Politics

Clive Palmer Is Locked In A Battle With The Alt-Right For Control Of His Own Facebook Meme Page

The days of wholesome Grog Dog memes are over.

clive palmer

After spending 2017 attempting to completely re-invent himself online, mining mogul and former federal MP Clive Palmer announced last week that he was bringing back the Palmer United Party (PUP) and contesting the next federal election, whenever that may be, and launching a new Facebook-based meme group to help support his campaign.

The ‘Palmy Army’, as Palmer dubbed the group, started out innocently enough but over the past week it’s devolved in racist, sexist cesspit, with Palmer now attempting to wrest back control. But before we get into the ins and outs of the group it’s worth recapping Palmer’s illustrious political career so far.

Palmer rose to national political prominence in 2013, when PUP won Senate spots in Queensland, Tasmania, and (on recount) WA, with Palmer himself being elected to the House of Representatives in the Gold Coast-based Seat of Fairfax. Ricky Muir, who was initially elected as a Motoring Enthusiasts Party senator, also joined the new Palmer bloc, giving Clive a significant amount of sway in the Senate.

However, this was to be short-lived; the resignations of Jacqui Lambie and Glenn Lazarus from the party, and Palmer’s decision not to re-contest his seat in 2016, led to the demise of the party nationally.

So, what has changed? Palmer seems to have moved on from his time in politics, instead spending his time writing bizarre tweets and Facebook posts, musing about tim tams and Shrek 3, and, of course, posting videos of himself saying goodbye to various politicians. This may have been just to draw attention away from missing court appearances around the controversy over his failed Queensland Nickel venture and alleged failure to pay his workers. However, it seems as though the now-legendary memer has his eye on Canberra once more.

The Palmy Army

In keeping with his bizarre social media presence, Palmer has set up a Facebook group called “Palmy Army”, asking regular punters to submit memes and raid the social media posts of other politicians.

Now boasting almost 8,000 members in less than a week, Palmy Army is buzzing with hundreds of posts dedicated to Tim Tams, PUP policy, and of course the infamous Grog Dog. Palmer has also asked the group for aspiring candidates, which is definitely a bit bizarre. Hopefully they don’t pick up accidental dual-nationals, and have better vetting policies than One Nation.  

The geniuses behind Clive’s social media presence have decided calling Malcolm Turnbull a “turnip” is a sure-fire way to knock the PM down a peg. It doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as “Little Marco”, “Lyin’ Ted” or even “Low Energy Jeb”, but it’s from the same Trump-style playbook.

A post on Turnbull’s Facebook page targeted by Palmer has every top comment occupied by the Palmy Army faithful. This tactic was used again on Monday, with members urged to comment on anything rogue Nationals MP George Christensen posts to remind him to stand up for regional communities and not deal with “Turnip”. It’s pretty clear Palmer sees a way forward by turning people against the Coalition without having to necessarily change their politics.

However, keep scrolling and you’ll see a much darker picture; this isn’t just a harmless meme group. It’s giving space to some deeply offensive views, including alt-right sentiments and strategies.

“Hey what r everyones thoughts on nuking melbourne?!”

Many of the posts in the Palmy Army group riff off Palmer’s only current clear political stance: being against The Greens. In announcing the formation of the group, Palmer made it clear: “No Greens and Waleeds allowed.”

It’s a bit odd, given that in 2013 PUP actually shared more than a few policy stances with The Greens, such as standing against offshore detention of refugees, advocating for free tertiary education, outlining a huge increase in health spending, and a far more generous paid parental leave system.

This seemingly indicated to many people in the group that virulently anti-Green sentiments were not only allowed, but actively encouraged. It didn’t take long from generic anti-Green memes to descend into posts literally talking about dropping a nuclear weapon on Australia’s progressive capital, Melbourne.

Why Melbourne? Well as some posters argued it’s because of a “lack of masculinity from chemicals in the hipster coffee cups” and “because that’s where all the fags are”.

Palmer Tries To Take Back Control

Since the group was basically open to anyone with a Facebook account who loves memes (everyone), it was perhaps inevitable that the so-called alt-right would try to move in and recruit. They successfully made the idea of nuking Melbourne seem like a mainstream opinion for the group, and posted some truly horrendous racist and sexist content. This was met with hostility from members that were hoping for a simple group dedicated to Palmer memes.

Since a BuzzFeed story exposed some of the racist and outright Nazi content on the page, Palmer’s moderation team seems to have taken a stronger stance on the content posted.. Most of the openly pro-Nazi memes have been deleted, as have all the posts condemning the slide to the alt-right. There are still some gems (read: truly horrifying memes) in there, like this one of Palmer as a Nazi gassing his political enemies:

Palmer is doing all he can to wrest back control of the group not only from the alt-right, but from the “LNP Greens Labor and Media dogs” that somehow made it inside when it was an open group and thousands were joining. Great job there, Clive.

Palmer has said he will be purging any member who doesn’t have his mid-90s WordArt-based profile filter in the coming days. With almost 8,000 people to look through, his social media manager is going to have a hell of a week.

Note to Clive: I think it may be a bit too late for all of that. For now, it seems there is an uneasy peace, with far less posting happening and occasional decent memes. Once the purge happens though, will the Palmy Army be a force to be reckoned with, or fizzle out?

So What Happens Now?

Palmer has said that policy announcements will be made in the coming weeks, so for now all we have is another sideshow on the perennial circus that is our national politics. However, if Palmer gets serious and throws (what’s left of) his money at another campaign, can we see him rise from obscurity to power-player once more?

In the slightly less fractured political environment of 2013, Palmer managed a paltry 5 percent of the vote nationally. Now with the Australian Conservatives and One Nation on the scene the disaffected right-wing voter has more feasible well-known options than ever.

PUP’s 2013 result only translated into so many Senate seats due to the old voting system, where we once voted for a party and they decided where our preferences would go. Now the system has been changed and voters have the power to decide their preferences. Without guaranteed preference flow from other minor parties, Palmer and his meme team will have an uphill battle to get back into the Senate.

Cameron Caccamo is a Sydney-based writer. He tweets way too much about politics and sport at @cjcaccamo