Whatever Happened To Reality Winner?

Reality Winner’s mom, Billie J. Winner-Davis, speaks out about her daughter and the effort to #FreeRealityWinner.
Reality Winner served in the US Air Force from 2010 to 2016, working as a translator and language analyst. (Source: CNN)

Reality Winner served in the US Air Force from 2010 to 2016, working as a translator and language analyst. (Source: CNN)

Reality Leigh Winner, an American intelligence specialist, and US Air Force veteran was charged in 2017 with leaking classified material to a news outlet. As a military contractor, Reality Winner didn’t have the same channels for whistleblowing that government officials currently enjoy.

The report she mailed to The Intercept helped raise public awareness of Russian interference in the 2016 election, but the publication’s sloppy handling of the material is widely believed to have lead to Reality Winner’s arrest and successful prosecution.

In 2018, Reality Winner accepted a plea deal and was sentenced to five years and three months, one of the harshest sentences for the unauthorized release of classified information ever imposed. In the wake of recent media focus on other whistleblowers, Reality Winner’s mom speaks out about her daughter’s case.

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1: What’s the current status of Reality Winner’s legal fight and the effort to #FreeRealityWinner?

I am so excited to report that a Dallas Criminal Attorney, Alison Grinter has volunteered her time and service to assist with the completion of a Petition for Clemency, which will ask for commutation of sentence for Reality Winner. I had been seeking out legal assistance on this and several attorneys had initially agreed to help, but no one followed through.

Alison Grinter is Crystal Mason’s attorney. Crystal Mason was in Carswell with Reality and was released last spring, and we connected when CNN International did their story regarding the media being blocked from speaking to Reality.

Alison is preparing the petition pro bono and we will cover her expenses. She also has an associate who will be assisting her in the process. They have just begun, and are still waiting for clearance from the prison to meet with Reality, so we are not yet sure when the filing will take place.

As you may know, our small group and other supporters of Stand With Reality have been asking for letters in support of clemency and commutation to include with the petition. People can go onto the Stand With Reality website to submit a letter, can send a personal letter to us, and can sign a petition sponsored by multiple organizations back in August of 2018 when Reality was sentenced to prison.

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2: Why do you think Reality isn’t getting more press and why aren’t more people outraged about what happened to her?

This has been a question from the beginning.

The government did an excellent job of making sure that their narrative about my daughter was out and they portrayed her as a traitor to her country, a Taliban sympathizer, and a threat. When the story broke and news outlets began contacting the initial attorney, Titus Nichols, and our family, Titus Nichols did do an appearance on CNN and spoke out on behalf of Reality. He was quickly admonished by the Judge in the case and given a warning about any media appearances. He argued that this was unbalanced, given that the government was releasing their documentation to media and Reality had the right to answer to it.

A “gag” order was put in effect immediately, which made it difficult for media to even produce or report on the case. Reality was denied bond and bail and no one was allowed access to her, so the media couldn’t give anyone her story.

I think that the government’s effective silencing of Reality and her attorneys and allowing for negative information about her to be published made people wary of supporting her. We also could not enlist large whistleblower organizations to “sponsor” her, as she was not defined as a true whistleblower, so she was not provided the same public support as Snowden and Manning.

We were blessed to have Courage to Resist sponsor her and begin her campaign, Stand With Reality. Their organization, our family, and some very dedicated supporters and volunteers like Wendy Collins, Lisa Ling, Liz, and others have persisted to keep Reality’s name and story out there. We have been successful at times in getting media attention and have built public support through social media outlets. Those of us who truly know Reality, believe in what she did for our country, and believe she was persecuted harshly by our government will continue to fight for her.

Because media didn’t have access to any real information (everything was protected as classified), didn’t have access to Reality herself or her attorneys, they couldn’t develop sellable stories. The government orchestrated all of this carefully, to ensure that there was no large public support. We have come to learn that most major media outlets run their content through our government, which also makes me wonder if our government hasn’t been purposefully squashing any focus on her.

Remember, the document released by Reality made our administration look bad and focus on that proof of Russian interference is something they want to stop. I have come to learn that our government is extremely vengeful. They have the power to control a narrative, destroy lives, and get away with it.

3: What do you feel is the most worthwhile thing supporters can do to aid in the fight to free Reality?

Keep her name out there. Daily. Write to your reps and congressional leaders, write to media. write to the White House. Sign the petition and submit a letter in support of her. Help us grow the support for her around the world.

4: How is Reality doing right now, both mentally and physically?

Reality maintains a strong façade for me and others. She is doing everything she can daily just to get her through. She immerses herself in music, books, her college courses, and her exercise regimes. She also attends religious services. She wants her life back and doesn’t even know what that means right now.

She sometimes expresses that she has been forgotten and is in despair thinking about spending the next 2 + years there in prison. She is grateful for all of the support she does have but when we share news about any developments she can’t feel the results in there. She reminds us that she is “still in prison”. She is doing all of the right things to get through and as her mom, I worry that at some point she will realize that what she does right doesn’t matter. there are days when I see that she is getting beaten down. It’s hard to see.

5: Reality has another birthday coming up on December 4th, her third behind bars. How can supporters lift her spirits? What do you think Reality would appreciate?

Cards and postcards are welcomed! Please let’s not let her think she is forgotten in there. Another thing that I truly think would make her happy is for people to donate to nonprofits, such as animal rescues, the White Helmets, veterans groups, etc. in her name and send her a little note letting her know that she is still making a huge difference in the world.

Interview // National Security / Russian Interference