Milkshaking is a term that refers to the use of milkshakes and other drinks as a means of political protest in a manner similar to egging or pieing. The target of a milkshaking is usually covered in a milkshake that is thrown from a cup or bottle. The trend gained popularity in the United Kingdom in May 2019 during the European Parliament election and was used primarily against right-wing and far-right politicians and activists, such as Tommy Robinson, Nigel Farage, Carl Benjamin, and members of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and Brexit Party.
The practice and its use in targeting right-wing politicians is believed to have gained popularity following the egging of far-right Islamophobic politician Fraser Anning in Australia by a teenager in March 2019, which was met with a violent response from Anning and his entourage. Robinson was the first major figure to be "milkshaked", having one thrown as a projectile in Bury on 1 May and another thrown the following day in Warrington while campaigning. Robinson responded to the second incident by punching the milkshake thrower, who had been harassed by Robinson's supporters and later received death threats. Carl Benjamin, a UKIP candidate, was milkshaked four times while campaigning in Salisbury, Truro, and Totnes.
Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage was hit by a Five Guys milkshake in Newcastle upon Tyne on 20 May by a 32-year-old man who was arrested by police for common assault. He later blamed the rise of milkshaking on "radicalised Remainers" and said that it disrupted normal campaigning. A spoof JustGiving campaign was set up to crowdfund the purchase of a new suit for Farage following the milkshaking, while instead donating its proceeds to a cancer charity. A few days later, Farage was reportedly trapped on his campaign bus after arriving in Kent to speak to supporters, as a group of people holding milkshakes watched nearby.
A McDonald's restaurant in Edinburgh was asked by local police to stop selling the drink during Nigel Farage's campaign visit in May 2019. Burger King responded on Twitter by advertising its milkshakes in Scotland, which was criticised by users for allegedly inciting violence. The act in general was criticised by several political commentators, including former Prime Minister Tony Blair, for being a gateway to political violence, while others argued it was harmless protesting.
On the day of the European election, several media sources reported that an 81-year-old army veteran wearing a Brexit Party rosette had a milkshake thrown at him by another man. However, the reports were criticised on social media, with Twitter users arguing that it had been faked using yoghurt. Anti-Brexit campaigner Alastair Campbell criticised the incident, calling it "without any evidence" and mentioned that perpetrators usually filmed themselves; the Brexit Party responded to Campbell's comments by saying that "it must be miserable for those who assume that everybody, including an 81-year-old former Para, is acting in bad faith."
In anticipation of U.S. President Donald Trump's state visit to the United Kingdom in June 2019, the group "Milkshakes Against Racism" organised a gathering at Trafalgar Square to greet him with milkshakes as a symbol of protest. A pro-Trump supporter was struck in the face by a milkshake during protests on 4 June.
U.S. Congressman Matt Gaetz was reported to have been the first U.S. politician to be milkshaked, at a town hall event in Pensacola, Florida, but the drink was later described as an unidentified "red liquid" by police.
Analysis and ethics
The wave of milkshakings in 2019 prompted discussion in the media regarding the reasons for it being adopted as a protest tactic and whether or not it was ethically justifiable. Philosopher Benjamin Franks suggested that the use of particular foodstuffs in political protest had historically been a practical matter, noting that whilst "nowadays, carrying raw eggs to a nationalist meeting would require some backstory to justify it if challenged by the police", until recently carrying a milkshake would not have aroused the same suspicion. He also argued that milkshaking "is clearly effective in making the victim feel uncomfortable and look ridiculous". Ivan Gololobov, a politics academic at the University of Bath, highlighted the importance of "online follow-up" to modern protest politics, observing that milkshaking someone who was attempting to portray themselves as a serious and credible political figure was an effective way of undercutting their image. Writing for Vice, Jazmine Sleman suggested that milkshaking was a form of dilemma action which created "a lose-lose situation for the opposition... because there’s no good way to respond to a milkshaking". The New Republic's Matt Ford asserted that milkshaking was effective against far right leaders due to its potential for humiliating them: "nothing animates the far right or shapes its worldview quite so much as the desire to humiliate others—and the fear of being humiliated themselves". On Twitter, Amanda Marcotte argued that "the gap between the reaction of milkshaked fascist ('help, I'm being murdered!') and the reality (a dry-cleaning bill) always makes the fascist look like a joke", which in turn encouraged more milkshakings.
Criticism of milkshaking came mainly from right-wing voices, although it was also opposed by some centrist and left-leaning commentators. In a tweet, Piers Morgan suggested that Farage's milkshaking would increase his popularity. Raheem Kassam, editor-in-chief of Human Events and former advisor to Farage, claimed that "big global businesses are now moving into the territory of actively encouraging political violence towards conservatives", citing Burger King's tweet. Writing for the Washington Examiner, Madeline Fry argued that "lobbing food at your opponents doesn’t delegitimize them", and that the tactic made people using it look "juvenile". Spiked editor Brendan O'Neill asserted that defenders of milkshaking were employing a double standard, and that they would not regard it as legitimate if it was being used against left-leaning or anti-Brexit politicians.
Regarding the milkshaking of Farage, Liberal Democrat Tim Farron tweeted that "Violence and intimidation are wrong no matter who they’re aimed at. On top of that, it just makes the man a martyr, it’s playing into his hands". Writing for The Independent, Kate Townshend said that whilst she was opposed to far right politics, "on the one hand, nobody should have to walk around in fear of having things thrown at them, but on the other, a temporarily milky face is also just not a satisfying redress". Josh Marshall wrote for Talking Points Memo that whilst he understood why the tactic had caught on, he disagreed with the practice, partly because he "wouldn't find it funny at all" if far right protestors milkshaked or pied liberal politicians, but also because "we place a great deal of societal importance on creating a line between words and physical autonomy... It’s an impulse we shouldn’t set aside simply because we find someone loathsome". Ricky Gervais tweeted that whilst he was pro-Remain, he was opposed to throwing items at people he disagreed with: "that would mean I had run out of good arguments. It would also mean I deserve a smack in the mouth". Brendan Cox, the widower of the murdered Labour MP Jo Cox, said that whilst he opposed Farage's politics, he believed that throwing objects at political opponents "normalises violence and intimidation and we should consistently stand against it".
Some observers took issue with the characterisation of milkshaking as an act of violence. Writing for the New Statesman, Jonn Elledge argued that "it is far less violent than, say, promising to 'pick up a rifle' if Brexit is not delivered", as Farage had done in 2017, and that "the idea that throwing a milkshake is violence, but that inciting hate against minority groups isn’t, is responsible for a decent-sized chunk of all the world’s political problems". Alexander Blanchard, a researcher at Queen Mary University of London, argued that milkshaking did not constitute violence, as "by nearly all accounts, political violence entails intentionally inflicting harm", whereas according to those involved in milkshaking, they at most aimed to humiliate their targets. He also highlighted the history of using "small and harmless projectiles" like eggs to being a sense of theatricality to political campaigning in Britain, holding that acts of milkshaking did not exceed this level of controversy. Dan Kaszeta, a London-based security consultant who previously worked for the White House Military Office and the United States Secret Service, took issue with Sam Harris' claim that milkshakings were "mock assasinations": "Acts of political protest happen. Acts of political violence happen. There is some overlap between the two. But throwing a milkshake, while fundamentally inappropriate, uncivil, and possibly criminal... isn’t the same thing as throwing a brick or shooting a rifle". Similarly, after Robinson was milkshaked, Conservative MP Johnny Mercer stated that "this is not political violence... It is a milkshake".
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