How An Aussie Infiltrated The NRA And Nabbed One Nation In Three Years Undercover
When One Nation staffers Steve Dickson and James Ashby fronted media on Tuesday afternoon, they claimed they were the victims of a stunt like from "James Bond magazines".
Quite aside from alerting the nation to the little known publication '007 Magazine' (yes, it exists), Dickson and Ashby weren't exactly wrong.
They had been exposed as courting funding from powerful US gun lobbies including the National Rifle Association (NRA), with the aim to use the cash to win seats in parliament.
However, the reason they'd been exposed was due to news publication Al Jazeera tapping an Australian man to spend three years undercover as a gun nut. Al Jazeera's aim was to infiltrate the highly secretive NRA and learn what they say behind closed doors, reporter Peter Charley -- the journalist behind the operation -- told 10 daily.
To do so, Charley set up a fake Australian pro-gun group called Guns Rights Australia, which would, "in theory", appeal to the NRA.
Australia's gun laws, brought in after the 1996 Port Arthur massacre, are frequently held up to the United States as an example of how to enact lasting and effective gun control. Former Prime Minister John Howard wrote about the gun buyback scheme for the New York Times in 2013, just weeks after twenty school children and six adults were murdered in the Sandy Hook massacre.
Charley just needed someone to actually go undercover. He tapped Australian man Rodger Muller, an old acquaintance with no journalism background, to be his mole.
"I was looking for someone who had all the right qualities: someone who was Australian, who was prepared to travel, was prepared to buy into this idea of being a pro-gun advocate, even though he wasn't,"Charley said.
"[Muller] ticked all those boxes."
Muller agreed. It meant flying to London, learning how to use concealed cameras, being trained in how to phrase questions like a journalist, and of course, how to handle guns.
It also meant fully assuming the role of hardcore gun enthusiast -- much to the dismay of his friends and family.
"I think it was very difficult for him to fit into a community who had known him as a jovial, knock-about guy who loves a few beers," Charley said.
"I think there's a bit of residual hostility. I think some people probably don't like Rodger Muller now, because he was one man, then another, now he's back to the way he was before. I think some people are confused, and it's going to take some time to adjust to it.
"Putting his life through those twists and turns, it must have been very difficult for him."
10 daily was not able to reach Muller, who is laying low for the time being. No trace of him -- save for the most recent news articles, and old Gun Rights Australia web pages -- exists online that we could find.
However, in an op-ed for Al Jazeera, Muller told of the toll the investigation had taken on his life.
"I've been living a double life for the past three years," he wrote.
"I am genuinely proud of Australia's gun control laws, and to rail against 'snowflakes' and 'gun grabbers' seemed like a betrayal of my friends and family back home, who I believe are safe because of such tough laws.
"Many of them were astonished at my newfound passion for firearms."
The Guns Rights Australia website is now password-protected, but a simple search via the Wayback Machine shows a sophisticated website maintained over several years.
Muller's face is all over the website -- pointing guns, addressing supporters in videos, and in links to pro-gun blogs in which he is quoted as a gun enthusiast. It even includes a (fake) explanation of the Lindt cafe siege being the catalyst for his newfound love of firearms, describing it as a "wake up call" that "changed his life forever".
In fact, so deep was Muller's deception that strangers confronted him on the street, berating him for "trying to drag Australia's gun laws in the direction of those in the US."
The aim was never to target One Nation specifically, Charley told 10 daily. It was always to infiltrate the NRA and discover what they "really say behind closed doors about things like mass killings".
But when Charley began to suspect One Nation had received funding from the NRA -- which, as it turned out, they hadn't -- he asked Muller to investigate.
For their part, One Nation's Steve Dickson and James Ashby said they believed Muller was legit in part because he wore an Akubra hat.
"I never, ever, ever suspected in my wildest dreams that this guy was employed by a Middle Eastern country, by Al Jazeera, as an Australian spy to interfere in Australian politics," Dickson said, in a highly memorable press conference on Tuesday.
In offering the barest modicum of a defence to Dickson and Ashby -- not many others would suspect in their wildest dreams someone would go undercover for three years as a full blown gun nut, either.
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