Harvard withdrew its fellowship offer to Chelsea Manning last week after CIA Director Mike Pompeo refused to speak there (he called Manning an "American traitor"), but the military whistleblower and transgender activist pushed back on that assessment during a weekend appearance in Massachusetts. The Guardian reports that Manning spoke before about 600 attendees at the Nantucket Project conference, designed to assemble innovators, with co-founder Tom Scott saying Manning had been asked to speak for "clarity of understanding." (Scott added, per Politico, that there were some attendees who weren't thrilled that Manning was speaking, but canceling her speech didn't cross his mind.) Manning's talk was one of her first public appearances since she was released from military prison in May after then-President Obama commuted her 35-year sentence before he left office.
During her Sunday speech—which was initially reported on by the AP, the sole media outlet there—Manning said she chose to look at being disinvited from Harvard as an honor of sorts and noted that we're now living in a "police state," where academic institutions don't offer a credible venue for political discourse. She said that as she left prison, she witnessed "a dystopian novel unfolding before my eyes" and says privacy is "dead" and civil disobedience is a powerful tool. As for her decision to get involved with WikiLeaks, in reference to Pompeo's (and others') critique of her as a traitor, Manning replied, "I believe I did the best I could in my circumstances to make an ethical decision." She added that she'd hoped speaking publicly would "change the tone of the conversation," but conceded that things have only "gotten worse."