The entire Friendlyjordies scenario with NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro is a screaming bloody mess.

Barilaro, the NSW Nationals leader, is in the process of suing Friendlyjordies – Jordan Shanks – for defamation. That lawsuit stems from a string of videos in which Shanks labelled Barilaro “a corrupt conman,” who “committed perjury nine times.” Shanks, as he frequently does, also honed in on Barilaro’s appearance in lengthy, and often vulgar, rants during the posts. That arm of things lead Barilaro to include the specific phrasing “vile and racist attack” in his statement of claim.

And while civil suits brought against media organisations by sitting politicians carry their own problematic implications, the development of police arresting a Friendlyjordies producer pushes things into uncomfortable territory.

Per reports that emerged this week, Jordies producer Kristo Langker, a 21-year-old employee of Shanks, was arrested on June 4th and charged with two counts of “stalk or intimidate intending to cause fear of physical or mental harm.” Footage of the arrest was captured by Langker’s family, and portrays some alleged heavy-handedness by arresting officers. That footage was published on the Friendlyjordies YouTube channel.

Officially, those charges stem from two incidents, one that occurred at Macquarie University on April 19th, and one that occurred on June 4 (hours before the arrest) in Sydney. Barilaro, it’s said, made police complaints about both incidents. Later press releases from police, however, seemingly ties in a slew of prior complaints chiefly centring around Barilaro’s defamation lawsuit. Per NSW Police, “the behaviour of the accused, friendly jordies [sic] and the public reach of the friendly jordies [sic] media platform has caused the victim to be constantly anxious and in fear of his and his families.”

Lawyers representing Langker stated the arrest was “shocking” and represented an “utterly extreme” development.

The real kicker here, however, stems from the fact that it was NSW Police’s Fixated Persons Investigation Unit – ostensibly a counter-terrorism unit set up in the wake of the Lindt cafe attack to target “lone wolf” extremists – that arrested Langker.

That’s a staggering escalation of tensions between Barilaro and Shanks, and has caused some to think it represents a section of Government wielding NSW Police in puppet-like fashion in a bid to quell dissent. Regardless of what Friendlyjordies represents and where your own personal assessments may lie, the threat to press freedoms a move like this could represent is starkly clear. It demands examining, even if the extreme fringes of his fan base will use it as the stick to beat on those who look.

There are two wolves caged within the work that Jordan Shanks produces.

One containing a laundry list of culturally shaky, questionably hyper-masculine, very legitimate missteps that demand scrutiny. Particularly given his self-positioning as a virtuous investigative content creator, pure of motivation and influence. His views on a raft of topics, including colonialism, the oppression of the Uyghur people, and sexual assault are not good, to put it lightly.

His axe-grinding against individual journalists – and the weaponisation of his rabid fan base against them – puts him dangerously beyond reproach. Paying attention to the callous line-stepping he does with waltz-like frequency is cause for immediate and disproportionate rebuke; first from Shanks himself and his caustic brand of petty insult and anti-corporate simplism, and subsequently from a fan base that takes every word spoken as gospel, and views any opposing voice as a blood rival who must be destroyed no matter the cost. Media types discuss Jordies’ position and work in self-censored proper nouns, because anything less is a red rag to an angry, snarky bull. Putting your name to anything – even to something like this article – is a massive risk, because of Shanks’ hair-trigger and his more extreme fans’ habit of responding in disproportionate fashion.

To his credit though, the other arm of his work emboldens what might otherwise be a politically disengaged demographic and introduces them to charged, and often underreported stories. Were it not for the body of work Shanks has produced, scores of young voters across Australia may not be so finely attuned to the harmful reach of Murdoch, the mismanagement of the NSW water portfolio, and the (frankly bizarre) koala wars waged by the Berejiklian Government. Shanks provides gateway, digestible content that taps into the latent rage of the young and disenfranchised. Mobilising what could otherwise be an unmotivated voter base is commendable. Although Shanks own persecution complex makes this much a little hard to see from the outside.

It’s worth disclosing that, as a publication, our history with Shanks is complex. Several years ago (circa 2016) we covered him – and his videos – fairly favourably, fairly frequently. For various boring editorial reasons, that ceased. In ensuing years, my own personal view of Shanks and his work – particularly his habit of vindictively grinding personal axes with various young journalists who, for one reason or another, bend his nose out of shape – morphed. And to that end I posted a small handful of tweets about him on my personal account, mostly in replies to others, over a period of multiple years. A mortal sin, as it turns out.

Shanks turned his attention to PEDESTRIAN.TV, and me individually, in a 2019 video entitled “Hipster Clickbait ‘News’ Site Annihilated,” in which he spent a solid chunk of time railing against me as a “dick-writing editor” who looks like a “hipster.” That specific incident triggered a torrent of personal abuse from his fans which demonstrably sucked to endure.

In ensuing years, Shanks has repeatedly made his presence felt at P.TV. Be that through directing commenters to bombard our articles, or attacking another member of our staff in a subsequent video through a third-hand story regarding an encounter in a retail store that verifiably did not occur as claimed.

He doesn’t like us. He doesn’t like me. Fair enough.

But that makes unpacking this scenario so much more difficult than it ever should have to be.

Shanks’ routine potting of individual digital journalists, the bulk of whom operate largely on the same side of the spectrum as he portrays himself to be, emboldens a rabid fanbase to unleash abuse that effectively insulates him from consequence. It’s not good, and it has far-reaching ramifications – not least of which is the endangerment of the mental health of the individuals he targets. And it’s conduct like that that can obfuscate legitimate complaint. What’s happening right now is blatant overreach by the state, but for all his Boy Who Cried Wolf-tinged schtick, the seriousness of that may not land as hard as it needs to outside his self-constructed bubble.

But it is overreach. And that’s a huge problem. Politically, suing a media individual for defamation is one thing. Having what essentially amounts to a politically-charged comedy troupe (the likes of which Australia, when you consider your Chasers and your John Safrans, has a fairly proud history of) arrested by a counter-terrorism unit is something else entirely.

The function of media, at its core, is not a criminal act. Nor should it ever be treated as such. And NSW police arresting a journalist asking questions – and thereby stifling dissent – is, and I say this with sincerity, despicable bullshit. It demands media scrutiny. It should be questioned broadly in mainstream press. But it might not receive that, because Shanks has spent the better part of a decade cultivating a weaponised Us vs Them cult of personality that may now be revealing how lonely that can truly be.

Friendlyjordies is a curious pest otherwise capable of solid work who commands a rabid, captive audience. John Barilaro is a senior cabinet minister acting like a thin-skinned baby. There are no winners in all of this – no foreseeable outcome that can possibly be construed as a net positive for either the political or media spheres – and that absolutely sucks.

Image: Getty Images / Brook Mitchell