If the US government prosecutes Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, it will mark a point of no return.
We’ll never know what “average” Germans thought on November 11, 1938, the day after Kristallnacht. Perhaps a few recognized it for what it was: a turning point, an acceleration of Germany’s descent into hell. America’s Crystal Night looms, and if it occurs, only a few will recognize it for what it is.
The fate of Julian Assange is the fate of one man, but it is also the fate of one of our most important freedoms. There won’t be shattered plate glass from vandalized businesses littering the streets, synagogues smashed, graves unearthed, or people herded onto trains. But his prosecution by the US government would destroy an inestimable value, one enshrined in the First Amendment, for which generations of Americans have fought and died: the right of the people and its press to inform the people and to hold their government to account.
Aside from armed resistance and revolution, the one defense individuals have against governments is intellectual: the concept of individual rights. There is an argument as to whether those rights come from our Creator (Thomas Jefferson) or from our basic nature as humans and the requirements of our survival (Ayn Rand). Despite starting from different premises, both arguments lead to the same conclusion: individuals have inherent, inalienable, inviolable rights, and the only legitimate function of government is to protect those rights.
The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were explicit attempts to delineate a set of principles that recognized individual rights and tried to restrain government power. Though real-world implementation has fallen short, often far short, they were towering conceptual achievements.
In 1933, the year Hitler assumed power, the government began enacting laws that restricted Jews’ rights to earn a living, gain an education, or work in the civil service. In 1935, the Nuremberg Laws stripped German Jews of their citizenship and forbade them from marrying non-Jewish Germans.
Kristallnacht’s hooliganism was encouraged by the German authorities, and none of the perpetrators bore any legal consequences. More than 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and deported to concentration camps.