that's a huge problem because the disinformation campaign isn't meant to shame the White Helmets into quitting (because they won't); it's to tarnish their reputation and by extension, the evidence that they gather and provide to international war crimes investigators. And that's important, because, as we mentioned, Assad is totally committing war crimes.
Top Image: The White Helmets (@SyriaCivilDef)