New Republic - May 21, 2019
The biggest topic in British political circles on Monday wasn’t the country’s impending departure from the European Union. It was milkshakes—or, rather, one milkshake in particular that was lobbed by a bystander in Newcastle at Nigel Farage, a Brexit Party candidate in the European Parliament elections later this week.
Farage, the spiritual leader of the Brexit movement, quickly used the lactic confrontation to blame politicians who oppose him. “Sadly some remainers have become radicalised, to the extent that normal campaigning is becoming impossible,” he wrote on Twitter shortly after the incident. “For a civilised democracy to work you need the losers consent, politicians not accepting the referendum result have led us to this.”
The former UKIP Leader isn’t alone. In recent weeks, other far-right figures running for European Parliament seats have been met with dairy-centric direct action. Anti-racist protesters have targeted Tommy Robinson, the former leader of the English Defense League, with milkshakes on multiple occasions. Carl Benjamin, an alt-right YouTube personality who said last month he “wouldn’t even rape” a woman running against him, has been milkshaked (milkshaken?) four times in the past week.
Throwing a milkshake at someone is rude at worst. It may also qualify as assault in some jurisdictions, especially in the United States. British political and media figures condemned the incidents. Prime Minister Theresa May’s office said that politicians “should be able to go about their work and campaign without harassment, intimidation and abuse.” Tim Farron, the leader of the pro-Europe Liberal Democrats, said, “I’m not laughing along with the attack on Farage. 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.”
What these critiques misunderstand is why milkshaking is so potent against Farage and his brethren: It humiliates 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. It’s why alt-right trolls, projecting their own sexual insecurities, enjoy calling their opponents “cucks.” It’s why they rally around blustery authoritarian figures like Donald Trump who cast themselves as beyond embarrassment, shame, or ridicule. They brandish humiliation like a weapon while craving release from it.
Getting doused in a milkshake robs far-right figures of the air of chauvinistic invulnerability that they spend so much time cultivating. They hunger to be taken seriously despite their racist views. They want to be described as dapper, to be interviewed on evening news broadcasts and weekend talk-show panels, and to be seen as a legitimate participant in the democratic process. Most politicians to the left of Enoch Powell would brush off milkshaking as a harmless stunt. For those seeking mainstream legitimacy, it’s another searing reminder that they don’t belong. ...
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