Chelsea Manning on the far right, state surveillance and their lessons for Australia

Chelsea Manning

Though she is best known for her role in leaking state secrets, Chelsea Manning is more engaged in what she calls “regular activism” at the moment, which in today’s America means fighting neo-Nazis.

Manning – who is about to make her first trip to Australia in September on a speaking tour – will come to our shores with warnings about the rise of white nationalism in the United States, the police state and what citizens should do to fight back.

Speaking to Guardian Australia ahead of the trip, Manning said she is organising against the second Unite the Right rally in Washington DC “where neo-Nazis – they’re barely hiding their affiliation – folks are coming here for a white civil rights rally, which is the most ridiculous thing in the entire world in my opinion.

“They stand as a legitimate threat and they have power.”

It is a warning that has resonance in Australia, days after Sky News hosted an interview with the far-right extremist Blair Cottrell, which they later apologised for and took down.

The former US military analyst, who served seven years of a 35-year sentence in military prison after leaking a vast trove of 700,000 secret documents to WikiLeaks, has already upended the world once and it sounds like, through activism, she is determined to do it again.

In multiple interviews since her release, Manning has claimed that time pressures and difficulties with mainstream outlets forced her to send the documents direct to WikiLeaks but she has never said sorry or expressed regret.

“There was literally no [other] way I could’ve done it,” she says. “I make a lot of mistakes but that doesn’t mean I regret those mistakes, because those are learning experiences as well.

“I’ve made a couple of errors since I’ve been out of prison that I’ve had to learn from because I’m navigating life again.”

Manning says her stint in prison had “a lot of long-term effects” on her but explains only elliptically because she says she does not fully understand them. “It’s been slow, it’s been very difficult for me to recognise the things going on.”

Manning’s sentence was cut short by a surprise commutation by Barack Obama and within a year she threw herself into an unsuccessful run in the Democratic primary for a Maryland Senate seat.

Manning insists that her Senate run is not on the list of errors but she talks extensively about cures for the world’s ills outside of electoral politics.

If people in the United States or Australia are afraid of the extensive powers of police and national security agencies, Manning says they can “demand more – we don’t have to be afraid”.

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