On elections, political violence and WikiLeaks

Between 2006 and 2010, I ran a campaign against non-trustworthy e-Voting technology. I’m Dutch and there was a time when voting in the Netherlands was entirely done on computers – computers that could just as easily be programmed to be honest vote-counters as they could be programmed to subtly lie about the election results. With no paper record to go back to, the country was stuck trusting a small group of programmers. There were essentially no checks and balances. After this successful campaign, these computers disappeared and the country is back to voting on paper. Which isn’t perfect, but at least offers a better chance of detecting and/or correcting manipulations. And the possible manipulations that apply to a paper-based process don’t scale the way attacks on electronic systems do.

We campaigned saying the systems were hackable and non-transparent. What I feared (but did not often say) was that we would soon see a more chaotic world with nation-state level cyber-attacks against voting systems, changing the election results or causing people to no longer trust the result. (When I did talk about this, I was considered outlandish and paranoid back then.) I’ve long been a pessimist, and I generally think the peace and stability that we in the West have become used to are going to disappear much more quickly than people think.

I believe our world is unjust, our ecosystems are dying in preventable ways and we are urgently in need of lots of change. I have even called myself a revolutionary at times, but I also feel that if you still have the institutions of democracy (almost no matter how imperfect), you’re probably better off making/forcing change within this democracy as opposed to violently overthrowing the existing order. After all, if history is any guide, the odds of getting something even worse in return are significant. Political violence within a society is always bloody and ugly.

So: for a society to lose trust in election results is generally a Bad Thing™, because when trust in an election outcome is gone, the threat of violence is always in the air.

 

All the above is especially true in the powder keg that is the contemporary United States. Corporations have long been able to buy legislation services outright, and the middle class has been very effectively strip-mined for their remaining wealth. Large sections of the population work multiple insecure jobs if they have work at all, having insufficient access to health care, with no money to raise their kids or save for retirement. Many people are very angry and trapped in intentional filter bubbles of fake news, causing them to be angry at each other instead of at the banks and corporations that put them there. All while a myth called “The American Dream” effectively keeps people that do a little better from feeling any empathy towards the “losers” down below.

Say what you will, but for someone who shits in a golden toilet, Donald Trump understood the level of anger of the common American very well. He and his cronies have risen to power like all fascists before them: promise authoritarian rule, blame immigrants or racial minorities for problems and generally foster sexism, racism and nationalism. The increased tensions among Americans, combined with rampant deregulation and his government’s apparent disinterest in actual governing will only make the problems of the average American worse. But he’s counting on a hyper-polarised, angry, badly misinformed and increasingly scared populace to only get more angry at each other. Scared angry people are the root of his power, after all.

Before his surprise win, Trump was simultaneously blowing every sexist, racist, nationalist, anti-environmental and authoritarian dog whistle and regular whistle ever produced. What is of interest here is that he was clearly and openly signalling that he preferred to get to power through elections, but that he by no means excluded the use of “justified” political violence if the election result were to favor Hillary. Among his messages were (essentially) “Vote for me or she is going to appoint the judges (or maybe you can shoot her),” the threat to lock up his political opponent, the Duterte-esque “I could shoot someone and not lose voters” and “I will respect the election result if I win,” along with a refusal to denounce card-carrying, out-in-the-open, violent Nazis who were delighted to finally have a dog in the race. With Trump, the credible threat of political violence was part of the ticket in a way that it hadn’t been in a long time.

In the US context, there are legitimate reasons and ways to doubt an election outcome. If a race is particularly close, a candidate can ask for a recount to make sure there were no errors. Note that in the US an election with a correct outcome is not an honest election. There is way too much gerrymandering, voter intimidation, voter roll purging and manipulation of the information environment to call any US election honest. As much as these problems need urgent addressing: the greater good (in my opinion, anyway) strongly demands of politicians on election night to accept an outcome unless they have legitimate reasons to ask for a recount. It is (or was, until now) understood that no matter how heated the debate had been, there needed to be a great degree of civility and due process around the election result, precisely to prevent violence.

 

I was part of WikiLeaks in 2010: Among other things I helped release the “Collateral Murder” video that showed gun footage of a US helicopter crew killing a group that included US journalists and the people who came to help them when they were shot. WikiLeaks has on many occasions done the world a favor by releasing documents that show us what the world is really like, as opposed to what our governments tell us it is like. But in the election campaign of 2016, it sometimes became hard to distinguish between the Twitter feeds of Breitbart, WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign. It was clear to me that Julian had picked a candidate and was helping the campaign, no matter how hard both sides denied it. As much as I like and respect some of the people who work or have worked for WikiLeaks, WikiLeaks itself wasn’t my cup of tea anymore. It was certainly legitimate to publish the e-mails that show how the Sanders campaign was sabotaged by the DNC. It was just the way things were presented that really didn’t work for me anymore. But who am I to tell someone he cannot campaign against a candidate who wants him “droned,” even if in a two party system (fix needed) this means he’s effectively campaigning for someone that I think is even worse?

 

A few days ago, the Twitter DM messages between WikiLeaks (Julian himself?) and Donald Trump Jr. were published. Assuming these are real (nobody has claimed the contrary), they show WikiLeaks asking for tax returns so as to be seen as more impartial, wanting Donald Sr. to publish a URL (which he did) and wanting for Julian to become the Australian ambassador (nope). It certainly busts the “there was never any collusion between WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign” rhetoric from both sides, but that doesn’t shock or surprise me. What does shock me is this message:

“Hi Don if your father ‘loses’ we think it is much more interesting if he DOES NOT conceed [sic] and spends time CHALLENGING the media and other types of rigging that occurred—as he has implied that he might do.”

Note that there were never any serious indications of manipulations or fraud contra Trump, so this shows WikiLeaks essentially egging on the Trump campaign to cross the Rubicon. Of course history went the other way. We’ll never know what would have happened and whether this would have had any influence.

But given all the preceding rhetoric, WikiLeaks (Julian or whoever else sent the messages) has to have known that calling for a baseless challenge of the outcome is essentially the same as asking the Trump campaign to call on its base (which includes a large number of newly emboldened and staggeringly well-armed Nazis) to take to the streets. This was neither journalism, nor support of a political campaign. This was being a cog in the machine of a fascist uprising. That never happened because the Nazis took a shortcut and won the election. Crazy world.

9 thoughts on “On elections, political violence and WikiLeaks”

  1. Thx Rob for your thoughts. Never understood why nobody (?) ever looked into, lets say, the first part of your article, in combination with the constant hacking going on in American politics. Is everybody/you certain Trump won the legitimate way?

    Aad Markenstein. Almere

  2. This Blogpost will not be to Andy’s or Julian’s liking… 🙂 but thanks, you made your point clear on this.

  3. >that calling for a baseless challenge
    Maybe it wasn’t baseless? Do you have the information that it was baseless on good authority? 🙂

    And while I appreciate the thought that overthrowing government is a double-edged sword, probably even in most cases worsening things –
    I see a conflict arguing how governments lie (and you know how US government treated collateral murder leak) and in another paragraph you ask for keeping calm and civil to keep said government going.
    I see problems there.
    They manipulate elections. Look how Sanders was booted out of candidacy. They do it. They want to do it. Not only by gerrymandering. Why would they castrate themselves “I have went thus far, but will not go further”?
    A lot of people go along, because “part of this information shake people’s trust in democracy”. Oh, it’s for the greater good, alternatives would be worse and everybody makes sacrifices.

    You are a bit naive and while I appreciate that as well (and will certainly will believe you have valid points for being) – I don’t follow.
    Also noting how you funnel all those losers of the powder keg into a “fascist uprising” at the end of your text.
    Maybe I am naive one here, but I don’t see millions of nazis, just millions of rioter – who might turn nazi, if nobody gives them an alternative to rioting. There is a difference in my opinion.

  4. Yeah but you make the fatl mistake of calling trumps base all nazis and facists. The majority are not nazis and fascists but just frustrated people that wanted change and knew Hillary was not the cnadidate that will change anything. This kind of blows the wind out of your argument against wikileaks.

  5. First, I’m not a Trump fan. I think he’s disgusting, like Duterte or Mugabe. He played the Nazi dog-whistle and showed that there is a electorate college majority for Nazis in America, which is not just his fault, but disgusting about America.

    But IMHO, for Julian Assange, the fight against Hillary Clinton was personal, and the anti-Trump camp didn’t need Wikileaks to publish all the ugly truth about Trump. Actually, it didn’t even help to publish all the ugly truth, because that’s what the Nazi voters actually liked. So it was fair and balanced in terms of mudslinging. They all were completely covered with brown stinking crap at the end.

    What I ended up after the election is that I now believe that “democracy” is a code-word for “Nazi mob”: Humans are just way too stupid on average to be guidance for good government. Not that I have a better solution. And “transparency”, what Wikileaks was all about, is a code-word for “mudslinging”: of all the transparency you’ll see, only the dirt matters.

    If you are now angry at Wikileaks, because it’s only a pale shadow of its former self, and a disgusting contributor into that mudslinging: That’s the nature of humans, which are much closer to pigs than you would think.

    There’s an awful lot of resistance against Trump in the deep state, and it’s not democratic resistance. It’s authoritarian Nazis against other authoritarian Nazis. We all can only win as long as they fight each others. But, to make one thing clear: This “the Russians+Wikileaks hacked our democracy” meme is silly. It’s just distracting from the local Nazis who voted for Trump.

    I agree that overthrowing a government is often making it worse. But democracy institutionalizes that, and says it’s actually a good idea if you do that regularly. But I have to say: If you like Clinton and hate Trump, you are severely misguided. Both are symptoms of the same disease, a perverted plutocracy that calls itself a democracy. If I was in a position to do something about them, destroying both parties is the only option I see.

    If Assange is a genius (don’t know), maybe he had achieved that: Overthrowing Clinton by colluding with Trump, and tainting Trump beyond repair by colluding with him might do the trick. Let’s see. I don’t know if that was intentional. Since the Snowden leaks we know that the NSA tracks all visitors of Wikileaks, and treats them as a terrorist organization, so whoever touches them is a first hop terrorist affiliate, or what they call it.

  6. Hello Rop,
    Hello Bernd,

    I think that both your commentaries are very insightful.
    But Bernd might have missed the central point of Rop’s argument: Challenging democratic election outcomes is a sure way of challenging the particular democracy itself (and thereby challenging the basic societal cohesion, relative safety, etc). With this move, WikiLeaks even challenges the very basis it operates on: a (relatively) free society that enables its members to leak confidential information and journalists to broadcast it without repression.

    At the same time, Bernd is right about the fight being personal and maybe even WikiLeaks/Julian(?) having an ulterior motive. Its just that WikiLeaks/Julian(?) should’nt necessarily have used the “challenge the outcomes”-card. Was that really necessary?

  7. Rop,
    thank you !
    For writing this, and for so much more that you have done. So much you have ever fought for, so much you have always believed in!
    ~

  8. Truth can only help an election, no matter how it is delivered. I think you fail to acknowledge that in your article.

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