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The government vs Friendlyjordies

YouTuber Friendlyjordies has built up a significant audience in recent years through his pointed and acerbic political videos. Now, one of the comedian’s producers has been arrested by a controversial police unit.

YouTuber Friendlyjordies has built up a significant audience in recent years through his pointed and acerbic political videos. 

But he’s also attracted controversy, with the deputy Premier of NSW suing him for defamation. 

Now, one of the comedian’s producers has been arrested by a controversial police unit established to explicitly focus on ideological extremists. 

Today, senior reporter for The Saturday Paper Rick Morton on the Friendlyjordies saga, and why a state government seems intent on turning him into a martyr.

 

Guest: Senior reporter for The Saturday Paper Rick Morton.

Show Transcript

[Theme Music Starts]

 

From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am

 

YouTuber Friendlyjordies has built up a significant audience in recent years through his pointed and acerbic political videos. 

 

But he’s also attracted controversy, with the deputy Premier of New South Wales suing him for defamation. 

 

Now, one of the comedian’s producers has been arrested by a controversial police unit established to explicitly focus on ideological extremists. 

 

Today, senior reporter for The Saturday Paper Rick Morton, on the Friendlyjordies saga, and why a state government seems intent on turning him into a martyr.

 

[Theme Music Ends]

 

RUBY:

Rick, how would you describe Friendlyjordies? 

 

RICK:

Well, this guy is a YouTube sensation. 

 

Archival Tape -- Joran Shanks: 

“The response to this was overwhelming. When I asked people to enrol to vote in 2016, not to but brag but, I was integral in increasing youth voter registration by 20%. This blitzed that…”

 

RICK:

He's an Internet comedian, got a huge following, you know, half a million subscribers on YouTube. 

 

Archival Tape -- Joran Shanks: 

“This is Part One. We’ve received so many memes we could make this a trilogy.”

 

RICK:

And he does a lot of caustic comedy videos about political issues, social issues. 

But he hasn't always been like that. He's a former male model, and he started out just doing kind of really funny, weird character impersonations and videos about Australian life. 

 

Archival Tape -- Joran Shanks: 

“When you’re old enough not to drink from your mum's tit we start drinkin’ our version of water - TOOHEYS!”

 

RICK:

One of his most popular videos is a pisstake of RBT, the show about random breath testing people on the streets. 

 

Archival Tape -- Joran Shanks (multiple characters): 

“‘Can I have a smoke?’

‘No’

‘Yeah, nah, I done the wrong thing aye…’

‘And look, we're gonna put  him behind bars, he is still a criminal… But so was Ned Kelly, and he’s still a f**kin’ champ.’”

 

RICK:

And then a couple of years ago, they become intensely political. And that's just kind of amped up.

 

Archival Tape -- Joran Shanks: 

“Because if Gough Whitlam was sacked for not getting the supply bill through the senate, surely Scott Morrison should be sacked for not supplying the firefighters. Get this hashtag trending…”

 

RICK:

And as he's become more political, his fans have become more loyal, they’ve become more rabid, and so Jordan's kind of amped up this attack personality that he's got. And now we've got this YouTube star with half a million followers who's kind of got a bit of a messiah complex. 

 

RUBY:

As you say Rick, his videos have progressively become more political, and they seem particularly supportive of the Labor party in general. What do we know about the relationship between him and Labor?

 

RICK:

It's interesting because he has done a lot of work. He has done sit down interviews with Kevin Rudd..

 

Archival Tape -- Joran Shanks:

“Mr Rudd, the first question that I have for you is: do you know what Warhammer 40k is?” 

 

Archival Tape -- Kevin Rudd: 

“Mr Jordan I have no idea…”

 

RICK:

Bill Shorten, 

 

Archival Tape -- Joran Shanks: 

“Thanks so much for sitting down with us Bill Shorten, I really appreciate it.”

 

RICK:

Tanya Plibersek. 

 

Archival Tape -- Joran Shanks: 

“You grew up in this house didn't you?”

 

Archival Tape -- Tanya Plibersek: 

“Yeah I did…”

 

RICK:

But in those cases, he's approached, or at least in most of those cases that I know of, he's approached the politician rather than the politician going to him saying, hey, can we do something?

 

And, you know, I've got it from both sides now that he hasn't been paid at that level. Now, in the past, he did do some paid work for the unions. So there is a kind of a link there with the union movement, but there's no evidence that there's money changing hands now. 

 

So by some tellings, these kinds of loose joint ventures were incredibly useful for the Labour Party. 

 

You know, Shanks-Markovina, which is his full name, Jordan Shanks-Markovina now is credited with forcing federal Environment Minister Susan Ley to announce an $18 million koala protection policy, basically after a campaign he made with Labor MP Kate Washington.

 

Archival Tape -- Joran Shanks: 

“Hello I’m with the shadow environment minister of New South Wales, Kate Washington. And we are in the environment. How are ya?”

 

Archival Tape -- Kate Washington: 

“Indeed, in a beautiful environment!”

 

RICK:

You know, he started this kind of ‘Koala Killer’ hashtag to target Gladys Berejiklian and the deputy premier, John Barilaro. 

 

Archival Tape -- Friendlyjordies: 

“Get the hashtag going on twitter, hashtag Gladys killed Lewis. It’s true! Everything from gross water mismanagement to no climate action…”

 

RICK:

And it was an incredibly forceful campaign. It was also filled with lots of vitriol and hatred on social media from his fan base. But, you know, Labor reckons he changed policy for, you know, slight progress. 

 

RUBY: 

OK, so no formal relationship then between Shanks and Labor, but instead this kind of, I suppose, unofficial alignment, which seems to be mutually beneficial. 

 

RICK:

Yeah, yeah, that's what it appears to be, and it's not unusual, as you and I both know, for media personalities to have special access to politicians. 

 

I mean, this is not reinventing the wheel. Journalists do this all the time. And Tanya Plibersek, for example, is on the record as being a friend of Alan Jones. 

 

Labour Senator Kimberley Kitching is friendly with Andrew Bolt, and often appears on his Sky News show. So by some Labor accounts Friendlyjordies is no different. But still, like Jones and Bolt, his catalogue of odious comments and tactics is quite significant and quite long.

 

You know, the comedian defended former New South Wales Opposition Leader Luke Foley, who resigned in disgrace after allegations he sexually assaulted a journalist at a function.

 

Archival Tape -- Jordan Shanks: 

“Fired as opposition leader for grabbing someone's ass while you’re drunk? I don’t know about that.”

 

RICK:

I don't know about that, he said in one of these videos. He's also downplayed the systematic torture of China's Uyghur population at the hands of the Communist Party because they, you know, apparently brought it on themselves.

 

Archival Tape -- Jordan Shanks: 

“The reason the Uyghur population is detained is because they’re causing trouble. And that is actually the reason.”

 

RICK:

And last year, Shanks-Markovina mocked First Nations People's attachment to the sacred Djab Wurrung trees in Victoria. 

 

Archival Tape -- Friendlyjordies: 

“It’s just like dude c’mon, if that tree is below the threshold of like, when Indigenous people were saying that that is a sacred tree, like no, science is science...”

 

RUBY:

And has there been much backlash, Rick, to any of these comments or is it more of a case of the more kind of ‘controversy’, the more popularity? 

 

RICK:

It certainly builds his popularity with his fan base, but there has been backlash and there has been some consequences along the way. By November last year, a Friendlyjordie's community producer publicly announced his resignation from the outfit. So in November, he, the producer, Matt, said in a statement:

 

‘The continual and ongoing handling of controversies both past and present, internally and externally, has driven me to part ways with the team and the show. I feel I cannot continue to work on and support Friendlyjordies in good conscience. 

 

Somewhere along the way, the channel and the show that I once loved lost its way, and I cannot continue to help spread a message that I no longer wholeheartedly believe in’. 

 

Despite that setback, the Friendlyjordies channel on YouTube has continued to rack up plenty of views. In fact, it probably reached a crescendo recently when Shanks-Markovina turned his attention to the New South Wales deputy premier, John Barilaro. 

 

Archival Tape -- Jordan Shanks: 

“John Barilaro is a man whose expediency seeps right down to his very genetics…”

 

RICK:

They focussed on allegations of corruption along with a, you know, a healthy dollop, I would say, of ethnic caricatures. Barilaro says they were racist and offensive. 

 

Archival Tape -- Jordan Shanks: 

“I really like the thought of that man being upset. ‘Oh what the f** another video! Bruz, as if the jokes isn’t old already…’”

 

RICK:

The series of videos he made about Barilaro have now seen him be served with a defamation suit.

 

Archival Tape -- Jordan Shanks: 

“The deputy premier of New South Wales, John Barilaro, ‘bruz’ himself has threatened to sue.”

 

RICK:

But things really escalated when the New South Wales police got involved. 

 

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Police Officer #1: 

“You are under arrest…”

 

Archival Tape -- Kristo Langker: 

“Could you film this? Can you film this, mum?”

 

RICK:

We saw one of his producers arrested and charged with stalking John Barilaro. 

 

Archival Tape -- Kristo Langker’s mother: 

“...You pushed me down, you assaulted me. You just assaulted me! I’ve got witnesses!”

 

RUBY:

We'll be back in a moment. 

 

[ADVERTISEMENT]

 

RUBY:

Rick, can you tell me more about the arrest of one of Friendlyjordies’ producers? What happened?

 

RICK:

So a couple of weeks ago on a Friday, a team of police arrested one of Shanks-Markovina’s producers, a 21 year old student called Kristo Langker, at his parents home in Dulwich Hill in Sydney's inner west. 

 

Archival Tape -- Kristo Langker:

“Make sure you don’t lose it. That’s all, I just want to make sure it’s filmed. I’m on record”

 

RICK:

The operation was filmed, and a scuffle broke out between Langker’s mother and an officer. The video is actually quite alarming when you watch it...

 

Archival Tape -- Kristo Langker:

“You can take my phone…”

 

Archival Tape -- Langker’s mother: 

“Excuse me”

 

(screams and bangs)

 

Archival Tape -- Kristo Langker: 

“Oh my god. What are you doing?”

 

RICK:

She claims she was assaulted after being handed her son's phone. The officer said he tripped and fell and that they were trying to get rid of evidence. 

 

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Police Officer #1:

“Don’t run off with evidence”

 

Archival Tape -- Kristo Langker: 

“Who are you? Doing this?”

 

RICK:

Kristo's filming, his parents are filming... 

 

Archival Tape -- Kristo Langker: 

“This is bizarre. This is not Australia…”

 

RICK:

And there's a police officer who's being very aggressive, I must say, in this whole operation. He's essentially saying, do you know what your son did?

 

Archival Tape --Unidentified Police Officer #1:

“Do you know what your son did today? Do you wanna know? You don’t wanna know?”

 

Archival Tape -- Langker’s mother: 

“No, I want legal representation…”

 

RICK:

And his mother was like he was at class. You know, he was at university. And then the police officer responds:

 

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Police Officer #1:

“He was harassing the Deputy Premier at a State Funeral.”

 

RICK:

And so, you know, if you listen to that version of events, it sounds very awful and alarming and nobody wants that. But that's not really what quite happened. And we can actually tell that from two different videos that were later released by Friendlyjordies. 

 

RUBY:

OK, so what exactly did happen then? 

 

RICK:

So there's a couple of incidents. The first was the gatecrashing of a National Party event in April; where both Shanks-Markovina and his producer Langker ridiculed Barilaro on camera. And then on June 11, so this is the Friday. Langker stumbled across the Deputy Premier after returning from class at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

 

So Langker is a student there, and Barilaro had been attending a funeral at St Mary's Cathedral. So this is all in the same area. And it just so happened that the timing was that Langker was walking past and he recognised John Barilaro talking on the phone outside of his car. 

 

And this is entirely possible, if anyone, who has ever walked that route like you're always running into politicians or you see the chauffeur driven ministerial cars there all the time. 

 

So Langker was also carrying, as it turns out, the defamation lawsuit that was filed by John Barilaro’s team, which incorrectly listed his address as Federal Parliament House, Canberra. Now, John Barilaro is a state MP, so that's an incorrect piece of information. 

 

Archival Tape -- Jordan Shanks: 

He attempted to hand the document back, nothing more, nothing less. John ignored him, got in his car and was driven off. An extremely innocuous interaction.

 

RICK:

So according to the Friendlyjordies team, Langker was attempting to give that document to John Barilaro while also filming it, because they are content creators and everything is content. 

 

Archival Tape -- Kristo Langker:

“Hey John, John, John. I’ve got something for you. Oi John, I've got a lawsuit. You are suing my boss. John...”

 

RICK:

And of course, Barilaro gets back in the car and drives off. 

 

Archival Tape -- Kristo Langker:

“John, John…”

 

RICK:

Now, he maintains that he was stalked by Langker for 200 metres and that Langker circled the car. There's no evidence of that in the video. And certainly Langker and the Friendlyjordies team deny that entirely. 

 

So that was around I think it was around 12:30pm. And a few hours later, the police are essentially raiding Langker’s home. But here's the interesting thing. The police unit that executed the arrest is a peculiar one. It's the Fixated Persons Unit. 

 

RUBY:

What is the Fixated Persons Unit? What does it do?

 

RICK:

So after the Sydney Lindt Cafe siege, the New South Wales Police Force set up a brand new unit to target fixated persons like the gunman, Man Haron Monis, who was a very weird and violent figure. 

 

Now, their definition is ‘an individual who has an obsessive preoccupation pursued to an excessive or irrational degree with public office holders or others nominated by the commissioner of police’. 

 

Now, alternatively, there can be any person obsessed with a cause influenced by an extreme ideology. And here the police consider the definition of a cause to be an intensely personal and idiosyncratic grievance or quest for justice. 

 

So it was that Fixated Persons Unit that arrested Langker. Now, legal sources are pretty sceptical about all of this because, one lawyer was telling me that Barilaro has obviously called someone. Now he's perfectly within his rights as a citizen and resident in New South Wales to report what he thinks is a crime to New South Wales police. But the speed of the response and how quickly the Fixated Persons Unit got involved is deeply weird, to be quite honest. 

 

RUBY:

So Jordan Shanks has gone from this fairly polarising figure with some pretty hard to defend views on things like sexual assault and on race, to someone who is now feeling the full brunt of the New South Wales government in terms of this defamation suit from the deputy premier, and this police investigation involving his producer. So has that changed people's perceptions of him, Rick? Does it seem like people think that this is too hard on him? 

 

RICK:

I don't think people's perceptions of Jordan or Friendlyjordies have changed necessarily, but certainly what has happened, I think objectively is wrong. What the police did is so far out of bounds, as far as I can tell, that it now becomes a matter of principle. 

 

And, if there was a kind of weighting, it turns out that police overreach outranks whatever feelings he might have about Friendlyjordies. and that seems to be the refrain now, like, whatever you may think is wielded by those who are alarmed at this apparent overreach of power in dealing with a character they find otherwise indefensible. And it's interesting to watch because now the man with the Messiah complex has become a martyr.

 

RUBY:

Rick, thank you so much for your time. 

 

RICK:

Thank you. 

 

[Theme Music Starts]

 

RUBY:

Also in the news today…

 

Barnaby Joyce has successfully challenged Nationals leader and acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack to reclaim the minor party’s leadership.

 

Joyce resigned as Nationals leader three years ago, following allegations of sexual harassment which he has denied. Nationals MPs who backed Joyce in the leadership spill yesterday are said to have wanted a more ‘aggressive’ leader to advocate for the party’s interests.

 

One of Joyce’s closest allies, Bridget McKenzie, is likely to return to cabinet following the leadership change. McKenzie was forced out of cabinet as a result of the sports rorts affair.

I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am. See ya tomorrow.

 

[Theme Music Ends]

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