The police, the YouTube star and the Labor Party
Here is a saga that has engulfed politics in New South Wales: a caustic internet personality with a messiah complex and half-a-million followers, at war with the Berejiklian government and the media, cosy with the former state Labor leader Jodi McKay and her team, being sued for defamation by Deputy Premier John Barilaro, and now the target of a police investigation.
“I haven’t said anything publicly and I won’t,” one NSW MP tells The Saturday Paper. “There are two versions of events and I just do not know the truth.”
The Labor MP adds that Jordan Shanks-Markovina, known as Friendlyjordies, was “bloody great for us”. They say: “It was a new set of eyeballs. Young people were engaging.”
But then it turned.
Police received their first complaint about Friendlyjordies last year, when News Corp columnist Joe Hildebrand accused him of stalking and harassment. It went nowhere.
On May 27, Barilaro lodged his defamation action against Shanks-Markovina – as well as the tech giant Google, which owns YouTube.
Barilaro lawyers claimed the deputy premier was defamed by the suggestion he was a corrupt con man who had committed perjury and blackmail in two videos posted to the Friendlyjordies channel in September and October last year.
A third video continued a pattern of “mocking and goading”, the claim says. In the first video, the comedian hired the $1850-a-night Dungowan Estate, which is co-owned by Barilaro, and, addressing the deputy premier, said: “I want you to be the first to know that I fucked in both your guesthouses.”
Last month, things escalated again. NSW Police visited the home of Shanks-Markovina to execute a warrant for his arrest. The YouTuber was not home and his 21-year-old producer, Kristo Langker, called a lawyer he knew.
That signalled the beginning of the involvement of law firm Xenophon Davis, founded by former independent senator Nick Xenophon and Walkley Award-winning reporter Mark Davis. Like this story, the firm bills itself as the place “where law, politics, and media converge”.
Davis tells The Saturday Paper he called police on his client’s behalf and they told him there was an apprehended violence order out for Shanks-Markovina.
“I thought it might have been some issue with a friend or partner but he swore black and blue that everything in his private life was fine.”
That’s when things became strange, by Davis’s account. “When I called back the officer started acting really weird and he said he would have to put me on to a different unit. It was the Fixated Persons unit and the detective said they had a warrant but they weren’t going to execute it yet because they were getting legal advice.”
After the Sydney Lindt Cafe siege, the NSW Police Force set up a new unit to target “fixated persons” like gunman Man Haron Monis. Their definition is an “individual who has an obsessive preoccupation, pursued to an excessive or irrational degree” with public officer holders or others “nominated by the Commissioner of Police”. Alternatively, they can be any person obsessed with a “cause influenced by an extreme ideology” where police consider such causes to be “an intensely personal and idiosyncratic grievance or quest for justice”.
On Friday, June 11, Langker was walking to his car following a class at the Conservatorium of Music. He stumbled across Barilaro, who was returning to his ministerial car following a funeral. Langker had earlier gatecrashed a National Party event, where he and Shanks-Markovina ridiculed Barilaro on camera.
In video of the June 11 meeting, Langker tries to hand Barilaro a copy of the lawsuit the deputy premier has taken out against Shanks-Markovina, which incorrectly listed Barilaro’s address as Australian Parliament House, Canberra.
On the tape, Langker says: “Hey John. John, John. Oi, John. I’ve got something for you. John, I’ve got a lawsuit. You’re suing my boss. John, John, John, John.”
Hours later, a team of police arrested Langker at his parents’ home in Dulwich Hill. The operation was filmed and a scuffle broke out between Langker’s mother and an officer. She claims she was assaulted after being handed her son’s phone. The officer said he tripped and fell.
“It was most surprising to me,” Davis says, “to see the same detective I had spoken with last month in the footage of the Kristo arrest.”
Helen Dalton, a Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party MP, told The Saturday Paper the arrest was “a targeted attack on democracy”.
Sonia Hornery, a Labor MP, said it was “unprecedented and outrageous”.
One legal source said: “The police have acted with a speed I have never seen before – and I do a lot of this stuff. Now, Barilaro is entitled to call the police. But he’s not entitled to call the counterterrorism squad, that’s for fucking sure.”
Apart from some funding via the unions a few years ago, Shanks-Markovina was not paid for his series of interviews and campaigns with state Labor politicians. The former male model approached Labor, and not the other way around.
But by some tellings, these loose joint ventures were incredibly useful for Labor. Shanks-Markovina is credited with forcing federal Environment minister Sussan Ley into announcing an $18 million national policy on koala protection, after a campaign he made with Labor MP Kate Washington. The Ley changes include a crucial koala census which, in theory at least, could form part of state and territory development proposal assessments.
In the middle of last year, Shanks-Markovina aired a 41-minute sit-down interview with then opposition leader Jodi McKay. He has also been invited into the childhood home of Tanya Plibersek and sat down with Bill Shorten and Kevin Rudd for extended chats.
When he threatened the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union with an ongoing campaign – ostensibly for their criticism of Labor over mutual obligations – the YouTube star boasted about gratitude from senior Labor figures for “taking on these clods”. He says he was contacted by “heavyweights” from Shorten’s office in support.
In a statement to The Saturday Paper, Shanks-Markovina said he was not formally affiliated with the Labor Party. “We receive no funding from or have any formal links with state or federal Labor. If our content was funded by Labor we would have to declare it by law.
“It’s hypocritical of organisations who receive funding from major banks and fossil fuel companies to accuse us of being compromised. We are completely crowdfunded and don’t accept sponsorships or donations from political organisations.”
It’s not unusual for media personalities to have special access to politicians. Journalists do this all the time. Politicians humour commentators either because of their power or, in some cases, because of curious friendships. Plibersek, for example, is on the record as a friend of Alan Jones’s. Labor’s Senator Kimberley Kitching is friendly with Andrew Bolt and often appears on his Sky News show.
By some Labor accounts, Friendlyjordies is no different.
Still, like Jones and Bolt, his catalogue of odious comments and tactics is significant. The comedian defended former NSW opposition leader Luke Foley, who resigned in disgrace after allegations he sexually assaulted a journalist at a function.
“It’s just his word against hers. Fired as opposition leader for grabbing someone’s arse while you’re drunk? I don’t know about that,” he said in a video.
He has also downplayed the systemic torture and servitude of China’s Uygur population in Xinjiang, at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party, because they brought it on themselves. “The reason the Uygur population is detained is because they’re causing trouble,” he said. “That is actually the reason.”
It would take many more paragraphs to detail the rest of the transgressions, but they cross the streams of racism and frequent sexism. Many are the women who have received his scorn. He referred to one, a Coalition MP, as a “whiny little bitch”.
Last year, Shanks-Markovina mocked First Peoples’ attachment to sacred Djab Wurrung trees in Victoria. “When Indigenous people were saying that that’s a sacred tree, no,” he said. “Like, science is science.”
During his skirmishes with the Unemployed Workers’ Union, the comedian laughed at the idea its organisers were fighting for a living wage.
“Unions are supposed to represent workers,” Shanks-Markovina said. “You’re unemployed. They send reports to the senate that basically sit there and say ‘we demand a wage for ourselves because we don’t have the serotonin to get ourselves a job’. Oh, okay. So you’re lazy … I’m sorry but these people are just complete blights on the universe.”
By November last year, a Friendlyjordies community producer publicly announced his resignation from the outfit.
“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,” the producer said.
“I feel I cannot continue to work on and support Friendlyjordies in good conscious [sic]. 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.”
What Langker’s lawyer has yet to see is a victim statement from Barilaro.
“That is the cornerstone of any charge like this,” Davis says. “Normally police will take a notebook statement that empowers them to take their first steps, and the victim follows up with a formal typed and signed statement in the following days. We are looking forward to seeing either of those documents.”
Langker was charged with two counts of “stalk/intimidate intend fear physical etc harm (personal)”.
Since the arrest, Shanks-Markovina has released a video condemning Barilaro, saying he needs to resign and the arrest needs to be referred to the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption. “This is the end of the line for John,” he says, “because if it’s not, NSW goes from state to police state.”
The man with the messiah complex has become a martyr. For his part, Barilaro did not respond to questions.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 19, 2021 as "The police, the YouTube star and the Labor Party".
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