Date of birth: 3 July 1971
In a nutshell: Creepy web crawler
One of the many worries of our age is that we are merely living through a preposterous film script. The connections between Brexit and Trump, Trump and Putin, Putin and Brexit, seem too absurd to believe. As do the villains. Who in their right mind would have dreamed up Donald Trump, with his dog-bum-mouth ranting away beneath all that crazy hair? Who would have set Steve Bannon brooding behind him, like a giant and angry piece of pork-scratching? Who would have bothered to have Nigel Farage toadying his way into their parties, gurning in a golden lift? And how to explain Michael Gove?
But it’s when Julian Assange slithers onto the scene that things get most ludicrous. That this pallid, predatory, smoothly-spoken fugitive from justice should somehow join all the dots. That he should do so using computers inside the Ecuadorian Embassy, where he’s been hiding for half a decade after fleeing charges for sex crimes… It’s too much. And yet. Here we are.
Few would have predicted back in 2006 that Assange would be widely believed to be acting for the secretive authoritarian Russian government in order to help bring Donald Trump into power. When he helped set up Wikileaks in 2006, ostensibly to allow whistle-blowers to release official documents, he was generally popular among liberals. Never more so than following the 2010 release of information provided by an American army intelligence analyst called Chelsea Manning. The footage of unarmed Iraqis being gunned down by US helicopters shocked the world. Wikileaks also released fascinating material about the war in Afghanistan, revealing documents from the Church of Scientology and much more that seemed important. Assange was often hailed as a hero. He was supported by the usual suspects on the left like Jeremy Corbyn, Oliver Stone and Michael Moore. And if he was also praised by Russian President Dimitri Medvedev, well, why not? Assange was breaking new ground.
There were clear ethical questions about what Assange was doing. He was testing the boundaries of state secrecy. There were potential risks to people named in the materials he released, not to mention the danger that intelligence operatives might have their cover blown. But those dismissing Assange as a foreign agent and a terrorist were generally seen as hysterics.
In his pomp, in 2010, he said in an interview with Ted Media: ‘It’s a worry isn’t it that the rest of the world’s media is doing such a bad job that a little group of activists is able to release more of that type of information than the rest of the world press combined.’
No one asked just how worrying it was… And perhaps if we had we wouldn’t be where we are now.
One of the early big hints that things were starting to get strange came in August 2010 after Assange went home with two women after a party in Sweden. One of the women said she had been raped, and the other that she had been molested and coerced. Assange was allowed to leave the country, but soon Sweden’s special prosecutor wanted to talk to him.
He didn’t want to talk to her. There began a long game of cat and mouse, with Assange claiming that the Swedish authorities really just wanted to catch him so they could send him to the USA so he could face spying charges. Eventually, he sought asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in 2012. He knew the Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa was a fan of Wikileaks because he’d repeatedly praised the organisation during an interview on Assange’s TV show on Russia Today.
We need to pause here. In 2012, Assange had also started running a TV show on Vladimir Putin’s propaganda outlet Russia Today, a channel dedicated to singing the praises of the Russian regime and undermining everyone else. It didn’t look good back then. In retrospect, it looks positively alarming.
By this time too Nigel Farage’s party UKIP had started to court Assange. Subsequently, leaked emails have shown that UKIP repeatedly reached out to Assange with offers of help to fight the European Arrest Warrant that had been taken out against him. The MEP Gerard Batten even called for the European Parliament to debate his arrest. Batten then appeared on – yes – Russia Today and branded attempts to extradite Assange ‘legalised kidnap’.
Murky as all that might have been, it was only really in 2016 that the extent of Assange’s links with Putin became a burning hot issue. Assange set about apparently doing everything he could to undermine Hillary Clinton. Wikileaks began to release more and more emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee and senior officials in her campaign, generally timed to cause maximum embarrassment, whenever she was ahead in the polls. The leaks were soon linked to the Russian state by the US intelligence community – but it didn’t take espionage geniuses to work out what had happened. Donald Trump himself had publicly called on Russia to launch espionage operations against Hillary. Many of the documents Wikileaks released even had giveaway Russian codes on them – and, hilariously, handwriting in Russian script.
Meanwhile, it was also becoming increasingly obvious that Wikileaks had nothing to say about Trump, and had been weirdly silent about Putin for years and years. Eventually even the Ecuadorians became too embarrassed and cut off Assange’s internet connection.
Assange himself continued to deny he had any links to Russia, complaining that the Obama administration was ‘trying to delegitimise the Trump administration as it goes into the White House’.
Someone else was busy denying the allegations too: Nigel Farage. ‘Julian Assange ... is absolutely clear that all the information he has got is not from Russian sources,’ Farage said. So that was fine. Nigel also paid a visit to Assange in early March 2017. He was caught coming out of the red brick building behind Harrods, where Assange had been holed up so long, the day after Wikileaks released another tranche of files detailing the CIA’s counter-espionage operations.
When asked what he was doing, Farage said, ‘I never discuss where I go or who I see.’ It was quickly pointed out that this was odd, because just a few days earlier Nigel had tweeted a picture of himself at a table with Donald Trump and captioned it ‘Dinner with the Donald.’
Odder still, Farage also told reporters he couldn’t ‘remember’ anything about the meeting he’d just had in the embassy. Wags were also soon joking that Farage was not the first person to emerge from being alone in a room with Julian Assange with no memory of what just happened. But of course, there were other implications. The kind of implications that would naturally lead, at this crucial point in the screenplay, to the main characters removing their human masks, revealing their true lizard form and starting to laugh about all the human blood they were going to drink together.
In our world, however, we’re stuck with Julian Assange, in a dark room, staring at a computer monitor, silently plotting, continually getting away with it.
Date of birth: 3 July 1971
In a nutshell: Stilton-brained man-sized-bollock
Aside from being the kind of yellow-trousered eggburp who calls barmen ‘squire’, our pound shop mini-Hitler has worked tirelessly to coarsen UK political life and stir up racial hatred. ‘We are changing the national debate in this country,’ Nigel Farage told the BBC in 2013, ‘and that for me makes it worthwhile getting up in the morning.’
And it’s thanks to Farage’s unfortunate habit of waking up every day that the UK has become a country where Muslims are attacked and insulted on public transport. Where our European friends and co-workers feel afraid for their future and residency status – and also, often, have to endure attacks and insults just for talking their own language. Where MPs who promote tolerance are shot and stabbed in the street by right-wing freaks shouting ‘Britain first!’
Farage has helped us make this shift to intolerance with a smile on his face, red-wine in his belly and, as he describes it, ‘exuberance’. But he’s still done it. Mainly by stealth, repeatedly exaggerating the threats and costs of immigration, and making subtle appeals to Little English nationalism. Sometimes more directly. Every so often, he reveals a chink in his... Actually, let’s not use the word ‘chink’. He has made it rancid. ‘If you and your mates were going out for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?’ asked Farage in an infamous interview. When the presenter told him he wouldn’t ever use the slur ‘chink’, Farage said: ‘A lot would.’
Such appeals to the many, to the malevolent and insular volk are Farage’s stock in trade, along with vague hints about things ‘you’ know to be true. ‘I was asked if a group of Romanian men moved in next to you, would you be concerned? And if you lived in London, I think you would be,’ he once told LBC radio listeners. Asked if he would have similar objections to German children he said: ‘You know the difference.’
It doesn’t really matter if we ‘know the difference’ or not. What we do know is what Farage is implying. He doesn’t have to spell it out. Just hint broadly enough. Like the time he blamed the fact that he was late for a meeting in Port Talbot on immigrants, saying ‘the M4 is not as navigable as it used to be’ because the country is too full. Or like the time he said that it would be a ‘good start’ if HIV sufferers were not allowed to come to the UK. Or the time he said he felt ‘uncomfortable’ when people spoke other languages on the train. And the time when he said: ‘Our real friends in the world speak English, have common law, and stand by us in times of crisis.’
Poor the national debate. It’s also had to suffer such indignities as a wakeful Farage saying that women shouldn’t be ‘openly ostentatious’ about breastfeeding their children and should perhaps ‘sit in a corner’. Also, his suggestion that it’s okay that women are paid less because they are ‘worth far less’ than their male counterparts: ‘A woman who has a client base, has a child and takes two or three years off – she is worth far less to her employer when she comes back than when she went away because that client base won’t be stuck as rigidly to her portfolio.’
Farage managed to go even lower during the European Referendum campaign when he presented a poster of snaking a queue of middle-Eastern men on which were written the words: ‘Breaking Point’, and ‘We must break free of the EU and take back control of our borders.’
The poster was eerily reminiscent of a visual the Nazis used of Jewish refugees in the 1930s.
Farage said: ‘This is a photograph – an accurate, undoctored photograph – taken on 15 October last year… frankly, as you can see from this picture, most of the people coming are young males and, yes, they may be coming from countries that are not in a very happy state, they may be coming from places that are poorer than us, but the EU has made a fundamental error that risks the security of everybody.’
What he didn’t say is that the photograph was actually taken in Slovenia and none of the young men – who were fleeing a warzone – were queuing to get into Britain.
This poster was unveiled on the morning the MP Jo Cox was shot and stabbed. A few days later, after Britain voted to leave Europe, Farage said that it was done ‘without a bullet being fired’. He said that even before Jo Cox was buried.
Farage has continued this charm assault post-Brexit. He’s threatened that there will be riots if the referendum result is not enforced. He’s praised Donald Trump for ‘dominating’ Hillary Clinton like a ‘silverback gorilla’. He’s defended Trump’s assertion that you should ‘grab’ women by the ‘pussy’ as ‘alpha-male boasting’. Unsurprisingly, given his long-standing links with Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon (not to mention his many appearances on the Kremlin’s Russia Today TV channel), Farage also quickly declared that he ‘couldn’t be happier’ that Trump won the 2017 election. He did still manage to shock the world, however, when he called outgoing President Barack Obama a ‘loathsome individual’ and referred to ‘that Obama creature’.
A couple of months later, Farage became embroiled in a row about knighthood. Farage has always liked to claim that he is an anti-establishment figure, on the side of the people, and not a career politician like all the rest. Which is a rather counter-intuitive stance for the wealthy son of a stockbroker, who went to Dulwich College, an expensive public school, before becoming a stockbroker himself and then spending over twenty years in frontline politics. It’s also a strange thing to claim for someone so cringingly keen on bagging himself a ‘K’. Emails leaked to the Daily Telegraph showed discussions among UKIP members about lobbying for either a peerage or knighthood for Farage and asking UKIP’s one MP, Douglas Carswell, to approach the government chief whip to appeal when the bid was turned down. Carswell’s reply was leaked too: ‘As promised, I did speak to the government chief whip. Perhaps we might try angling to get Nigel an OBE next time round? For services to headline writers? An MBE, maybe? Let’s discuss.’
The hilarity didn’t end there. Farage also appeared again on Russia Today, where a small girl was wheeled on screen to enact a symbolic knighthood for the great man. After she had dubbed his shoulders with a plastic sword the girl declared: ‘My mummy says you hate foreigners.’
Alas, poor Farage. Even little girls pick on him. Carswell does too. Farage said of the knighthood exchanges that they showed Carswell was ‘consumed with jealousy and a desire to hurt me’. It’s hard to be Nigel. He once explained on Irish radio: ‘If you challenge consensus, whether it’s in science, politics or business, all through the ages of man the first technique is to try and laugh you off for being a bunch of nutcases. They did it to Galileo, they did it to Darwin, they did it to O’Leary from Ryanair. This is how it works. So to be mocked and derided is not unusual.’
O’Leary is the man who helped bring low-cost airlines to the world. Darwin, among other things, came up with the theory of evolution. Galileo confirmed the transits of Venus and insisted the world was round. And Nigel Farage picked on minority groups, was rude to our friends in Europe and said appalling things about women. But, he insists, he is the one who is hard done by. ‘I’ve had 20 years of abuse,’ he complained to the Conservative Political Action Conference in the USA in February 2017. He was speaking not long after Donald Trump and just one night before he was also photographed having dinner with the billionaire President. But still. Poor Nigel. Perpetually the victim. If only he’d stayed in bed.
Gas them all
In 1981, a teacher at Dulwich sent a letter to the headmaster about plans to make Farage a prefect. She included a note from one master who said that Farage was ‘a fascist, but that was no reason why he would not make a good prefect’. (No one said Dulwich wasn’t weird.) She also wrote: ‘Another colleague, who teaches the boy, described his publicly professed racist and neo-fascist views; and he cited a particular incident in which Farage was so offensive to a boy in his set, that he had to be removed from the lesson.’ She warned too that another teacher had seen Farage marching through a Sussex village ‘shouting Hitler-youth songs’. When the letter was printed in the Independent newspaper Farage admitted only to being annoying at school and said he knew no Hitler Youth songs ‘in English or German’. But another pupil later wrote in anonymously to the paper to say that he too remembered Farage singing such material. One song started: ‘Gas them all, gas ’em all, gas them all’.