The mother of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has emerged to defend her son as fighting a good fight, saying she raised a highly intelligent and sensitive boy, and gave him a strong grounding in ethics.
"Whether you agree with what Julian does or not, living by what you believe in and standing up for something is a good thing," she told the Australian newspaper Herald Sun, in an article dated Dec. 2. "He sees what he's doing as doing a good thing in the world, fighting baddies, if you like."
But that’s not exactly what government authorities are considering as they seek to arrest the renegade Australian. Mr. Assange is wanted on rape allegations in Sweden, the international police organization Interpol has issued a “red notice” alert for his arrest, and Australian and American law enforcement agencies are reportedly studying the possibility of issuing criminal charges against him.
While leftist Latin American governments praise his efforts, former friends and colleagues describe him as a self-absorbed authoritarian. Yet none can deny his growing stardom. He is reportedly leading the poll for Time magazine’s 2010 “Person of the Year” – a title that went last year to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and before that to President-elect Barack Obama.
Person of the Year?
Born in Townsville, Queensland, the former computer hacker and now self-styled “editor-in-chief” of WikiLeaks on Sunday began releasing the website’s third major cache of confidential US documents in five months.
Each release has set a new mark for the “largest leak” of government documents in US history. The latest includes 251,287 US diplomatic cables – provided in advance to Germany's Der Spiegel, Spain's El País, France's Le Monde, and the Guardian in Britain (which in turn passed it along to The New York Times). As of Wednesday morning, only 485 cables were viewable on WikiLeaks.org, with the remainder to go online in the coming months.
A Swedish court issued a detention order for Assange on Nov. 18, on allegations of "rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion” that prosecutors had been investigating for months. Assange denies any wrongdoing and has appealed the arrest warrant, Sweden's High Court said on Dec. 1 – a day after Interpol issued a 'red notice' against Assange connected to Sweden's allegations.
According to the New York Daily Post, a British lawyer acting for Assange said "the basis for the rape charge purely seems to constitute a post-facto dispute over consensual, but unprotected sex days after the event."
Mrs. Assange's latest defense of her son followed several recent interviews with Australian news organizations, apparently stepping out of obscurity to defend her son. While she went by the pseudonym "Claire" in a recent New Yorker article, she is now speaking openly.
In addition to her interview with the Herald Sun, she spoke with the Sunshine Coast Daily and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation from her home on Queensland's Sunshine Coast, saying: “He's my son and I love him and obviously I don't want him hunted down and jailed. A lot of stuff that is written about me and Julian is untrue."
Apparently in an effort to set the record straight, she has divulged a number of details about her “highly intelligent” son. He was a “lovely boy, very sensitive, good with animals, quiet and has a wicked sense of humor," she told the Herald Sun. He was brought up without religion but with a strong code of ethics. "He didn't actually come from a background of high technology; he came from a background of creativity and a love of learning and books."
He also came from a nomadic family, moving 37 times before he turned 14, according to The New Yorker’s June 2010 profile. As a teenager he embraced high technology, turning himself into a skilled computer hacker who “broke into computer systems in Europe and North America, including networks belonging to the US Department of Defense and to the Los Alamos National Laboratory,” according to the magazine. The thought that authorities were interested in his activities only amplified “the thrill of digital exploration.”
'Increasingly dictatorial, eccentric, and capricious style'
Assange is unmarried but has one son, aged 21. His mother's sympathetic portrait contrasts with a number of descriptions from Assange’s former friends and colleagues.
The New York Times, in a critical and much-criticized Oct. 23 profile, reported that dozens of interviews with Assange's current and former supporters in numerous countries revealed him to be "someone whose growing celebrity has been matched by an increasingly dictatorial, eccentric, and capricious style.”
“It is not just governments that denounce him: some of his own comrades are abandoning him for what they see as erratic and imperious behavior, and a nearly delusional grandeur unmatched by an awareness that the digital secrets he reveals can have a price in flesh and blood,” according to the Times. He has reportedly described his colleagues as “a confederacy of fools.”
The Times detailed how Assange lives on the run, referring to himself as “the James Bond of journalism.” The New Yorker, as well, noted “a low-grade fever of paranoia runs through the WikiLeaks community.” According to The Guardian’s profile, Assange “reckons he is genetically predisposed to rebel.”
Rebelling against the rebel
Now, some are rebelling against the rebel.
A group of former WikiLeaks members are planning to launch their own website in mid-December, according to the English-language affiliate of Der Spiegel. The leader of the new site, which will have a less US-centric focus, will be the former Germany spokesman for WikiLeaks, Daniel Domscheit-Berg.
"Julian Assange reacted to any criticism with the allegation that I was disobedient to him and disloyal to the project," said Mr. Domscheit-Berg, who split with Assange in September and stopped going by the name Daniel Schmitt.