Nazis, what? Wagga independent jettisons alt-right staffer

by Steph Preston | Sep 25, 2023 | Government, Latest Posts

A man at the centre of an infamous alt-right push to take over the NSW Young Nationals in 2018 has been dumped from the office of the first ever independent MP for Wagga Wagga, after MWM informed him he had unwittingly hired an extremist. Steph Preston reports.

Clifford Jennings was among a group of young men who were publicly outed for attempting to branch-stack the Young Nationals and steer the group towards nationalist, anti-immigration policies. In 2018, Background Briefing revealed his links with an alt-right men’s fight club and social media posts expressing his admiration for facism and Nazi slogans.

Clifford and 21 other infiltrators were subsequently banned from the party for life. 

Mr Jennings was spotted campaigning alongside the independent Wagga Wagga MP, Dr Joe McGirr, in an official t-shirt and hat.

Joe McGirr (L) and Clifford Jennings

Dr McGirr this week confirmed Mr Jennings is no longer employed in his office, after MWM brought Mr Jennings’ background to his attention. MWM understands Dr McGirr previously had no idea of Mr Jennings’ history as a far-right political operative. 

Dr McGirr, elected in 2018, has a background as a doctor in regional hospitals and has spoken previously about the importance of combating racism and creating an “inclusive” community in Wagga.        

So how did someone like Clifford Jennings end up working here? 

The political journey of Clifford Jennings

After being banned from the National Party for life, the White Rose Society reported that Clifford Jennings had been spotted at a Christian Democratic Party event in February 2022

That stint must not have lasted long.

Mr Jennings had then been employed in the office of the Member for Wagga Wagga since the beginning of 2023. Upon learning of his rap sheet, the MP confirmed that he was immediately terminated.

Independent MPs do not necessarily have the resourcing or the wherewithal of a major party that can vet staff and volunteers. The spirit of collaborative, community minded independent representation (which swept the 2022 federal election) essentially demands a good faith approach, rejecting the dirt unit politics of which voters have all become so weary. 

This is especially relevant considering how the seat fell into independent hands in the first place.

Since the beginning of time, the Liberal Party has held a seat in the state of New South Wales that the National Party believe should be theirs; the electorate of Wagga Wagga. The seat has only been held by Labor for six of its nearly 100 year history.

The Coalition regularly upholds ‘agreements’ between the two parties to avoid running against one another, but these agreements do occasionally break down. This behaviour was exemplified in 2019 when Liberal senator Jim Molan industriously printed his own set of How-To-Vote cards, instructing voters to vote for him below the line.

The Daryl Maguire effect

When disgraced Liberal MP Daryl Maguire vacated the seat of Wagga Wagga in 2018, the National Party decided to take a chance and run a candidate against their partner in eternal political matrimony. The squabbling that ensued did not impress the constituents of Wagga Wagga, who went on to elect an independent candidate, Dr Joe McGirr, the first independent to ever win the seat.

But the fight is really just beginning. According to the Coalition agreement, both the Liberal and National parties are free to run candidates in seats neither party holds, in this case the independent member Dr Joe McGirr. The National Party succeeded in shaking the tree so hard that the Liberals lost a seat that had been theirs for half a century and now, that seat is fair game for them both.

While Daryl Maguire was vacating his unofficial position of backseat driving the NSW government, the Coalition junior party was dealing with some troubles of its own. Two months before Maguire resigned the NSW Young Nationals held a general conference at which there was an incident of branch stacking by alt-right infiltrators linked to a white nationalist group called The New Guard.

The ABC Background Briefing report unearthed the social media posts of some of those infiltrators, confirming that they did indeed hold extremist views. The NSW Nationals were forced to ban 22 members for life following the investigation.

One of those members was Clifford Jennings. Clifford had been accepted with open arms by a faction of the Young Nats more than a year earlier. His mates in the Young Nats even brainstormed finding him a job.

mcgirr2

Referring to Minister for Regional Water, Niall Blair – From a Young Nats Whatsapp group chat.

Another thing the group chat reveals around that time in 2018 is that the seat of Wagga Wagga was certainly on their minds.

Mcgirr3

Dr Imogen Richards is a lecturer in criminology at Deakin University. She says the case of Mr Jennings is an example of ‘political entryism’.

“It is an example of a deliberate attempt of the far-right attempting to make an incursion into more mainstream political arenas, partly in order to shift the Overton window rightwards”.

The Overton window is a phrase that refers to the spectrum of acceptable political thought and associated policymaking in mainstream society. 

Dr Richards says that the objective of far-right extremists in infiltrating political offices is to make socio-culturally exclusivist and supremacist right-wing ideological views more acceptable, including as these views are borne out through specific governmental policies.

Mr Jennings will have his own opinion on the matter of his employment, no doubt. MWM wonders if it isn’t similar to how he felt about extremists being staffers back in 2018.

Young Nats denied a voice on The Voice: try and understand it, dare you

Steph Preston is a former political adviser.

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