On Reality Winner

Last night’s 60 Minutes segment hit all the notes: Winner’s service, her awards, even her moral injury; ” I was starting to see in the news that our mission had a very high civilian casualty rating,” she told Scott Pelley. Winner was honest about what imprisonment did to her and clear about why she broke the law; the segment notes that as the they were locking her up, her government was alerting elections officials of what overseas actors were doing, and that what she did. “Two former officials told us, Reality Winner helped secure the 2018 midterm election.” And the 2020, no doubt.

Correspondent Scott Pelley does that offhand “Of course, one airman can’t decide if something should be classified,” a military reporter’s signal that the powerful can trust him. But he mostly let Reality and their mom speak their truths, to the extent they can while Reality is still under strict probation.

I’d stopped writing about Winner here for a number of reasons; She refused me as an email contact and never responded to the paper letter I sent, under orders to avoid interviews as much as possible. Did she really need another blog post about her, by someone she didn’t know or trust?

Also, writing about her more than I have would be to write about prison conditions, a topic I’m passionate about but usually leave to writers with more authority. I’ve followed the Stand With Reality movement closely, and was thrilled when they finally released her to home confinement earlier this year. I certainly agree with them that President Biden owes her a pardon, and maybe a Medal of Honor.

I’ll write more about the 60 Minutes interview later; the revelations are multiple. But for right now, I want to honor the young woman whose story I had to include in Ain’t Marching, and note the super-sharp contrast with the dissenting veterans (the wrong kind) more often in the news.

The last scene narrated in my book is super-brief: a vigil in front of the White House on June 3, 2019, the second anniversary of the arrest of Reality Leigh Winner. “Billie Winner-Davis held vigil in front of the White House, bolstered by dissenting-soldier supporters seasoned from the Manning fight. ‘Chelsea Manning is also behind bars!’ shouted Medea Benjamin, director of the peace organization Code Pink.” The rest, below, started by noting the administration that trapped and tortured her:

The Trump administration has intensified the previous administration’s strategies, with airstrikes against targets from Syria to Afghanistan and a further-intensified crackdown on leakers. And one the first casualties of the latter was Air Force linguist Reality Leigh Winner.

I go on to tell the rest of her story, braiding it (as I have on this blog) with those of Manning and Snowden and other whistleblowers. I actually pasted it in this post originally, but that made it too unwieldy; you can find it on pp. 247-249 of the book. (It’s in more than 300 libraries, if you’re not in a bookbuying mode.)

But I can’t find a starker contrast than that between this young woman, who lost nearly everything to help her country, and the #Jan6 veterans, who whine about being in jail for their part in an actual coup. As the anniversary of the Capitol attack approaches, I’m thinking and will be writing more about those contrasts.

Published by chrislombardi

Journalist, novelist, educator.

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