Reality Winner: “Everything I knew was weaponized against me”

Oct 4, 2022
|

Daniel Ellsberg. Julian Assange. Chelsea Manning. Edward Snowden.

Those are the names we think of when we imagine those who have went up against state power with a cache of classified documents, intel, and video that challenged the good standing of the American government.

Reality Winner is not just a part of that group, she might be the most heroic.

After serving the bulk of a 5 year sentence for leaking classified documents that detailed Russian interference in the 2016 election, Winner’s story seems unfinished. The impact of the documents she leaked is still felt, especially if you consider how leaking one document netted such a harsh sentence while today thousands of classified documents have been found in the possession of ex president Donald Trump, the president in power when Winner received her sentence. Her efforts helped unveil Russian interference in the 2016 election, and her work was cited by several state governors, despite none of them defending her actions.

Winner was a guest on Blackballed recently where she explained the stress she felt as the source of the leak and what it did to her own life trajectory and to her state of mind.

“All aspects of my character and conduct that had nothing to do with the actual charge or indictment, they aired publicly. But only when I was up for bond were they concerned about my diary entries,” Winner said, implying the District Attorney turned the case into a scandal by taking personal details out of context.

The experience of being a target for the prosecution, as well as outlets like FOX News, traumatized Winner and made her question her own identity as a member of the American military.

“It took me years to even see myself as a veteran again because how they weaponized my military service,” Winner explained. “They let the judge believe that because the Air Force had trained me in Farsi and Pashto that I was going to take my life savings and run away from these charges and rebuild my life in those countries, even though no woman wants to live in Iran or Afghanistan.”

When Winner sent the classified material to The Intercept, the last thing she expected was for The Intercept to immediately send the documents directly to the NSA. The outlet betrayed not just Winner but their own ethics, becoming the first domino in what became a 5-year sentence. Glenn Greenwald has stated publicly that the outlet he helped create completely dropped the ball by mishandling Winner’s story, revealing Winner as the source of the sensitive material when they should have protected her.

She cited the case of Terry Albury and Daniel Hale, two other whistleblowers who were unmasked due to the way The Intercept reported on their leaks.

“They (The Intercept) simply don’t protect their sources, and then they write about them later as if they are martyrs,” Winner said about The Intercept’s mishandling of their stories. “I think it’s a pattern. I think it is by design,”

The mental toll that being in prison took on Winner resulted in suicidal thoughts, bulimia, and depression. She credits her mother for saving her while she was in prison, and despite her mental anguish was still a leader inside, teaching cross-fit, yoga, and helping other inmates obtain their GEDs. She even got a Lil Wayne prison tattoo.

Today Winner still has a curfew of 10PM. She is a fitness trainer and is passionate about prison reform, systemic racism, and was impacted heavily by the recent school shooting in Texas at Robb Elementary School. She hopes Beto O’Rourke wins the governor’s race in Texas so that gun control and marijuana legalization will replace mass shootings and the drug war. In other words, she is still wanting to fight the good fight in order to make her country a better place to live.

Once a hero, always a hero.

Contributing Writers

Related stories