Electorate officer Barclay McGain said those who took offence to the costume ‘need to learn to respect the rule of law’
A taxpayer-funded staffer for federal MP Andrew Laming, Barclay McGain, has posed with a paintball-style toy assault rifle dressed as acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager who shot dead two Black Lives Matter protesters and was acquitted of all criminal charges related to the deaths in a trial that deeply divided opinion in the US.
McGain posted the photo to social media on 27 November, 18 months after he was sacked from his electorate officer position by Laming over a controversial schoolies video that denigrated Indigenous Australians. Six months later he was rehired by Laming, who described McGain as an important asset to his office due to the staffer’s youth connections.
On Wednesday, the prime minister’s office condemned the actions of the staffer and said it had raised “serious concerns” with Laming about McGain.
“Mr McGain’s actions were completely inappropriate and the prime minister’s office has contacted Mr Laming to raise its serious concerns and options for further action,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
The employment of electoral staff is at the discretion of individual MPs.
The former chairman of the Gold Coast Young LNP posted a photo of himself on Facebook holding a gel blaster gun which bears resemblance to an assault rifle, wearing a green t-shirt and blue plastic gloves, with the captions, “Kyle Rittenhouse on neighbourhood watch duties in Brisbane’s south tonight.”
This was followed by the hashtag “#NotGuilty”.
Rittenhouse has become a celebrated figure in right-wing circles after he was acquitted last month on charges of murdering Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and the shooting of Gaige Grosskreutz, 27, during protests for racial justice in Wisconsin last year.
The US teenager shot the men with an assault rifle as he roamed the streets of Kenosha with other armed men acting as a self-described militia during anti-racism protests in August 2020. The now 18-year-old’s legal team argued he had been acting in self-defence.
McGain confirmed he was currently employed as an electoral worker for Laming’s office and said that while he did not know if the MP had seen the Facebook post, he was “not particularly worried” that the costume would affect his employment status as it was outside work hours and Rittenhouse had been found not guilty.
McGain said the costume was for a delayed Halloween party and the replica assault rifle was a toy gel blaster gun, which shoots soft gel pellets. While many states have outlawed gel blasters, or require a firearms licence to own them, they remain legal in Queensland.
The photograph posted online shows McGain on a private balcony.
McGain said the costume was “not necessarily an endorsement or condemnation” of Rittenhouse’s actions.
“I thought it was topical. He had just been found not guilty, and you know, like any Halloween costume, I guess you’re trying to excite people, entertain people.
“Same as someone who dresses as Edward Scissorhands isn’t saying, ‘oh, you know, he was great to children’… The notion that I was impersonating a murderer or glorifying a murderer, I just don’t think it stacks up.”
The staffer said that those who took offence to the costume “need to learn to respect the rule of law.”
“He was clearly found not guilty … You know, this guy, his whole entire life will never be the same. You know, he’ll never be able to go down to the shops for a cup of coffee. He’ll never be able to get a normal job where he just isn’t recognised by people. Like this has changed his whole life forever, and it’s because of the media backlash that he received, which in my opinion, framed him as someone who was going out intending to kill people of colour because he didn’t agree with their political views.”
McGain has previously been embroiled in controversy after he was filmed in 2019 interviewing school leavers on the Gold Coast about whether the Australian flag and anthem should be “kept or ditched”.
In footage posted to Gold Coast Young LNP’s Facebook page, which was later removed, McGain was seen laughing when one school leaver said: “I mean we’ve got to stop celebrating a culture that couldn’t even invent the bloody wheel for God’s sake. We’ve got to start enjoying and living in western culture.”
Laming hired McGain as an electorate officer, a taxpayer-funded position, in February 2020, while the staffer was still under party investigation.
In June of 2020, the MP said that “after becoming aware of the material, the staff member’s employment in [his] office was terminated.”
However, in March 2021 Laming confirmed to Sky News that McGain was again on the payroll after being made to sit out for six months. McGain says he was officially welcomed back in early January.
Laming defended the decision to reinstate McGain, stating the young staffer’s “impressive knowledge and young networks is something very important for politicians to have.”
“Barclay McGain has tried at times to be entertaining, funny, to satire and parody and often his humour falls completely flat, but that’s not a reason for a life sentence either,” Laming told Sky News.
“Politicians need to relate to 15-year-olds who will be voting at the next election all the way through to the oldest Australians.”
When approached for comment, Laming did not deny that McGain was currently in his employment, instead stating that he did not wish to comment.
Laming also declined to comment on if he believes the costume and post were appropriate behaviour for a political staffer.
After the schoolies video emerged McGain was suspended, and later resigned, from the Liberal party.
He later stated that he felt the LNP had responded to the backlash to the video by “throwing young teenagers under the bus, to make out as though we had gone rogue under the use of party branding”.
McGain also shared a Snapchat of himself grinning while posing in front of an antique-style money box depicting a black person with exaggerated features – similar to those portrayed in offensive blackface caricatures – just days after the video that led to his suspension was taken down.
In defending the photo, McGain said the picture was taken “to convey the irony of myself being cast in the media as someone who ‘disrespects Indigenous culture’ when, in reality, I’d grown up over the past 12 years, with an Aboriginal stepfather, who always respected and honoured his Indigenous heritage”.
Guardian Australia has chosen not to publish the picture.
• With additional reporting from Sarah Martin, Amy Remeikis and Daniel Hurst.