Julian Assange ‘Messed With’ Host’s Pigs

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Assange outside Smith's mansion.Photo: Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images

In case you forgot where in the world he was, the WikiLeaks founder and unwilling memoirist is still living under house arrest at Ellingham Hall, the country mansion of British former journalist and Frontline Club owner Vaughan Smith. The New York Times decided to check in on the arrangement, which began in December, when Assange donned a Santa suit for a Newsweek photo shoot. Unsurprisingly, given his history, Assange is not exactly a model houseguest:


There have been times when as many of 20 people from WikiLeaks stayed at the house. “I’d open a cupboard and another one would fall out,” Mr. Smith said. And then there is the matter of the farm animals. “Julian messed with my pigs,” Mr. Smith said, smiling.

Ellingham Hall, 130 miles north of London, is a working farm, and Mr. Assange decided to use the pigs to make a film about the credit card companies that have denied him the means to raise donations. Mr. Smith said Mr. Assange induced the pigs to break through an electric fence and make themselves at home in a nearby berry patch, a bit of porcine anarchy that did not amuse the farm manager.

Despite all that, Smith insists that Assange, who continues to fight extradition to Sweden, has not overstayed his welcome. As he told Times media reporter David Carr, “I wouldn’t say that having anybody stay at your house for almost a year is a prescription for domestic tranquility, but I’m proud of the fact that we’ve worked our way through a difficult situation.” For his part, Assange seems to be doing his best to be agreeable (when he's not riling up the livestock). One of the few on-the-record things he would say during the paper's visit was that he was “very grateful” for the hospitality. According to Smith, his generosity to the notoriously difficult personality is borne out of his family's belief in "[standing] up for the weaker party":


“Look,” he added, “you can see Julian as a kind of Bond villain, stroking a white cat and contemplating his next evil act, or you can see him as a complicated and interesting person who has really altered journalism in a historic way."

Or, you can just see him as Smith's kids now do: Apparently, they've taken to calling him "Uncle Julian."

WikiLeaks’ Founder, in a Gilded British Cage [NYT]