Where there's liberal democracy, Julian Assange will be there to undermine it. Last year he supported Brexit, and he has taken meetings with one of its strongest advocates, Nigel Farage. Then he took stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee and weaponized them against Hillary Clinton and her team in the run-up to the election. This month, he advocated for Catalonia's independence referendum, raising tensions to a fever pitch between Barcelona and Madrid. Now he is setting his sights on another independence movement, one which seems like a long shot now, but if successful, would have dire consequences for the United States and the world: the Russian-backed secession campaign for California to break off from the United States, 'Yes California', #Calexit.
'Yes California's' founder, Louis J. Marinelli, said in a statement this week:
"Ultimately the Calexit vote and its preceding debate will be up to Californians to decide but we welcome the vocal support of Julian Assange, as we would for any individual with the courage to stand up against and defy the powers that be in order to affect positive change in this world...That's what our campaign is all about."
Marinelli, a native of Buffalo who considers himself an "immigrant to California" has resided in Russia longer than in the Golden State, moving there in 2006 to campaign against marriage equality before taking off to Russia in 2007 to study at St. Petersburg University (Putin's alma mater.) Although he describes himself as a liberal - he even said his embassy would promote marriage equality - he still voted for Trump, because doing so would be "a daily advertisement" for his cause. He also appreciates anyone who exposes corruption within both the Democratic and Republican parties.
Even before Assange's tweets, 'Yes California' has had ties to Russia. In September of 2016, Putin funded a "Dialogue of Nations" conference in Moscow as part of his Anti-Globalization Movement, to which Marinelli was invited. There, he openly proclaimed that “For the first time in history, we, the people of California, who were conquered and annexed by the American military about 170 years ago, will have a chance to express our voice to either remain a state in the American union, or instead, to pursue a path toward a nationhood." Also invited to this conference was Nate Smith, a Texas secessionist whose documented Kremlin ties go back even further than Marinelli's.
Then, in December of last year, a mysterious embassy popped up in Russia called "The Embassy for the Republic of California," which, according to Russians, had no diplomatic function upon its appearance. Marinelli now says the embassy was never really an embassy at all, and that it was meant for other countries who supported his movement - contradicting reports from earlier this year where he called it "a people's embassy...a platform to demonstrate to the people of Russia our values in California."
Now, Marinelli lives full-time in Russia, having announced this spring that he "found a new happiness" in Yekaterinburg, Russia's fourth-most populated city. "I had long planned to return to Occupied California to struggle for her independence from the US," he continued, "but alas, I do not plan to return…in the foreseeable future.”
While Marinelli seems to be OK with Assange's support, his group's Vice President, Marcus Ruiz Evans (who shut down the California Embassy this year), seemed less so, saying he would never coordinate with the WikiLeaks founder, but adding that he was "cool with anybody who's not a racist saying that members of a democracy should have the right to discuss and vote on issues."
If the United States intends to remain a democracy, it needs California in the union more than ever, as it is the country's bastion of progressivism, and a home for some of our most outspoken and galvanizing politicians - Adam Schiff, Maxine Waters, Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, and Kamala Harris. This past March, a poll showed that both Democrats and Republicans in the state did not support a secession referendum, making Marinelli's efforts to get this on the ballot an uphill battle.
But if Julian Assange has offered to help, who's to say a coordinated disinformation campaign couldn't do long-term damage in a state that should hold democratic values dear to its heart? Just ask Spain, the UK, and the United States.