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'Fixated' Friendlyjordies case brings us closer to a police state

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Kristo Langker, writer and producer for Friendlyjordies, was arrested by the NSW Fixated Persons Unit (Screenshot via YouTube)

The formation of a Fixated Persons Investigations Unit and the exploitation of its power is another example of excess in political law enforcement, writes Tom Tanuki.

I WILL EVENTUALLY come to the creepy Fixated Persons Investigations Unit behind the recent arrest of Friendlyjordies’ producer. But it’s hard to approach without acknowledging first that some discussion about it online is not purely about how cops are bad. I thought it would be but it isn’t. It’s fractured among various elements of the online Left.

Friendlyjordies has had a running feud with other factions of the online Left. He says dumb things sometimes — sometimes about Indigenous sovereignty activism, sometimes about certain non-ACTU affiliated unions; sometimes off-hand, sometimes with intention. Sometimes he apologises when taken to task. Often, he winds up in protracted online disputes. 

He’s been caught with Australian Twitter left in a holding pattern for two years or so: a barrage of daily Twitter posts fixate on him and in response, he fixates too, with twice-weekly 45-minute videos getting mad at people with little Twitter accounts or other big ones with little blue ticks. It all creates engagement, I guess, which is the only thing that makes very online people happy. It also makes little sense unless you follow it daily, as only very online people do.

Speaking of very online people, earlier this week I was watching ABC Four Corners’ inane special on “BurnedSpy” and QAnon. It was navel-gazing garbage. It rehashed a two-year-old scoop to attempt a tired hit on ScoMo while indulging in the ten-millionth QAnon explainer. (Mine was better.) During that complete waste of time, I watched them broadcast Eliahi Priest described therein as an “online anti-corruption crusader”. I heard that and ran my head through a brick wall because Eliahi’s actually one of Australia’s most ridiculous conspiracy theorists. 

Eliahi outlines* in endless daily online rants how he’s variously an international peace advocate and someone who hacked the entire Australian Government. Anyway, that last fairy tale once saw him declared a “fixated person”. Queensland’s Fixated Persons Unit barged into his little watch shop, dragged him off and imprisoned him. Then they let him out and Eliahi went back to posting fairy tales online, generally convincing nobody but fringe conspiracists. (And Four Corners.)

Here is the signature block of Eliahi Priest, the most important man in the world.

(Image supplied)

I bring up Eliahi because:

  1. he makes little sense unless you’re online all the time, like the abovementioned dispute; and
  2. forcibly detaining people like Eliahi is one thing the Fixated Persons Investigations Units – established across Queensland, NSW and Victoria – do.

What else do they do?

They were set up initially after the Martin Place siege, when an evidently unwell Man Monis held people hostage in a Lindt Café and held an Islamic flag to the window. The units were established afterwards, as a way of predicting “pre-criminals”, which is a power I definitely trust police to handle responsibly without any overreach. In practice, it means they dig into fringe online people who say strange stuff about politics.

So, kind of like what I do, I guess? But instead of writing articles and making fun videos about it, like me, they kidnap people.

And apparently, they also arrest young men who help YouTubers make videos.

Please ask the activist Left about politically-motivated police and this conduct. I wrote about their escalating violence recently. After protest efforts like 2019’s IMARC, police harassed and intimidated protestors for over a year afterwards, visiting their homes with threats that they’d be pursuing them. People have had all their electronic devices confiscated for months, over nothing; like Kristo, they’ve had ridiculous bail conditions foisted on them. People have been arrested for charges unrelated to their activism, only to find that counter-terrorism officers are working on the prosecution. This is scary stuff.

A changing environment with political extremism has been used as an excuse to introduce increased police powers seemingly unhooked from public scrutiny. Ask any Victorian activist who has faced down the brutal Public Order Response Team before. Ask Eliahi Priest (but don’t really). Now, even, ask the Friendlyjordies video team.

If you are very online and don’t materialise in real life for anything but your own shows, you wouldn’t have experienced this police overreach. If you have only focused on parliamentary politics and not on activist politics, you might be surprised when politicians turn forces on you that they’re used to aiming at filthy lefties.

Now that counter-terrorism forces are being used against videomakers, I do see a left communication breakdown I didn’t anticipate. There are people chortling about the arrest, or at least sagely shrugging and murmuring, “welp, that’s what you get!”, as though bad takes from Friendlyjordies warrant cop lunacy. Generally, I wonder if peoples’ principles short-circuit when they see a face they have formed a parasocial rivalry with.

On the other hand, big YouTubers are filing in to support Friendlyjordies. Many big creators with big audiences are wringing their hands, which is nice because solidarity’s great. Why, even Isaac Butterfield weighed in, perhaps shoring up reciprocal support from Jordan in case he is ever investigated for unsolicited dick pics. Problem is, after watching their takes, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was the first time a cop had ever gone overboard. But none of them ever go out in public for anything but their own shows, so I understand their surprise.

I have done my time calling bad Friendlyjordies takes bad when I see them. But I have tried to be diplomatic in doing so. It might be experience gained from several years of in-person union organising — I’m used to a sort of compromise over disagreements. I’d rather be nice in public and whinge in private later about how you give me the shits. I also think that Jordan’s takes are no worse than the bad takes of the average Labor voter — he caters to them and there are millions of them. Also, if my takes are ever bad – inconceivable, I know – I’d like to be told diplomatically. I prefer my bridges unburnt. They can smoulder a bit, that’s fine.

Atop a smouldering bridge, let me tell anyone who thinks Kristo’s arrest is the start of a new slippery slope invented by Barilaro: no. This is genuinely what cops do. Which is bad, right? Right. I don’t want to be that loser who sits there and says, “well, join the club!” as you’re being dragged off in cuffs, but it’s true. The cops go hard on political activists or fringe elements. They do it under the auspices of squads like the Fixated Persons Investigations Unit or other counter-terrorism squads. They’re brutal and unrelenting. Many of you may have voted for bolstered police forces to protect you from, say, made-up gangs. Well, this is what you get.

Now that you know, consider taking an anti-carceral approach at the ballot box, or even by attending a rally now and then like us extremists. You don’t have to be a complete police abolitionist like some extremists. You could, say, start by demanding radical reform that is sufficient to eliminate the presence of extra-judicial political Judge Dredds. But I can tell you that the broader question of how police respond to political activism won’t be answered just by donating to Friendlyjordies’ legal fund. It will also require activist effort.

You don’t need to be an “extremist” to be chased down by the political police. You don’t need to be Eliahi, either (thank god). You can just be a kid who helps make videos. The political police here need to have their powers limited and I think this is one thing we can all agree on.

*EDITOR'S NOTE
The original version of this article stated that Mr Priest had claimed to be a saviour to millions of children, that he was a spy and that he had been injected for weeks but as these details are unsubstantiated, we have adjusted the article accordingly. We apologise for any inconvenience.

Tom Tanuki is an online satirist, social justice commentator, writer and comedian. He has worked in anti-racist political comedy, most notably through his satirical group the Million Flag Patriots and anti-racist group Yelling At Racist Dogs (Y.A.R.D.). You can follow Tom on Twitter @tom_tanuki.

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