By Jack Phillips
Ben Cohen, co-founder of ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s, was arrested last week during a protest in favor of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
During an event in Washington, Cohen sat outside the Department of Justice building along with left-wing CODEPINK co-founder Jodie Evans. They were both arrested for blocking the entrance to the DOJ building, according to video footage of the incident.
The co-founder of the Vermont-based ice cream company was then seen setting fire to a sign that read, “Freedom of the Press” and said, “Freedom of the press is going up in smoke.”
“There’s no democracy without freedom of the press because the press is the only thing that can hold government accountable,” Mr. Cohen said. “And there’s no freedom of the press as long as Assange is being prosecuted.”
Mr. Assange is being held at a prison in London as he awaits his extradition to the United States for allegedly violating the Espionage Act. Before that, the WikiLeaks founder was essentially detained inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in the UK for several years.
“It’s outrageous. Julian Assange is nonviolent. He is presumed innocent. And yet somehow or other, he has been imprisoned in solitary confinement for four years. That is torture,” Mr. Cohen said at the protest. “He revealed the truth, and for that, he is suffering and we need to do whatever we can to help him.”
A number of figures on both the political left and right have called for Mr. Assange to be released, saying his detainment is an attack on the press. Before he was detained, WikiLeaks released a number of classified materials, including emails and documents pertaining to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.
“If you’re trying to fight an issue of injustice, you can scream and yell, you can write but the ultimate thing you can do is get arrested for it—to disobey the unjust law,” Mr. Cohen said at the DOJ building entrance, according to the New York Post. “So that’s what I’m doing and I feel good about it.”
In a Twitter post, Mr. Cohen said that he and Ms. Evans were released from police custody hours later. “It’s time for @POTUS to follow thru with his promise — Journalism is NOT a crime. #Dropthecharges and #FreeAssange,” he added.
It comes as Ben & Jerry’s drew controversy for making a Twitter post claiming that the United States should hand the property containing Mount Rushmore to Native American tribes, claiming that the United States exists on “stolen land.” That post was made on the Fourth of July holiday, drawing significant backlash and calls for a boycott.
“The faces on Mount Rushmore are the faces of men who actively worked to destroy Indigenous cultures and ways of life, to deny Indigenous people their basic rights,” the post alleged.
In response, country singer-songwriter John Rich wrote: “Make @benndjerrys Bud Light again.” He was making reference to the several-week-long boycott targeting Bud Light that has seen the beer company’s year-over-year sales plummet.
“Long overdue for the Bud Light treatment. You hate the country, fine. We won’t buy your product. All good,” another wrote in response. “When is Ben & Jerry’s giving up their land?” Jenna Ellis, a former attorney to President Donald Trump, wrote on Twitter.
The Post and Washington Examiner also called for boycotts of the ice cream brand.
“The brand backed bad-joke Occupy Wall Street, for crying out loud; it aligns with the anti-Israel BDS movement. Co-founder Ben Cohen funds groups opposed to US military aid to Ukraine,” the Post’s editorial wrote before calling for a boycott of the ice cream company. “Remember, America, you don’t have to accept woke preening from corporate elites. Speak up—with your wallets.”
It also comes as one Native American tribal chief, Don Stevens, told the Post in an interview on Friday that he “looks forward to any kind of correspondence with Ben & Jerry’s to see how they can better benefit Indigenous people.” If Ben & Jerry’s is “sincere,” the company should hand over its Vermont properties to the Coosuk Abenaki Nation.
“If you look at the Abenaki traditional way of being, we are place-based people. Before recognized tribes in the state, we were the ones who were in this place,” Stevens said, claiming that the Abenaki see themselves as “stewards of the land.”
In June, Ben & Jerry’s announced it wouldn’t pay to advertise on Twitter and claimed that “hate speech” is on the rise across the platform since Elon Musk purchased the company last year. In a blog post weeks ago, the company wrote that changes at Twitter are causing it “great concern” and that “hate speech is up dramatically while content moderation has become all but non-existent.”