Why Are Milkshakes Being Thrown at Right-Wing Politicians Like Nigel Farage?


LONDON — Until recently, an egg tended to be the object of choice for protesters hoping to splatter a politician’s clothing with a sticky mess and cause embarrassment without any serious injury.

Now, in several protests against rightist politicians in Britain, activists have found a new foodstuff to use as ammunition: milkshakes.

On Tuesday, a man was charged with assault and criminal damage after he threw a milkshake at Nigel Farage, one of Britain’s most prominent and divisive Brexit leaders, in the latest in a string of similar episodes.

Mr. Farage, a member of the European Parliament who leads the newly founded Brexit Party, had been campaigning on Monday afternoon in Newcastle, a city in northeastern England, when he was targeted.

As Mr. Farage walked away from the small crowd he was addressing, Paul Crowther, 32, lifted the lid from his milkshake and doused Mr. Farage with the creamy drink.

The politician’s navy suit, purple tie and light-blue Brexit Party badge were left dripping in banana and salted caramel milkshake, which Mr. Crowther told reporters he had bought at Five Guys, a nearby fast-food outlet.

“A complete failure,” Mr. Farage could be heard saying in video of the episode, as members of his security team led him away and others seized Mr. Crowther. “Could have spotted that a mile off.”

Mr. Farage seems to have been berating his security detail for not anticipating the action, particularly considering the current climate of “milkshaking,” as the practice has come to be known.

Mr. Crowther was charged with common assault and criminal damage, Northumbria Police said in a statement on Tuesday.

This month, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, known as Tommy Robinson, a British far-right activist and former leader of the extremist English Defense League who is also running for the European Parliament, was hit by two milkshakes in one day at the start of the recent spate.

Danyaal Mahmud, who first doused Mr. Robinson, told the newspaper The Observer that he had taken the action after becoming offended by what Mr. Robinson had been saying to him. He said he had used a milkshake simply because it had been in his hand at the time. The moment was captured on video and quickly spread on social media. A day later, in a different city in northern England, Mr. Robinson was again splattered with milkshake.

Carl Benjamin, a member of the right-wing U.K. Independence Party who is under investigation about a comment he made on Twitter regarding raping a female Labour lawmaker, was later targeted. He has been hit with four separate milkshake attacks so far.

Other attacks on the far right have been encouraged on social media with the hashtag #SplashTheFash. The practice has prompted an angry backlash from some rightists.

“Just to be clear, anyone that comes at me with a milkshake will need the straw to eat their meals for the next few months,” Mark Meechan, another UKIP candidate, wrote on Twitter this month.

The attacks have also caught the eye of the police. In preparation for a weekend rally for Mr. Farage in Edinburgh, officers have asked McDonald’s to briefly stop selling milkshakes on Saturday, a spokeswoman for the fast food chain said.

But why milkshakes?

Kevin Featherstone, a professor of European politics at the London School of Economics, said in an email that the strong visual impact was important.

“The recipient looks ridiculous and it debunks the politician’s aura,” he said. “The attacker is saying, ‘You don’t represent me, with your darker side of politics.’ ”

Benjamin Franks, a senior lecturer of social and political philosophy at the university of Glasgow, said in an email that, while he doubted that the original dousing had been planned, the practice had quickly taken off.

“I think it latterly caught the imagination of anti-fascist protesters because, as there is an abundance of fast food outlets in U.K. cities, it is easily available and — at least at first — could be carried without raising suspicion,” he said.

Milk has been adopted by some white supremacists as a symbol of their movement, but Mr. Franks said that the protesters’ actions had effectively turned that notion on its head.

“It turns a symbol used by the alt right — milk — to symbolize ‘whiteness’ and to mock ethnic groups with a greater predisposition to lactose intolerance, into an image of dramatic opposition,” Mr. Franks said.

Unlike some of the other politicians targeted, Mr. Farage, who has spent 20 years as a member of the European Parliament, is one of the most recognizable faces in the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union. The Brexit Party is currently leading the polls in Britain for the elections to the European Parliament.

After he was doused, Mr. Farage blamed “radicalized” Britons who disagreed with Brexit for making normal campaigning impossible.

And many have argued that attacking a candidate with food created an atmosphere of aggression and was an inadequate response to the polarizing politics of Mr. Farage.

Brendan Cox, the husband of Jo Cox — a member of the British Parliament who was killed in a 2016 attack — said that, while he disagreed with Mr. Farage’s politics and his “willingness to pander to hatred,” throwing milkshakes was not the answer.

“I don’t think throwing stuff at politicians you disagree with is a good idea,” he wrote on Twitter, adding that it normalized violence and intimidation.

Source : Nytimes