Julian Assange's arrest was not a sudden development, cultural philosopher Slavoj Žižek told Russia Today. Instead it was well planned and the final step in a long and ugly smear campaign against the WikiLeaks founder.
After sheltering in London's Ecuadorian embassy for six years, Assange was dragged out of the building by British police on Thursday morning. The arrest comes after Ecuador's new pro-US president withdrew Assange's asylum claim, and after WikiLeaks Editor-in-Chief Kristinn Hrafnsson claimed that an extensive spying campaign was conducted against Assange, designed to get him out.
"I was not surprised," Žižek told RT. "The problem for me is how people will simply accept this as the result of the long, systematic, character assassination campaign."
Then the gossip against Assange sank to an "incredibly dirty personal level, that he doesn't clean his toilet, that he smells bad and so on. Can we imagine anything lower?" WikiLeaks has argued the same, calling Assange the victim of "a sophisticated effort to dehumanize, delegitimize and imprison him." The first step in the campaign, Žižek said, was to connect WikiLeaks – an independent journalistic outlet known for leaking classified materials, which also prides itself on having never published false information – with Russia and Vladimir Putin. The next step was "character assassination." Assange, Žižek said, was painted as "arrogant," "paranoid," and even a rapist, despite Swedish authorities dropping all charges against him in 2017.
Assange's arrest, Žižek continued, has "nothing to do with vengeance." Rather, the WikiLeaks head was made an example of in the ongoing fight to clamp down on the free flow of information. Just like the European Union's new copyright directive threatens to censor almost all free expression online, neutering organizations like Wikileaks is a step towards controlling what information we can and cannot access.
"All our lives today are somehow regulated through digital media," he said. "So it's absolutely crucial who controls this digital media. This is the greatest threat to our freedom."
"We are not even aware of it as we don't experience it as unfreedom. It's not like the old days of the police state, where you look over your shoulder and see a man following you. You feel totally free, but your every move is registered and you're subtly manipulated."
"Wikileaks embodied resistance to this," Žižek added.
Assange's lawyer Jen Robinson confirmed on Thursday that Assange's arrest was made in relation to a US extradition request. Assange is accused of conspiring with US Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning – herself currently behind bars in Virginia for refusing to testify against WikiLeaks – to leak classified footage of US military war crimes in 2010. This footage showed a US Apache helicopter gunship opening fire on and killing 12 people, including two Reuters staff.
"I wouldn't blame Ecuador too much," Žižek concluded. "Ecuador was under terrible pressure from the United States. Forget about these B-level countries. This is all about the United States."