Friends no longer warmed to their mate with the new-found passion for guns. Strangers shouted at him on the street. He was standing up with passionate speeches against what he actually believed.
Living a lie wasn’t easy, but Rodger Muller’s commitment to a complex sting has rocked Australian politics.
Hidden cameras attached to Mr Muller’s jacket have helped to blast open the relationship between One Nation and US gun lobbyists, showing how the party founded by Pauline Hanson hoped to water down gun laws.
The Australian journalist behind the undercover operation has been hailed a hero by most.
But those featured in the explosive video footage have labelled him a “spy”.
Queensland-based party leader Steve Dickson declared on Tuesday the story was more like something out of “James Bond magazines” and that he thought Mr Muller had been genuine because he wore an Akubra hat.
Mr Dickson told a press conference: “I would have never guessed in a million years that this guy was a Middle Eastern spy. I was absolutely bewildered. Yes. We were had.”
Pulling the wool – or an Akubra – over the eyes of politicians, staffers and gun-toting Americans took three years to master and Mr Muller was rightly nervous taking centre stage at National Rifle Association events.
The elaborate ruse begun in 2015 when Mr Muller answered a call from the executive producer of Al Jazeera’s Investigation Unit.
“He explained that his team were investigating the US gun lobby and its attempts to manage the messaging on whether more guns lead to more deaths,” Mr Muller explained on Tuesday.
“It was an interesting idea. I’d never worn a hidden camera or claimed to love guns … I didn’t know a Glock from Luger.”
Next, a new Australian gun lobby group was born.
Through the fake website for Gun Rights Australia, Mr Muller told how he was a rural businessman and father pushing for the right of Australians to “defend ourselves”.
He donned a hat, plaid shirt, boots and the kind of vest worn by farmers. And attached to them tiny cameras and microphones.
“I assumed the role of a gun advocate, pretending to campaign for a repeal of Australia’s rigid, gun control laws, and pretending that I wanted more firearms in the hands of Australian citizens,” Mr Muller revealed.
“In fact, I disagree with all of those things. I believe the gun lobby’s efforts to conceal the truth, which concerns public safety and constitutional rights, should be brought to light.”
Rubbing shoulders with Donald Trump Jr, sipping cocktails while an albino python slithered across the lawn, and being interviewed for American pro-gun TV show was all in a day’s work for the undercover journalist.
“Over three years, I travelled from Australia to the US numerous times to build connections with the pro-gun community. Some encounters were amusing, others utterly bizarre,” Mr Muller wrote in a first-person piece on the Al Jazeera website.
“At one gathering, an albino python was released onto a lawn and a tiger paced in a cage for the amusement of cocktail-sipping guests … At another event, I fired shotguns at clay pigeons beside US congressmen, and posed for a photograph with Chris Cox, a chief lobbyist for the NRA.”
At the 2016 NRA Annual Meetings, Mr Muller was interviewed by NRATV about the need to reform Australia’s strict gun control laws that had been swiftly introduced after the Port Arthur massacre.
Footage released by Al Jazeera showed Pauline Hanson had questions over Port Arthur and the subsequent introduction of the National Firearms Agreement in 1996.
In the video, filmed in Queensland in late 2018 during a dinner with Mr Muller, Ms Hanson talks about how an MP said “on the floor of Parliament” that it “would actually take a massacre in Tasmania to change the gun laws in Australia”.
She says: “Those shots, they were precision shots”.
Watch the video here:
Read more here about how the NRA spins media in its favour, in How to Sell a Massacre.