The uniformed men were removed in 2015. In their place, Scotland Yard initiated more intensive covert monitoring. Anyone familiar with Assange’s world view knows that this was far more psychologically stressful for him. He does not like to admit vulnerability, but in 2015 a specialist on isolation and trauma visited him and was struck by the way he was changing. Pointing out clutter accumulating in his bedroom, the doctor asked if Assange registered the mess. Never known for tidiness, Assange explained that his landscape was becoming a blur. “The walls of the Embassy are as familiar as the interior of my eyelids,” he said. “I see them, but I do not see them.” With reluctance, he admitted that he has suffered bouts of depression, and that his sleep was disrupted by anxiety. He often stays awake for eighteen, or twenty, or twenty-two hours, until he collapses from exhaustion. Increasingly, the passage of time is difficult for him to gauge. “Nothing is before or after,” he told the doctor. “There are diminishing reference points.” Yet Assange has developed an acute sensitivity to his environment. One evening, he told me, “I have a sixth sense of the dynamics of the Embassy.” He raised a hand in an operatic gesture, as if holding a wand. “Just based on environmental—the flow of the air, the little rumbles, people walking, typing.”
As for Romance
How impossible it is to
have feelings for
Not because of his heart
But his circumstances.Constantly under threat
Threatened to be killed.
An hour into my first visit, Mr. Picabia interrupted to tell Assange that guests had arrived: George Gittoes, an Australian artist, and his wife, Hellen Rose. The plan was for Assange to set aside his work and allow Gittoes, an old family friend, to paint his portrait. Gittoes has spent his life in war-torn countries—Rwanda, Somalia, Cambodia, Nicaragua—and currently lives in Afghanistan. “He is way more interesting than me—way more,” Assange said.
When WikiLeaks was small, Assange was less angry. His general view of American power was one of suspicion rather than contempt. His wry sense of humor was more readily apparent, as was his optimism. During my visit to Iceland, in 2010, we were seated side by side when a submission came into the anonymous WikiLeaks in-box. He giggled and, in a mock-sober tone, announced its importance: someone had submitted the Declaration of Independence.
What happened in Sweden began a long argument, which has become central to Assange’s current legal uncertainty and to his public persona. Joseph Campbell, the scholar of mythology, once sketched the fundamental structure of the hero’s journey: departure, initiation, return. Assange takes a quasi-neo-Marxist view of religion, but he is attuned to master narratives. He has framed the events in Sweden as his initiation, a nearly supernatural ordeal, to be overcome on his path back to the everyday world.
Assange’s habit of describing his organization as suffering a constant existential emergency, of blaming his personal legal difficulties on nefarious external forces, of making the acceptance of narratives a litmus test for support, had an uncomfortable ring. At one point, Jemima Khan criticized him for surrounding the Swedish case with his own mythology, and warned of “an Australian L. Ron Hubbard” in the making. Khan once recalled that after she decided to co-produce a documentary about WikiLeaks, Assange told her, “If it’s a fair film, it will be pro-Julian Assange.”
For nearly half a decade, Assange had been cultivating a dislike of Clinton that was partly personal and partly philosophical. Clinton, he suspected, had wanted to assassinate him, and was instrumental in aggravating his conflict with Sweden. Moreover, he saw her as the main gear of a political machine that encompassed Wall Street, the intelligence agencies, the State Department, and overseas client nations, like Saudi Arabia. “She’s the smooth central representation of all that,” he once said. “And ‘all that’ is more or less what is in power now in the United States.”
There are several, and they go beyond Guccifer 2.0’s insistence that it was responsible for the WikiLeaks releases. In early July, for example, Guccifer 2.0 told a Washington journalist that WikiLeaks was “playing for time.” There was no public evidence for this, but from the inside it was clear that WikiLeaks was overwhelmed. In addition to the D.N.C. archive, Assange had received e-mails from the leading political party in Turkey, which had recently experienced a coup, and he felt that he needed to rush them out. Meanwhile, a WikiLeaks team was scrambling to prepare the D.N.C. material. (A WikiLeaks staffer told me that they worked so fast that they lost track of some of the e-mails, which they quietly released later in the year.) On several occasions, and in different contexts, Assange admitted to me that he was pressed for time. “We were quite concerned about meeting the deadline,” he told me once, referring to the Democratic National Convention.
“What about it is interesting, though?” Collier asked. “I don’t really see how it would be a story.”
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