Explaining Julian Assange to the kids today

Dan Barrett
Dan Barrett

On Tuesday night’s episode of The Daily Show, host Michael Kosta opened the show on the topic of Julian Assange:

Wikileaks founder and man who looks like he feeds James Bond to sharks, Julian Assange, is out of prison. And like many of you, when I first heard the news, I thought: Which one was he again? … Julian Assange is the one who spent a decade on the run for revealing war crimes committed by America in Iraq. Even though the people who did those crimes weren’t punished. It’s all thanks to an obscure military doctrine known as “snitches get stitches.”

Michael Kosta, The Daily Show

While forgetting who Julian Assange was a faux-confusion for The Daily Show, which specialises in news and conversation that exists at the intersection of news, politics, the media, and technology, many people nowadays could be forgiven for forgetting about what exactly the crimes were that Assange was hiding from, with many young people likely not knowing who Julian Assange is at all.

So, remind me… what was the deal with Julian Assange?

Back in 2010, by way of his online media outlet WikiLeaks, Assange published footage of WikiLeaks released video footage of a 2007 Baghdad airstrike said to be evidence of war crimes committed by the US military.

Later that year, Sweden issued a warrant for his arrest on allegations he had committed a sexual assault. Assange denied the claims, saying that this was an effort to extradite him from Sweden to the US. Instead, Assange sought refuge at the Ecuadorian Embassy in the UK, which is where he was when the arrest warrant was issued. He stayed under the protection of Ecuador until 2019. You can only stay a house guest for so long. Police then came in to arrest him and he has been in a UK prison since.

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After 62 months in prison, Assange was this week set free by the UK. After a plea agreement with the US, Assange is now in Australia.

14 years is a really long time

While the principles Julian Assange espoused remain relevant today, a lot has changed philosophically in the 14 years since Assange sought refuge in the Ecuador Embassy.

The idea of holding power to account is still prized, but in a post-Trump world (which, it could be argued that we are still possibly mid-Trump), the fervent support Assange may have once had has been dampened after traditional law & order power structures have been so heavily politicised. Couple that with the reality that the youthful, digitally connected Millennials that were so vocal in their support of Assange are now 14 years older, with shifted priorities.

It has been a while since Assange was a constant presence in the news and younger generations may simply be unaware of him or his work with WikiLeaks.

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Educational resources

With Assange released, now is a great time to use his story for teaching younger people about the structures of politics, media, and the military.

Some valuable resources you might want to consider in your discussions:

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Dan Barrett is the Head of Content at EducationDaily's publisher. He is a Brisbane-based writer/producer/comms professional who has worked for organisations including SBS, Mediaweek, National Seniors Australia, iSentia, the NSW Dept of Customer Service, and Radio National. He is passionate about the Oxford comma and is one of Australia's earliest podcasters.