Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder and enemy of hairstylists worldwide, recently made the news by accusing "the American liberal press" of "erecting a demon" in the form of Hilary Clinton. Assange claims that Clinton is creating a "neo-McCarthyist hysteria" and will "put nooses around everyone's necks as soon as she wins." Presumably he means all of her enemies, not literally everyone. That wouldn't leave her with much of a country to run.
Politics aside, that's the kind of statement you'd expect from an old white Confederate-flag-wearing man whom you'd slowly back away from in a Walmart parking lot, not the head of an organization that handles state secrets. I think it's safe to say that even the staunchest of Clinton's non-crazy opponents don't think that she's going to roll a gallows onto Pennsylvania Avenue during her inauguration and declare, "Today begins the thousand-year reign of the New Flesh." But if it makes you feel better, Mr. Assange, I swear that I will never give Hillary Clinton an erection.
There are many possible explanations for Assange's comments. Maybe he has a grudge against Clinton. Maybe he's being bombastic to get attention. Maybe he has a demon fetish. Or maybe Julian Assange's time in isolation is driving him completely fucking insane.
If you need a refresher, Assange is living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. If he leaves, he'll be arrested and deported to Sweden to face rape allegations, and Sweden could then send him to the U.S. as part of its criminal investigation into WikiLeaks. (There's also, you know, the risk of being found guilty of rape.)
It's weird that his transparency organization didn't provide these documents themselves!
And so, for the past four years, Assange has been working long days in a one-and-a-half-room apartment. He's not getting any fresh air, he doesn't get many social calls, and the Ecuadorian government doesn't have much of a budget. His bathroom doubles as a makeshift gym. He has friends, supporters, and an internet connection, but that can only do so much when you have less variety in your day than most prisoners. And goddamn, is it ever showing.
Shortly before his exile, Assange announced that he was running for a seat in the Australian Senate. You'd think that being locked in a room in another hemisphere would have killed his campaign, but Assange doubled down by creating the WikiLeaks Party. They got about as many votes as you would if you announced that you were running for president right now, then promptly collapsed. But the truly baffling part is the music video they made to promote the campaign:
Yes, that's the world's whitest middle-aged man, who claims to be a member of "House Wikileaks," getting interviewed to the Game Of Thrones theme before donning a mullet and lip-syncing his way through the finest karaoke video effects that the 1970s had to offer.
This is ostensibly comedic, but it comes across like your dad's desperate, midlife-crisis-driven attempt to redefine himself as a vlogger. And can't you picture Assange spending hours trying on different wacky outfits while gazing wistfully out the window at a pub he's not allowed to visit? Asking to do just one more take even after the director assures him that they got it?
"I have a lot more ties, if you want to try another look!"
"No, it's just ... I have to go see my kids, man."
There's more. So much more. He had a $2.5 million book deal fall through when he fired his ghostwriter, a man who subsequently called him "mad, sad and bad," which coincidentally would make a great title for Assange's debut album. The snubbed writer also described him, using their taped conversations as evidence, as egomaniacal, obsessed with his own fame, and paranoid well beyond what you'd expect even a wanted man to be. He also mentioned that Assange couldn't tell when he was boring his conversation partners -- though hell, if I wasn't sure when my next real conversation would be, I wouldn't shut up either.
He's also freaked out at a journalist on Twitter for having the audacity to censor information that could have gotten people killed. He endorsed a conspiracy theory about the murder of Seth Rich -- a low-level DNC employee who was killed in a random robbery, despite the insistence of crazy people who think that Hilary Clinton had him murdered because he knew too much. He angered Bolivia by forcing their president to make an emergency landing after spreading a rumor that Edward Snowden was on the plane. He got in a fight with an embassy security guard after he tried to tamper with the building's equipment. He has night terrors and started a Twitter account for his adorable cat.
How strange that WikiLeaks didn't share these either!
Now, Assange was already weird. Before his isolation, he was creeping on a 19-year-old girl and claiming there was a Jewish conspiracy against him, among other less than flattering incidents. But in those leaked documents, embassy staff attribute some of Assange's problems to his "nature," while also quite reasonably worrying that he's at risk of psychological damage thanks to isolation and stress. They're also worried that there's not much that can be done to help him, aside from controlling his access to alcohol. Even the UN thinks he's being mistreated, because isolation can make you do screwy things. There's a line between the quirky weird of cat tweets and the damaging weird of conspiracy theories. And Assange is drifting across that line into madness, with his credibility in tow.
But at least he has a partner for the ride.
Oh, and he's not alone. Remember Edward Snowden from two paragraphs ago, and also real life? Snowden was inspired by an Oliver Stone movie about a man with the same name as him to leak classified NSA information on global surveillance programs, and he's been living in exile in Russia ever since. Unlike Assange, Snowden has more or less free reign inside Russia. But while he's not going crazy, he seems bored and a little sad. His life is dedicated to his work now. He's kept to U.S. time, which means he's up at late and lonely hours. He's pale and has lost weight. He relies on ramen for meals, he doesn't get out much, and he's not too physically active. Admittedly, that also describes me, but that's not a good sign.
To be fair, Snowden insists that he's content, and there's no particular reason to doubt him -- interviewers have noted that he seems fine. But there are cracks where weirdness is starting to show. For starters, Snowden also has a baffling music video, because apparently that's just the trendy thing for fugitives on the run from the American government to do nowadays. In it, he interrupts some terrible electronica to speak about privacy and security while effects from a bad '90s thriller shoot off around him.
He's also been busy talking with Neil deGrasse Tyson about how aliens could spy on us, designing a phone case that helps protect your privacy, sending weird tweets, getting involved in multiple movies about him, and attending events in America using a robot.
William Gibson just got an erection, and he doesn't know why.
Unlike Assange's slowly unraveling mind, Snowden just seems bored, eager to take on any novelty project that crosses his path. I don't blame him -- if I had the chance to attend high-profile events as a robot, my first question would be whether I could add racing stripes. But it's also hard to take his talk about privacy seriously after watching his terrible music video and imagining the Snowbot getting stuck in an elevator.
Now, here's where we get a little conspiratorial -- or as I prefer to call it, here's where we write a fan theory for real life. If you're the United States government, isn't this exactly what you want? Whether you're dealing with a creep at the bar or an internationally famous spy, you've got two basic options: ignore or engage. Engagement, in this case, means dragging Assange and Snowden back to America for high-profile criminal trials that would dominate the news for weeks. Every ugly thing they've ever revealed about America would be thrust back into the limelight to be dissected and criticized. Even the most apathetic American would inevitably hear about it. It would be a PR nightmare -- especially if, in Assange's case, he got the death sentence. That's the kind of act that would be debated for a generation.
So despite all the talk of bringing Assange and Snowden to justice, the government seems more than happy to let them slowly go crazy in exile. Public opinion of Assange, which was already ambivalent, has plummeted. And there's been increasing talk about how he can't be trusted, about how he's destroying WikiLeaks with his ego, and about how he's losing credibility thanks to a pro-Russia bias in his leaks, all of which would explain why authorities seem about as enthusiastic to persecute him as I am to do my laundry. Why risk making him likable again? Public opinion of Snowden has been steadily split, but more importantly, we've already stopped giving a shit about government surveillance. His revelations have dropped out of the news entirely, and no one seems to care. Hauling him in to face trial would just bring them back up, and why do that when you can just sit back and watch Snowden and Assange snipe at each other on Twitter?
Isolation is a strategy that seems to work better for America, regardless of who the enemy is. There's a reason the Iraq War is largely considered a messy blunder while, say, North Korea has been treated like a kid who needs a time out, and has done nothing more than occasionally fire a badly designed rocket into the ocean as a result. The American government whipped up hatred against Iraq, and it backfired. But all we do with North Korea is laugh at them. All they need now is a Twitter feed for Kim Jong-un's pets.
Regardless of what you think of Assange and Snowden, we live in a world where it's considered better to let them post cat photos and baffling music videos until their isolation drives them into insanity and irrelevance than it is put them on trial and let the public know just what they revealed that's considered so horrible. I don't know whether that's good or bad, but it's certainly weird. Oh, and it kind of sucks for the women accusing Assange of rape. Just sayin'.
See how the only one crazier than Julian Assaange is Chris Bucholz in 24 Questions I Shouldn't Have Asked the Wikileaks Founder and learn about the world's most powerful secret society in 5 Eerie Conspiracies Theorists Were Right About All Along.
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