Update July 7: Evan Ross, the Democratic operative from Miami, issued a statement today apologizing for threatening to personally murder Edward Snowden and Julian Assange:
I regret my words and apologize for them. I chose them out of emotion rather than thoughtfulness. They do not represent who I am or what I believe. I abhor violence and would never seek to harm anyone. I would take back my words if I could. I offer my apology to those who I offended and will use this opportunity to learn and grow.
Evan Ross is a little-known but well-connected lobbyist in Miami-Dade County. He's also fairly active within the Miami-Dade Democratic Party: He's the former chair of the Miami-Dade Young Democrats and is now a precinct captain within the local party. He's used to operating behind the scenes and keeping a low profile in the local press.
But Ross has now gone from backroom lobbyist to the target of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after the activist called him out by name on Twitter this weekend, sparking what Ross calls an online "bullying" campaign. Assange highlighted the Dade Democrat because someone sent the Australian computer programmer Facebook screencaps of Ross threatening to kill Assange and whistleblower Edward Snowden.
This past Friday, Assange used his personal account, which has 246,000 followers, to post an image of Ross' Facebook comments, in which the local Dem argued that Assange "exposed classified American secrets that endangered lives." Ross also wrote, "He and his buddy Edward Snowden both deserve to meet their maker. I'd be happy to pull the trigger on both of those too."
Assange ironically tweeted "#tolerantliberal" regarding the statements, which he included in a list of more than 20 examples of online users who have threatened to torture or kill him.
Ross' comments have also upset some people within the Miami-Dade Democratic Party: Two insiders tell New Times they're considering filing a grievance within the party.
But via email, Ross did not apologize for his comments and instead compared both men to "terrorists." He then accused Assange of trying to bully him.
Ross was named Miami's "Young Democrat of the Year" in 2011 and recently made some waves when he drew the ire of local political blogger Stephanie Kienzle, who filed a formal ethics complaint against him in 2015 accusing him of unregistered lobbying. But the Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics said there was no probable cause to support the charge.
After Assange called Ross out
Ross says that since Assange called him out on Twitter, he's received a slew of hate messages. But in an email to New Times, he refused to back down from his comments and implied that his call to kill both men was an act of "patriotism."
"I believe strongly in the right to free speech, but I won't be bullied into trading my patriotism for political correctness by Julian Assange or his army of Twitter trolls," Ross wrote.
Ross doubled down by comparing Snowden and Assange to terrorists.
"Edward Snowden may have had good intentions, but he and Julian Assange have endangered the lives of countless Americans," Ross wrote. "Assange assisted in the Russian effort to hand our country over to the least qualified and most dangerous man to hold the Presidency in modern American history. Like terrorist leaders, I believe that we have a responsibility to give those that we can their right to our justice system, but when that is not an option, protecting our nation and the American people has to come first."
The spat exposes the divide between centrist, hawkish liberals who support the security state and military-industrial complex, and those to Ross' left, who point out that Snowden is a whistleblower no different from Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers to news outlets in the 1970s. Ross' comments are sure to upset populists within the local party, who maintain that mainstream Democrats have moved too far right in the past few decades. (The fight also shows that Assange is apparently so cooped up inside the Ecuador embassy in London that he's willing to spend
Snowden exposed the National Security Agency's illegal plans to spy on virtually every single American's communication systems. While the NSA has claimed that Snowden's leaks put American spies in harm's way, the government has never revealed who, if anyone, was "harmed," and the only public impact the leaks seemed to have thus far is pushing the NSA to reform some portions of its spying programs. Snowden now runs the Freedom of the Press Foundation, which protects reporters from danger and fights threats to the First Amendment. The American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch have asked the U.S. government to pardon Snowden. (Documents also prove Snowden tried to blow the whistle internally within the NSA before going public.)
The case against Assange is a bit less clear, given his possible complicity in the alleged Russian Democratic National Committee email hack. Trump adviser and political trickster Roger Stone has said publicly that he had "back-channel" communications with Assange during the 2016 presidential election. (WikiLeaks claims the Russian-hacking plot is actually a "Clinton-linked plot to frame Assange as a Russian spy +
But Assange's WikiLeaks has also published millions of documents in the public interest, including video leaked by Chelsea Manning that showed U.S. forces gunning down innocent civilians during the Iraq War. A report BuzzFeed obtained last month after a long Freedom of Information Act fight showed that Manning's leaks, at least, didn't actually hurt anybody, although the Manning files are a small percentage of what WikiLeaks has published in total.