My Own Private Guantanamo

Pranks, Power and Pop Culture


A smear for a smear

December 8, 2010

I was disturbed when I saw this story by Kirk James White published on Firedoglake over the weekend. Of course, I’d heard about the talk of connections between Assange’s accuser and the CIA, but I was troubled by other aspects of the article. Most of its information comes from this shoddy, sexist Counterpunch article which claims that Assange is under siege by “castrating feminists and secret services alike.” Ugh.

White also re-circulates the silly claim that the accuser’s blog article about getting revenge on an ex is proof that she’s not trustworthy. Whatever the substance of the CIA connection, this narrative of the jilted woman turned castrating feminist is dubious crap. Defenders of Wikileaks should not be engaging in misogynist rhetoric or falling back on lazy tropes to defend Julian Assange.

Nor should feminists fall back on their credentials to give their seal of approval to anti-women sentiments to curry favor with the mainstream. Unfortunately, Naomi Wolf didn’t get the memo, and wrote this snarky open letter for the (notoriously sexist) Huffington Post yesterday. Wolf, after announcing her feminist bonafides, characterized Assange’s accusers as jilted women seeking revenge on a narcissistic playboy.

The problem with Wolf’s article is that it dismisses the very serious issues of consent raised by the case. For instance, we learn from the first account of Assange’s court appearance:

The court heard Assange is accused of using his body weight to hold her down in a sexual manner.

The second charge alleged Assange “sexually molested” Miss A by having sex with her without a condom when it was her “express wish” one should be used.

The third charge claimed Assange “deliberately molested” Miss A on August 18 “in a way designed to violate her sexual integrity”. The fourth charge accused Assange of having sex with a second woman, Miss W, on August 17 without a condom while she was asleep at her Stockholm home.

If these charges are true, Assange did not have consent, and may be guilty of rape.

The problem, of course, is that we have no idea if the charges are true. (We may never know.) We also have plenty of reason to be suspicious of the timing of the scandal, and of the unusual swiftness of justice.

I was relieved to see various commentators in the feminist blogosphere question the increasingly sexist discourse, which was beginning to remind me of arguments made on behalf of Roman Polanski. Kate Harding’s piece in Salon offered a thorough and fair analysis, challenging the smears, while acknowledging the widely-shared suspicion that Assange’s case is being fast-tracked for political reasons. (Is there anyone who really doubts that?)

Also weighing in on the discussion was Amanda Marcotte, a prolific feminist blogger, who I regularly read and follow on Twitter. Marcotte is a smart and passionate writer, and I often look to her work for a feminist analysis on the culture wars. (She has also, for what it’s worth, blogged on two occasions about my American Apparel spoofs.) Marcotte began her post with a sharp corrective to the victim smearing, rape apologetic rhetoric. But then, mid paragraph, her post shifted gears, from defending Assange’s victims against unfair smears, to making an unfair smear against Assange:

I’m sorry, but why on earth is it so hard to believe that Assange is the kind of guy who power trips on women by promising to use a condom and then slipping it off during sex?  This is one of the most common kinds of sexual assault there is, and a favorite way for guys with power issues to get cheap thrills at the expense of women, who they often feel are contemptible and weak.  Are we to assume that someone who clearly gets a rise out of making the most powerful nation on the planet scramble around in a chickens-with-heads-cut-off manner doesn’t have a tendency to ego trip?  Are we to assume someone who risks life and limb for this isn’t the kind of guy who might get smaller kicks out of smaller, less internationally interesting power trips?  Why are we to assume that?

What is Marcotte up to here? She seems dangerously close to drawing an equivalency between the mission of Wikileaks and a rapist’s desire to dominate a woman. Note her sexualized language about Assange getting “a rise” out of embarrassing the world’s leaders. Perhaps unintentionally, Marcotte is pathologizing the very idea behind Wikileaks, and in the process, smearing its leader. This seems to mirror the very mistake that Kirk James White and Naomi Wolf make. It clouds the important issues surrounding Wikileaks and characterizes the conflict in sexual terms.

And it gets worse. After rightly pointing out that leftist men can be just as sexist as those on the right, Marcotte writes:

We can be grown-ups here.  We can entertain the idea that Wikileaks is performing a valuable service while acknowledging the strong possibility that Julian Assange is himself an asshole who treats women like they’re objects he can exert his massive power issues on.

Later, in a comment thread, there was this exchange between Marcotte and one of her readers:

Reader: I sense some sort of prejudice here.  Yes Julian looks a little creepy and his lifestyle might make him an easy target, but that doesn’t make him a rapist.

Marcotte: It doesn’t for sure, but please don’t be so condescending. You aren’t a woman and you don’t have to always be gauging men for their trustworthiness, and therefore you haven’t developed the skill set here.  Creepiness is a big red flag.  There are others, but while it doesn’t make Assange a rapist, it sure does—in the experience of someone like myself who has been threatened and raped and has to be on guard simply due to my gender—raise the odds.

Got that? Assange is “creepy.” And this assertion is above examination, unless you are a woman. His “creepiness” doesn’t mean he’s a rapist, but it does “raise the odds.”

In a later tweet, Marcotte pushed this subjective impression further, writing:

Assange is “creepy,” and Marcotte doesn’t like his “vibe.” This kind of rhetoric, coming from Marcotte is deeply disappointing.

As I tweeted to her yesterday, her statements, taken together, go far beyond asserting the possibility of Assange’s guilt. They stop just short of calling the man a rapist. Marcotte disagreed replying in four subsequent tweets that I had lied about the content of her post.

“I said I have no idea if he’s guilty. But you accuse me of otherwise, even though the evidence is against you. False accuser.”

“And yet, I said I can’t know if he’s guilty. I said it’s a possibility, and yet here I am, falsely accused.”

“For someone so sensitive to false accusations, you sure like to dish them out!”

“You would think if you’re opposed to false accusations, you would refrain from issuing them.”

Marcotte is correct, insofar as she never directly calls Assange a rapist. Instead she asserts that Assange is the kind of guy who would rape a woman. In the process, she casts the very nature of Assange’s work with Wikileaks not as an idealistic, noble or necessary pursuit, but as a “power trip.” How is this type of argument by insinuation substantively different from the smears against his accuser?

For example: what if White and Wolf had said “Hey, we’re not calling these women CIA honeypot moles and jilted groupies, we’re just saying it’s very possible.”

If Assange is, in fact, guilty of these crimes, then Marcotte’s comments about him (though not about his organization) might be justified. But, what if he’s innocent?

In a subsequent tweet, Marcotte seemed to soften the tone of her attack on Assange, writing:

“My point is one can be grown-up enough to realize that Assange is both being unfairly attacked and may not be a good guy.

This is better. Still, I got to wondering why Marcotte chose not to weigh in on the larger issues surrounding Wikileaks. Why, for instance, hasn’t she blogged about the chilling, authoritarian crackdown on Wikileaks by the political and financial establishment? Or about the outrageous calls for Assange to be designated as a terrorist and murdered? Aren’t these outrages also worthy of her analysis? What about the cables themselves, which reveal the machinery of the American empire, the way we bully smaller nations, and the scandal surrounding Hillary Clinton’s use of diplomats as spies? And what about the endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Aren’t these also feminist issues?

When I asked Marcotte how she felt about the crackdown on Wikileaks and the policies it has helped to exposed, she conceded that the government was retaliating against Assange and only “using the rape allegations to get him.” Then, I pressed Marcotte to comment on the attack against Wikileaks, and the wars they seek to expose. Here was her response:

This was disappointing. Is it really possible, that Marcotte has no opinion on these issues? That her only comment on the entire Wikileaks saga is to argue that Julian Assange seems like the kind of guy who might be a rapist? We need voices like Marcotte’s in this discussion– not just the hypothetical one about Assange’s sexual character– but the larger discussion about what Wikileaks has revealed about our country, and the powerful forces being marshaled to discredit and destroy it.

Watching the discussion unfold today, I was reminded of a CIA memo, released by Wikileaks (natch) back in March. Headlined “ Public Apathy Enables Leaders To Ignore Voters … But Casualties Could Precipitate Backlash,” the memo revealed the CIA’s plan to manipulate feminist sentiment in Europe to gain support for the war in Afghanistan. It’s exactly this kind of tactic that worries me about the unfolding dialogue surrounding Assange and his accusers. One friend has already observed that the constant association in the media of the words “rape” and “Assange” have an almost hypnotic effect, regardless of your opinions on his case. What is the net effect of this obsession with Assange, his accusers and the murky facts of a case, that we know almost nothing about?

The American left is already fractured enough. The anti-war movement is in tatters. The Democrats have all but abandoned any remaining promises to protect civil liberties, reform the financial system or end our various declared and undeclared wars. It can only serve the interests of the political establishment to continue to speculate on Assange’s character and that of his accusers. What we should be doing instead is proudly defending Wikileaks and the democratic traditions it promotes. At the same time, we should be using this occasion to draw critical attention to the machinery of the security state and the breathtaking force with which it seeks to crush Wikileaks. We live in scary fucking times.

Wikileaks is a feminist issue.

  • Andrea Luquetta

    Whether the release of documents is valuable to the world or U. S. public, whether Assange and others violated international or U. S. Laws, whether corporate and commercial black listing is something consumers want to encourage – all are much more interesting inquiries and valuable to public debate than whether he’s a sexual predator. His violation of Swedish sex laws is a serious question deserving of due process but not the main one nor deserving of the international attention its gotten.

  • Marie

    I got confused by all this so I just went back and looked at the video of our guys fragging innocent unarmed non-Iraqis from a helicopter and those who would help them and it all made sense again.

  • Anonymous

    This is divide and conquer 101.

  • My Own Private Guantanamo

    [...] this morning’s post about Amanda Marcotte’s smears on Julian Assange, I was careful to avoid circulating the [...]

  • pho2art

    Who is this Marcotte?

  • Someone

    He may have done it, he may not have. I lean towards him not having done so. Put together everything, including the fact that prosecutors refused to talk to him anywhere except in Sweden (where they can extradite him), seems to add up to a very weak (from known facts) case being taken seriously for highly political motives. I am not attacking the alleged victims, but the fact that one of them DID write an article on how to get even with an ex, and threw a party for him after the supposed molestation, while the other tweeted, had breakfast with him, and they parted amicably. Only after they met did anything start happening, and even then it was dropped the first time, and only reopened the day after the leaks started (citing new evidence, which seems… unlikely in this type of case).

    Also, Wolf was making a comment on the fact that Interpol NEVER goes after sex offenders, yet in this case it took them a couple of days to get him arrested (and since most people seemed to have missed it, he is not actually being charged with a crime last I heard, he was arrested for “questioning related to…”.

    Harding’s response was not nearly as fair as you make it seem, but it is late and I’m not going to re-read it to point out how.

    Either way, Wikileaks and Assange’s possible personal crimes truly are completely separate issues, the fact that people naturally lump them together is just foolishness

  • Matt Cornell

    This seems relevant. Anna Ardin is tweeting.

  • Helenl

    Rape is a terrible thing to happen to anyone, male or female. Accusations of rape against those who are innocent is also a terrible thing to happen to anyone.

    We don’t know if rape occurred. We were not there. If there is no evidence, or not enough evidence then Assange will be a free man, with his reputation tarnished.

    If there is enough evidence to support a trial, then the trial will proceed.
    If he is found innocent, he will walk free, his repuation should be left in order, though I doubt he will forever more be reminded of these events in every newspaper article. If he is found guilty then he will be punished in accordance with Swedish law.

    The women, well either they were victims or they were not. The authorities should ensure due process to establish the merits of their claims, not the media, not any Tom Dick or Harry who wants to voice their opinion in the media.
    If they have made false allegations then they should be dealt with by the Swedish authorities. If they have made honest allegations, then they are entitled to have justice just like anyone else.

    Remember everyone is innocent until proved guitly. That must apply to us all, no matter what the allegation is. The public need to sit down, shut up and see what happens in court should it ever get to court. The media, bloggers, etc, should do likewise. Let’s all wait for the facts to emerge as all dignified adults should..

    Where Wikileaks is concerned, the rape allegations are, or should be irrelevant. How many small, medium or large multinational corporations, or governments have had one of their employees accused of rape, convicted or acquited of rape? Has that made any difference to the organisations products or services? No. Nor should it.

  • !&#

    I can’t speak for Marcotte, but I can definitely put some substance to the same feeling I have. As a leader or figurehead of an organization that is in open conflict with state power, he is incredibly vulnerable to blackmail and false accusations. Why was he having casual sex like this?

    I’ve read reports that one or both of the women were volunteers or supporters in some way… According to the Reuters story from Tuesday, one was an enthusiastic new volunteer. Is having sex with new volunteers an appropriate way for a leader or figurehead to do things? What message would this send to other new volunteers? To other women in the organization? To anyone who observes this from the outside?

    Is casual sex here also an abuse of his authority?

    Wikileaks is free to set its own code of ethics and moral boundaries, but every organization with this much pressure put upon it must have some discipline about relationships among members. Companies do. Political parties do. It sounds like Wikileaks doesn’t, or it had the wrong notions in play.

    The issue became more politicized when he left Sweden. Extradition is a political process. Nefarious forces have more opportunity to intervene when multiple states are involved.

  • Siren of Brixton

    The reality is that either the women have made false allegations or Assange is guilty of sexual of assault. It covers no one in glory to make assumptions either way. To many observers (inc. me) the timing is too coincidental and the rallying of forces seems disproportionate but it doesn’t prove of disprove anything.

    In my view it’s irrelevant whether or not Assange is guilty of these charges. If he his, he should be punished. That doesn’t change the role or value of Wikileaks. Bill Clinton was a philanderer. Numerous British (mainly Tory??) politicians over the years have been caught up in various sex scandals. This behaviour does not affect – positively or negatively – their achievements in other spheres. It may affect our opinion of them as people but we should all be grown up enough to acknowledge that it’s perfectly possible for someone to be both good and bad at the same time. Heroes and villains only exist in convenient boxes in fiction – and weak fiction at that. Real people are complex and flawed.

  • Whore

    August 17 without a condom while she was asleep at her Stockholm home…

    Tweet about a good time at the party, goin to breakfast, buying him tickets ??

    Yeah a classic LMFAO victim there..

    Oh he fucked while I was asleep…haahahahahah

    Only in Sweden

  • oxfordbloo

    Great that you decided to blog on this issue and right up front slammed the sickening misogynist discourse going on amongst pro-Wikileaks bloggers. Thanks.

    But then you undid all your good work by focusing the vast majority of this post on one feminist blogger’s ranting and smearing of Julian Assange, rather than treating us to what I had hoped would be your own intelligent and razor-sharp corrective to the woman-hating going on in the pro-Wikileaks camp.

    Why can’t you just come out and say it, and call on others to do so too: I support Wikileaks – more than that I am in awe of Wikileaks’ fantastic work – but I hate rape and misogyny.

    Until we stand up together we’re never going to stamp out the woman-hating rape culture that infects our resistance movements as much as it does mainstream culture.

  • Anonymous

    The woman-hating rhetoric among some Wikileaks supporters was very ably addressed by Harding, Marcotte, Sady Doyle, Jezebel and many other commentators. As you note, I devoted the first third of my post exclusively to criticizing the sexist rhetoric of the Firedoglake and Naomi Wolf pieces.

    The rest of my post, is so far as I am aware, the only leftist and feminist critique of what you rightly call Marcotte’s “smear” of Julian Assange. As I have shown in the piece, her argument falls into the same type of insinuating attack that White and Wolf make. Marcotte has a powerful megaphone, and she needs to be just as careful in her rhetoric as we expect Wikileaks supporters to be.

    Like you, I support Wikileaks. I hate rape and misogyny. I also hate the smear campaign against Julian Assange. And I hate the way that this increasingly fraught discussion is being used to divide the liberal mainstream from the left, and distract us from the enormous (and very evident) abuses of power by our political leaders and financial establishment.

    There is a danger in allowing this wedge to be driven deeper. Let’s admit that sexism on the left, is a problem, and challenge it wherever we find it. But let’s also call out dubious attacks on Wikileaks and its leader. Feminism is one of the liberal/left fault lines that is being exploited by the power elite. Naomi Klein noted this today on Twitter.!/NaomiAKlein/status/12479573723709440

  • Sarah

    I agree with most of this article, but I have to say this part annoyed me:

    “One friend has already observed that the constant association in the media of the words “rape” and “Assange” have an almost hypnotic effect, regardless of your opinions on his case.”

    That’s simply not how this is playing out in reality – people are hearing the words ‘Assange’ and ‘rape’ and because they have already learned to associate the word ‘Assange’ with “good guy” and “anti-establishment” and “US conspiracy” etc etc they are associating the word ‘rape’ with that in a negative way, i.e. it creates the impression in the mind that rape isn’t serious and that women make it up. Seriously, people in reality simply AREN’T hearing ‘rape’ and associating it in their mind with the thought “Julian Assange is a rapist”, they’re associating it with the thought “this rape charge against Assange is bogus”. This whole situation is going to push back the discourse surrounding rape decades, and it’s so disappointing to see left wing forces be complicit in this. Seriously, I used to respect a great number of Australian left wing groups, but they’ve really taken misogyny to a new level on this one.

    Myself and a friend wrote an article about this and I think we’ve struck the right tone with a) trying not to say too much about the rape charges, b) dealing with how out of order it is the way that some left wing forces are using this in a misogynist misguided attempt at anti-establishmentism and c) talking about the actual substantial political issue around wikileaks.

    I also think it’s an absolute travesty that there are left wing people out there who, instead of forming campaigns to defend Bradley Manning who is being held on remand for political crimes, they are choosing to vocally form misogynistic, rape-myth promoting campaigns to defend Assange against “bogus rape charges” which is just such an unsocialist position to take. And when you try to argue against it, you’re the one who is “a feminazi in cahoots with the right wing US government”, because it’s obviously never occurred to them that the US government might enjoy seeing left wing forces uphold patriarchy on their behalf and spread all those lovely rape myths all over the internet repeatedly.

    I know the absolute devastation that heroworshipping “good men” of the left can do, it absolutely despairs me to see it happen again and so quickly with Assange. Support wikileaks, let Assange answer himself to the crimes he has been accused of.

  • Matt Cornell

    Sarah- Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I also liked the analysis given on your organization’s website. I agree that Assange is not Wikileaks, and that there is no reason our support (or lack thereof) should hinge on his moral character. If he is convicted, or if something far more sinister happens to him, we will still be left with the fact of Wikileaks and the other groups that will emerge in its wake.

    I think we have a legitimate difference of opinion over how the rape charges play in the media, and affect mainstream public perceptions of Assange. I think that within leftist circles, your observation may be accurate, and that a consensus may be building that he’s been falsely charged. This perception has led to some very sexist rhetoric, and also to a fair amount of hero worship.

    But, outside of leftist circles, the association of Assange with “rape” (not to mention “terrorism”) is clearly working. As Assange remains the organization’s head, and a very articulate spokesperson, we have to acknowledge the damage that is caused to Wikileaks by attacks on his character. This is how most casual followers of the news will judge things, for better or for worse.

    From where I sit, the great majority of American liberals– and I’m including many of the feminist bloggers I admire– have been largely silent on the importance of Wikileaks and this most recent display of authoritarianism to silence them. More generally, there’s been a tremendous complacency about the endless wars, government secrecy, and assaults on civil liberties that have continued under Barack Obama. (An even better example of the pitfalls of personality cults.)

    I think most of the liberal mainstream would like to see Assange and Wikileaks go away, so that we can go back to the business of obsessing over Sarah Palin and the Tea Party rather than examining the mammoth corruption of our political system, under a Democratic leadership.

    You and me are looking at a very small segment of the population– the organized left. I suspect that outside of this small, but important discussion, the vast majority of observers simply view Assange as a creepy rapey terrorist, and couldn’t care less about the turf wars over feminism. We need people to care about the future of Wikileaks. We need to stop smearing each other. And we need folks like Marcotte to weigh in on more issues than this one (rape), if we want to see a real shift in consensus.

  • Thefeistysweetheart

    Thanks for your post, I couldn’t agree more. I, too, have followed Marcotte for years, and the logic in that post surprised me. I thought about commenting, but when I saw that commenter quoted above labeled as “condescending,” I refrained. It was frustrating to see her hurl names at what read as a polite but legitimate criticism of her logic. To me, it went against the whole point of the “We can be grown ups…” We can be grown ups and disagree politely. There’s no need to misread disagreement as a personal attack. Felt like Shakesville, or something.

    If Assange had sex with a woman while she was sleeping or forced himself on her without her consent, duh, that’s rape. And it’s good to defend the women for having the courage to make such charges in a society which way too often trivializes rape. But following that up with “plus, he’s so creepy!!” was utterly unnecessary. And as a woman, I find her reply to her commenter “condescending.” I find nothing creepy about Assange, and I don’t see a megalomaniac either who enjoys playing with the US gov’t. I see a legitimate whistleblower unfairly targeted by international governments, one who has been pretty brave, and one who has recently been accused of rape.

    If Assange is guilty of rape, then I hope he goes to jail for a long, long time. If it turns out these charges are false, then I hope we think for a second about smearing a man as ‘creepy’ while so little of the case is known; or at the very least, we can respect that perhaps not everyone feels the same way. Regardless, I hope Wikileaks is able to keep functioning.

  • guest

    You will also search in vain to find any interest Marcotte has shown in:

    1. Rapes and murders of Iraqi women by American soldiers
    2. Afghan feminism (despite her strong concerns about the Taliban)
    3. The post-invasion rape crisis in Iraq

    Marcotte is an imperialist first and a feminist second. Her class and race will always come before a genuine interest in ALL women’s concerns. For more insight into her racism, see the controversy aroused by racist illustrations in her book “It’s a jungle…”

  • 46uies

    let your voice be heard.. tell Feminists CUNTS what you really think of them: Manhood101 . com

  • 4tugffs

    You need to understand what manhood means before you speak about it: Manhood101 . com

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