Australian YouTube personality Jordan Shanks, aka FriendlyJordies, has spent a lot of time over the last year harassing corrupt politicians. That is, of course, when he wasn’t attacking anti-poverty activists for failing to worship the Australian Labor Party, or flaunting his ignorance of how unions function as a badge of honour.
Love him (why?) or loathe him (naturally), Shanks has used the medium of video to expose his legion of fans to the reporting of mainstream journalists covering the corrupt dealings of a number of NSW Liberal and National politicians – most prominently the Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, and Deputy Premier, John Barilaro.
But, he’s also managed to run afoul of the law. Not through the aspect of his videos that cover their alleged crimes, but for the manner in which he goes about building his profile while covering these issues.
You see, Jordan, a failed male model and former performing arts high school student, loves to make himself the centre of attention, even as he claims to report on the dirty deals done by those who wield power.
Now, it’s important to note, criticism of Jordan Shanks isn’t limited to his various stunts, there’s also his racism, ableism, sexism, and support for anti-communist death squads. But, I ask you, which YouTubers haven’t been favourably compared to former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet?
But, all this aside, Shanks is being sued for defamation by John Barilaro after a series of videos ostensibly about dodgy land deals involving the deputy Premier, but mostly involving Shanks making fun of Barilaro’s Italian heritage.
And now one of his producers has been arrested for stalking Barilaro, and a warrant is believed to have been issued for Shanks’ arrest – Shanks is on tour and out of the state, in his side gig as a comedian.
As someone who has also been arrested for harassing a corrupt politician, this gave me some pause for thought. You see, at the start of last year I was arrested for organising a pool party at the Prime Minister’s house in the Shire. This was in response to Scott Morrison saying that people should ignore the Black Summer bushfires and watch the cricket, and so I thought it would be funny to take him at his word and watch the first day of the Sydney test match at his house.
I went there knowing I would likely be arrested, but I felt that Morrison’s glib comments about the fires, combined with his long history of climate change denial, were too much to ignore.
I, too, went there believing I was fulfilling some journalistic function, recognising the failure of the media to speak truth to power and call out the corruption of these politicians, as if spending a few hours in lock-up would draw attention to the matter.
While the only charge they made stick was for trespass – I put an empty can of cider in Scotty’s recycling bin; it also exposed me to the wild world of politicians using the power of the state to crush dissent.
And so looking at what Shanks and his team are now facing, it definitely appears to be an abuse of police powers (no shit, ACAB), but in this regard, as soon as you’re being sued for defamation, following and harassing the person suing you isn’t going to change that. Stalking Barilaro outside a funeral isn’t funny or clever, it’s how you get locked up.
This isn’t to say they deserve to be locked up for being fuckwits, I mean, I successfully used the dickhead defense, it’s one of our best precedents for those who would harass corrupt politicians. But once arrested, I stopped chasing Morrison until after everything was settled, because martyrdom only works when your motivation is pure and good.
While some have pointed out that similar tactics have been used by The Chaser and A Current Affair, they have a team of lawyers advising them, and also use a method of quick confrontation piece for the camera before withdrawing to the studio.
Theirs isn’t a sustained campaign of harassment over months, it’s show up, get the foot in the door, and then use the rest of the segment to comment on the issue at hand. The only people ACA continue to harass are those without the direct means to defend themselves.
These boys aren’t doing themselves any favours, and they definitely won’t win public sentiment against the fascist overreach of the state.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s incredibly fun and exciting to go after these cunts, but they won’t hesitate to use the power of the state to crush you.
When I was initially sentenced for the crime of recycling in the Shire, I was hit with four months in gaol, because the magistrate said I had shown no remorse – despite reading a lengthy statement of contrition at the hearing. On appeal, I was given a simple fine, but the few hours I spent in the cell underneath the courthouse wondering where I would be sent were not great.
Shanks and his team need to be smarter if they want to highlight the relationship between corrupt politicians, the police, and the way legislation is used to shield these scumbags from their crimes. But the manner in which they have been responding to the defamation suit thus far – harassing the servers delivering the legal documents, getting their fans to review-bomb the law firm representing Barilaro, confronting Barilaro on the street – is likely to see them hit with contempt of court charges.
The true threat to democracy
The fact that the police deployed to arrest Shanks’ employee are a part of a counter terrorism unit should cause concern, not because Shanks calls himself a journalist, but because the monitoring of political movements has expanded to aggressively bland centre-right showponies.
If Shanks, someone committed to protecting the establishment at all costs, is considered a “subversive” by the state, then the threat against progressive and left-wing organisers has never been greater.
Yes, he has built a cult of personality around his desire to be involved in politics, and the ACTU and ALP have embraced the fact that he offers them a youthful audience for their hollow centrism, but his propagandising is so limited in its scope that a nation of cop lovers isn’t going to rethink their worldviews because a YouTuber was locked up for his shitty takes.
It’s likely that the state recognises his potential as an agitator, someone who has so readily weaponised his audience against activists trying to fix a broken welfare system could just as easily send the digital mob to attack the wealthy reprobates who occupy Parliament.
But, as many have noted, Shanks is more invested in his ego than in change. He whines endlessly about the problems with the spineless media and fraudulent politicians who profit from the status quo, while regularly attacking the few journalists doing good work and the activists fighting for a more equitable society.
Asher Wolf is someone who fits into both categories, a journalist who has spent years exposing the creeping fascism of the state – including the very police unit targeting Shanks; and an activist who helped lead the fight against Robodebt. Shanks has repeatedly targeted Asher in his videos, including giving Bill Shorten credit for her work on Robodebt, because he has no material interest in fighting against abuse of power, he’s in it for the clicks.
Jordan Shanks backs Labor because they help drive his revenue streams, he’s made bank with his confected outrage about what the Liberal/National Coalition has been getting up to, changing horses midstream would hurt him financially.
He isn’t about to start trying to work with the people he’s spent so long demeaning and disparaging either, he doesn’t give a shit about building a movement for change, and he isn’t all that interested in what happens to those suffering under the Liberal/National government.
This is a job for him. He’s an influencer, a propagandist, and because he’s tied himself to the anchor of the Australian Labor Party, he isn’t able to address issues at the core. He can dabble about the shallow end of political analysis, but without attempting to grow or mature in his approach, all he can do is manufacture anger against the ephemeral other.
And that appears to be why the police are tracking his movements, observing his audience, watching for any potential threat to the status quo. His outrage machine creates no answers, only building on the frustration of disaffected youth, telling them repeatedly that the problem isn’t the system, it’s the other players, the other team.
In January, in Washington DC, we saw what happens when a movement of brainwashed trolls finds itself with no hope after years of blaming everything on the other team, when the cult of personality collapsed in on itself.
Shanks and his team need to take this moment to reflect on what they’re trying to achieve if, indeed, they are trying to achieve anything at all.
For one thing, I really fucking hope they start listening to their lawyers, and their fans stop listening to Jordan Shanks.