Did the teen who egged Fraser Anning commit an act of political violence?
18th March 2019
With the crack of an egg he became an internet sensation, earning global plaudits for humiliating far-right senator Fraser Anning after the Queensland MP issued a widely denounced statement linking the Christchurch terror attack to immigration.
Since images of the incident were beamed around the world, social media admirers of the Melbourne teenager have offered him a Ferrari and a 5-star holiday in Turkey.
Some have discussed nominating him for Australian of the Year, while an online fundraising page has collected more than $47,000 for the teen’s legal fees (and to buy “more eggs”), and hiphop outfit the Hilltop Hoods promised the 17-year-old free entry to their shows for life.
The webpage now states that all the money raised will be going to the victims of the New Zealand attack.
But should we be wary of making a hero of #eggboy?
Many have condemned Senator Anning for striking the teen twice in retaliation, and his supporters for tackling him to the ground and restraining him in a chokehold.
But did the teenager’s headline-grabbing stunt also constitute an act of political violence?
Victoria Police have said they are investigating the incident “in its entirety”, including the actions of the boy, Senator Anning and bystanders.
Tim Dean, a philosopher at the University of Sydney, said we should be cautious about condoning any form of political violence, no matter how minor.
He said celebrating the teenager’s actions, which he described as “a very mild form of violence”, sent a message that it was “appropriate to express a political opinion through attacking someone”.
Dr Dean said while Senator Anning’s comments ought to be reviled, violence should only be used in defence or in extreme cases when there are no alternatives.
On Twitter, journalist Richard Cooke argued egging was a non-violent political activity which was designed to humiliate rather than wound.
Egging certainly has a long history as a tool of political protest.
The furore that followed then-prime minister Billy Hughes having his hat knocked off by an egg as he campaigned for conscription in the Queensland town of Warwick in 1917 is viewed as being a catalyst for the creation of the Commonwealth Police Force, a precursor to the Australian Federal Police.
Playing down the incident following a complaint from Hughes about a police officer’s refusal to arrest the egg-throwers, the Commissioner of Queensland Police said “the hurling of missiles at public speakers is, of course, illegal, and most deplorable, but it is a very prevalent practice, and seems to be more or less accepted as one of the semi-humorous concomitants of public oratory”.
Former British prime minister David Cameron, right-wing British firebrand Nigel Farage, and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger are among a number of political leaders to have been egged in recent times. (Arnie’s response: “This guy owes me bacon now”.)
In 2011, Afghan demonstrators pelted eggs at the Iranian consulate in the western city of Herat to protest a border blockade of fuel tankers which caused prices to spike.
In 2013, French farmers smashed hundreds of thousands of eggs on main roads near supermarkets to show their disapproval of low prices set by the European Union.
Dr Dean said while throwing eggs was a time-honoured political tradition, it rarely served a constructive purpose, instead reinforcing ideas of division and opposition that stood in the way of effecting change through persuasion.
John Uhr, a professor of political science at the Australian National University, said the teenager had been “dumb” to smash the egg directly on to Senator Anning’s head, rather than throwing it from a distance, which would have seemed less violent.
“That’s hitting the senator, literally,” Professor Uhr said.
“It does have a more forceful, shocking effect — it’s not just innocent political speech, it’s a kind of confrontation with another political actor.
“He’s likely to be provoked and more angry than he would have been if this thing had come from somewhere that he couldn’t identify.”
Professor Uhr said such scenes were likely to be repeated as Senator Anning — who attracted only 19 first-preference votes at the 2016 election — seeks to keep himself in the headlines in the lead up to the election.
He said the adulation for the teenager was explained by the senator’s “notorious” reputation.
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“If the kid had dropped an egg on you or me, I don’t think he’d be getting those offers of great help.”
For his part, Senator Anning did not take a backward step when asked about his conduct at a press conference in Brisbane today.
“He got a slap across the face, which is what his mother should have given him long ago, because he’s been misbehaving badly,” Senator Anning said.
“When someone cracks you on the back of the head you react and defend yourself.
“That for years is what Australians have been doing. Luckily they did that in the trenches and otherwise we’d all be speaking German now.”