He has published millions of documents, including hacked e-mails from corporations and public figures, international trade agreements, and foreign government records. Some of these publications have brought real harm to the documents’ owners, some have altered public perceptions about war and state power, and some have been damaging to individual privacy, with no public benefit. In his confinement, Assange has become a quixotic cultural icon, helping to give the solitary act of whistle-blowing the contours of a movement. Dr. Martens has issued boots in his name, sculptors have cast him in alloy, and lyricists have memorialized him in song. He has inspired a Bond villain, and the fiction of Jonathan Franzen; he has mixed with A-list musicians, like Lady Gaga, and A-list dissenters, like Noam Chomsky. At the same time, he has had to navigate myriad legal and managerial complications: multiple F.B.I. investigations, crippling staff mutinies, venomous fights with journalists.
Whether you see Assange as a “fallen man” depends on how you viewed him to begin with. He has detractors who believe that he is a criminal, or a maniac, or both, and supporters who consider him an immaculate revolutionary. There have been calls for his assassination, and for him to be given a Nobel Peace Prize. Assange often describes himself in simple terms—as a fearless activist—but his character is complicated, and hard to reconcile with his considerable power. He is not merely the kind of person who will wear socks with holes; he is the kind of person who will wear socks with holes and rain fury upon anyone who mentions the holes in public. He can be mistrustful to the point of paranoia, but he can be recklessly frank. He tends to view human behavior as self-interested, driven by a Nietzschean will to power, but he runs an organization founded on the idea that individuals can be selflessly courageous. He is a seeker of hard, objective truths who often appears to be unable to see past his own realities. He can be quick in the moment, an impressive tactician, and he is often fairly blind to the long arcs of strategy.