They used to say he had a messianic complex. Now it seems he has a persecution complex.
Like humankind's fabled saviour over two millennia ago, there is no doubt that the Australian website operator Julian Assange is suffering. He hasn't been outside or seen his family in over a year. He is, he apparently feels, being crucified. It's enough to drive anyone half-mad, if not entirely around the bend.
It is therefore somewhat possible to comprehend Assange's latest declarations to the media, which really should know better than to constantly hound the spotlight-loving man for banal snippets. In his self-imposed refuge at the humble Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where the 42-year-old is hiding from two jurisdictions of justice, British and Swedish, he has come to think of himself as suffering for his website work and transparency principles, a kind of e-martyr if you will.
"Of course it's difficult to wake up for 500 days and see the same walls, but on the other hand I am doing good work and I have no time for anything else; so it's a bit counterproductive to trap me here, because what else can I do but work?" he told The Telegraph in an interview published this week.
It's entirely disingenuous to make out you've been innocently trapped when you walked into a diplomatic mission seeking protection because you petulantly didn't like an order from the highest court in England, and made it your prison.
"So although I am trapped in these walls," Assange said wistfully, "intellectually I am outside with our people today, and that to me is important. While I am imprisoned here there is a developing prison where you are living as well."
It's stretching credulity to imagine that the fugitive is mortared up "in these walls," but this is another example of his frail mindset. He is, indisputably, contained within them, refusing to be extradited to Sweden to answer questions in relation to two cases of sexual abuse stemming from 2010. Assange thinks that if he did, Sweden would hand him over to the United States, where he fears trial over his website's publication of confidential military and diplomatic files whose thief, Chelsea Manning, has already stood trial in the US and is serving a 35-year term.
Assange saved his most outrageous, if not flatly ludicrous and reality-defying, contention for last, putatively lambasting Britain as being a lawless state.
"At least in here," he whimpered, "there are no sudden raids by police; there is a rule of law and not an arbitrary breakdown as there is in many countries now."
That's as outlandish a statement as you're likely to hear anywhere outside of North Korea (and he almost sounds glad to be hidden away from the big, bad world outside). Notwithstanding the world-famous rule of law right outside his door, the Ecuadorean government, which granted him political asylum last year, stands accused of an array of abuses.
In its 2013 world report, Human Rights Watch said of Ecuador: "President Rafael Correa has undercut freedom of the press in Ecuador by subjecting journalists and media figures to public denunciation and retaliatory litigation. Judicial independence continued to suffer in 2012 due to transitional mechanisms for judicial reform that have given the government and its supporters in Congress a powerful say in appointing and dismissing judges."
Assange can walk out of the embassy anytime he likes. British police are waiting for him outside. He would have to answer to the authorities for skipping bail and possibly other charges, before being dispatched to Sweden. But he has now reduced himself to hoping it will all just go away, the ultimate sign of a disconnected mind unwilling to deal with reality.
After a failed attempt in September to become an Australian politician -- he barely even registered with voters -- it seems that Assange's latest ploy to extricate himself from the embassy may be to simply do nothing other than wait it out. That could mean another seven years in his own jail, until the statute of limitations on his case in Sweden expires.
"I assume the Swedish case will disappear of its own accord in due course," he said.
That's a lot of assuming.
In the meantime, Assange is busy with the atrophying entity that is WikiLeaks, and a phalanx of celebrities that come knocking on the embassy door. Quite why they're all lining up - trash-pop warbler Lady Gaga and the octogenarian artist Yoko Ono among them - is not entirely clear. Evidentially they, too, see him as some kind of martyr to his hardened if pompous cause of "opening governments" and sycophantically desire some associated cachet, however increasingly tarnished that shine has become.
Celebrity, much like its supporting media, tends to devour itself, ever-ravenous for another helping of piquant up-the-ladder much as the decaying WikiLeaks latched on like a barnacle to the intelligence leaker Edward Snowden even though the American chose not to disclose to the Australian. (Assange still managed to preposterously say he had been "Trying to save the life of a young man" as Snowden sought refuge in Russia while the US tried to nab him.)
Assange can draw the curtains on the hammed-up pantomime now and face up to his questioners, even if that also means on the other side of the Atlantic. As each day passes and he remains holed up, he harms his reputation as a trailblazing publisher and that of WikiLeaks as an organisation. He is losing his élan. Turning the tables and accusing others of imprisoning and trapping him is nothing other than deranged, and the longer he stays squirreled away, the more of this embittered delusion we can expect.
As for Assange on the big screen, he has dismissed The Fifth Estate, a dramatisation of WikiLeaks' endeavours that's currently showing, as "a geriatric snooze-fest doomed for failure." If he doesn't do something, soon, to correct his downward-spiralling circumstance, those words may come back to haunt him, himself.
Suggested For You
Get top stories and blog posts emailed to me each day. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements. Learn more