By Andy Stewart
The recent violent arrest in Sydney of a social media agitator, an arrest seen as heavy handed by even one of the country’s most conservative media commentators, has raised questions about the true purpose – and powers – of a special law enforcement unit.
Friendlyjordies is the online name of YouTube commentator Jordan Shanks-Markovina. Their political commentary is a low-budget mixture of investigative journalism and no-holds-barred humour that has earned them over half a million YouTube subscribers. Recent targets include Clive Palmer, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro. Shanks claims to be exposing corruption and wrongdoing, but Palmer and Barilaro don’t see it that way and launched defamation proceedings to sue for damages.
Palmer sued for, among other things, the perceived damage caused by the use of terms such as “Fatty McFuck Head” and “Dense Humpty Dumpty”. Barilaro is suing because he was referred to, among other things, as a “corrupt conman” who has “committed perjury”, in videos Friendlyjordies made attacking his pork-barreling, allocations of government funding to Liberal Party interests, and failure to declare assets he owned as a conflict of interest.
I won’t go into the details, but try Googling, ‘Barilaro oyster’ or ‘Barilaro AirBnB’.
After receiving Barilaro’s lawyer’s defamation letter, Friendlyjordies realised there was an error in it. By chance, on June 4, Friendlyjordies producer Kristo Langker came across Barilaro as he was getting into his car. He tried to get Barilaro’s attention but was ignored. Barilaro and his driver then drove off. Langker did not shout at Barilaro or chase after the car. Langker captured the incident on video.
Later that day, following the lodgement of a complaint, Langker was arrested at his house by plain clothed members of the NSW police Stalking Squad. The arrest also involved the Fixated Persons Investigations Unit (FPIU). During the arrest, which was captured on video, Langker’s mother was injured when knocked to the ground, while Langker was pinned to the ground and handcuffed before being taken away in an unmarked police car.
The arrest was in relation to two counts of “Stalk or intimidate intending to cause fear of physical or mental harm”. The second was for the incident from earlier that day. The first was from about six weeks earlier when Shanks and Langker joined a Macquarie University ‘Politics in the Pub’ event Barilaro was speaking at, where they shouted “Why are you suing us?” before being ejected.
There are strong concerns that the arrest appears to be based in part on false evidence. The wording in the police statement of fact provided to Langker upon his release deviates materially from the video that Langker took during his encounter with Barilaro earlier that day. Only Barilaro, his driver and Langker witnessed it.
The FPIU was set up in 2017 following the deadly Lindt Café siege to prevent acts of violence or terrorism. The unit’s aim is to counter lone-wolf attacks from people vulnerable to the influence of extremist groups. It is comprised of both police officers and mental health experts. The former NSW DPP Nicolas Cowdery has since commented that, “…this does not seem to be a case for which the Fixated Persons Unit was established.”
Langker was released on bail. The bail conditions were unusually draconian according to his lawyer. Many of them have since been lifted on appeal.
This is such an outrageous case that Andrew Bolt – yes, Andrew Bolt – did a piece on Sky News about his concerns over the reasons for, and nature of, the arrest of Langker. He even had the legal partner who has acted as Bolt’s defamation lawyer on to express his own unease about it.
So, we have a police unit that specialises in lone-wolf terrorism sent in to violently arrest someone on dubious evidence, on the grounds that they have “stalked” a politician that has already launched a defamation case against the person’s boss. In so many ways, this incident presents as an extreme and highly concerning case of abuse of power involving a senior politician. So extreme that even Andrew Bolt and his defamation lawyer felt compelled to speak out.