Julian Assange, Ecuador Embassy
Julian Assange speaks to the press at the Ecuador Embassy in London on August 18, 2014. Photo credit: Cancillería del Ecuador / Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Julian Assange has been a highly divisive figure in the US, with some hailing him as a hero of a free press and others condemning the WikiLeaks founder for jeopardizing national security and working with Russia to get Donald Trump elected. News of his release reflected these two extremes.

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Americans don’t seem to be able to agree on anything these days. Usually, their differences reflect the partisan divide. Every now and then, however, there are issues that transcend party lines… for example, when news broke that Julian Assange had struck a deal with US authorities that would result in him being able to return to his native Australia in exchange for pleading guilty to one count of violating the Espionage Act.

In this case, the country is still divided, just not along party lines.

This was especially apparent in the GOP.

Without Donald Trump weighing in (yet) and telling Republicans what to think, their reactions were all over the place.

The libertarian and pro-Russia wings of the party hailed the development.

“I just heard Julian Assange will soon be free due to a deal,” stated Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), who is perhaps the most libertarian-minded member of Congress. “His liberation is great news, but it’s a travesty that he’s already spent so much time in jail. Obama, Trump, & Biden should have never pursued this prosecution.”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), a member of the “Let’s Repeat Russian Propaganda” caucus (which isn’t an official thing but might as well be), said it was an “amazing sight” to see Assange walk free.

However, traditional national security hawks viewed things quite differently.

“Julian Assange endangered the lives of our troops in a time of war and should have been prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said former Vice President Mike Pence. “The Biden administration’s plea deal with Assange is a miscarriage of justice and dishonors the service and sacrifice of the men and women of our Armed Forces and their families. There should be no plea deals to avoid prison for anyone that endangers the security of our military or the national security of the United States. Ever.”

And, of course, Republicans also offered conspiracy theories.

“It’s great that Julian Assange will finally be released (in what smells like a desperate Biden gambit for libertarian votes), but it’s shameful that he had to spend years rotting in a foreign prison for doing what other reporters do regularly, while the government employee who leaked to him – Chelsea Manning – had her sentence commuted by Obama because she’s a member of a favored political class (transgender),” said former GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, who conveniently left out the fact that Trump, the man he is shilling for, had four years to strike a similar deal or pardon Assange.

While other progressives around the globe hailed the development, such as former UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who called Assange’s incarceration “a grotesque miscarriage of justice,” US Democrats were mostly mum.

That makes sense. They have a complicated relationship with the founder of WikiLeaks because of his role in helping Russia give Trump an edge over rival Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.

Advocacy groups were more united in their praise of the news.

“While we welcome the end of his detention, the US’s pursuit of Assange has set a harmful legal precedent by opening the way for journalists to be tried under the Espionage Act if they receive classified material from whistleblowers,” said Jodie Ginsberg, the CEO of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The group Reporters Without Borders called the deal “a long overdue victory for journalism and press freedom,” adding that Assange “never should have spent a single day deprived of his liberty for publishing information in the public interest. Nothing can undo the past 13 years, but it is never too late to do the right thing, and we welcome this move by the US government.”


  • Klaus Marre

    Klaus Marre is a senior editor for Politics and director of the Mentor Apprentice Program at WhoWhatWhy. Follow him on Twitter @KlausMarre.

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