A milkshake is a moderate, proportionate response

I’ve seen a lot of whining about how we shouldn’t throw milkshakes at fascists, and I can understand their reluctance. I’ll leave it to Greta Christina to explain why it’s necessary and reasonable.

You might think leftists need to stop painting conservatives as heartless bigots and stop painting the Republican Party as the Evil Empire. You might think punching Nazis or throwing milkshakes at fascists is unacceptable violence. You might think the word “fascist” is leftist hyperbole.

How bad do things have to get before you’ll change your mind?

Fascism typically turns the heat up a little at a time. “First they came for the socialists,” and all that. Each new horror is just a little bit worse than the last, normalizing the ones that came before it and numbing people to ones that are coming. It’s easy to see in retrospect that strong action should have been taken earlier — but when it’s happening, it’s easy to convince yourself that it isn’t really that bad. Especially if you’re not one of the main targets. Yet.

So how bad does it have to get? We already have concentration camps. We already have a sharp rise in violence against people of color, trans people, immigrants or people perceived to be immigrants. We already have an executive leader blatantly ignoring the Constitution and saying the law doesn’t apply to him. We already have the executive branch, the judiciary branch, and half the legislative branch corrupted and useless as a check on power. We already have serious rollbacks on women’s bodily autonomy. We already have white supremacist culture permeating police departments and widespread in the military. We already have historians who study fascism saying that yes, fascism is on the rise in the United States.

It doesn’t bode well for the future when people are aghast that we might respond to a betrayal of the rule of law or outright murder with hurled dairy products, but here we are, cowering in terror behind our so-called principles, afraid to trigger change for the better because there’s too much change for the worse going on.

Last week on Facebook I saw that Greta recommended this book, Blueprint for Revolution: How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men, and Other Nonviolent Techniques to Galvanize Communities, Overthrow Dictators, or Simply Change the World, so I ordered it and read it. It’s good! The author is an organizer who has taught activists living under various fascist regimes how to resist, and it’s definitely not a handbook for terrorists. It explains how to undermine tyrants with little non-violent actions that diminish and weaken them — it’s also realistic about how difficult the process is, and how there are multiple potential points of failure. You won’t make any progress if you refuse to start, though, and over and over again, it emphasizes how important it is to find ways to laugh at the ruling regime.


  1. says

    Over on Twitter, some RW was bemoaning how his remarks were being taken out of context, and repeated that if anybody tried to milkshake him, he has a gun. (Big Man™!) “Now watch,” I said, “They’re going to take your implicit death threat out of context.”

    And that brought his supporters out! They’re armed, they think a gun for a dairy product is proportional and warranted, and they’re not going to “bend over” (exact quote) for a milkshake. After all, as some of them pointed out, what if it’s an ACID milkshake! Or a CYANIDE milkshake! Because those are real things that have happened in some… well, comic book or movie maybe. And how will they know whether the one that hits them wasn’t one of those? Best to shoot first and answer questions in a courtroom later, I guess!

    Another pointed out that “he never said he was going to pull the trigger,” so I guess if he’s hit by a shake, he might just plan to point his steel security blanket around and make important mouth noises. I have a bet with myself that the first time they hit an armed citizen here with a frappé, he’ll put a cherry on it by shooting himself in the pelvic region. And yes, it’ll be a “he.”

  2. F.O. says

    There was a woman, writing on how to resist dictators. Fuck my memory, I don’t remember the title of the article nor her name, but she said (paraphrasing) “Write down what is normal, because in a few years you will have forgotten about it”.

    Also, the book seems like something I desperately need to read. I feel utterly useless.

  3. rietpluim says

    Greta knows how to explain these things.

    Anyone still not convinced is just an asshole.

  4. Ishikiri says

    The next time someone on the internet wants to argue with you about the righteousness of punching or milkshaking fascists, point out to them that whatever device they’re using contains minerals mined out of impoverished, war-torn parts of Africa and was assembled in China by the modern equivalent of slaves.

    The world is unjust, blood oils the gears of global neoliberal capitalism. My only question about violence is whether it’s retaliatory and properly directed.

  5. says

    When I was a kid the protestors in Paris were throwing cobblestones. Nothing says “I disapprove of you and your policies” like a chunk of granite.

  6. says

    My only question about violence is whether it’s retaliatory and properly directed.

    At a certain point, one can argue that a great deal of violence is justified because it’s self-defense. Some of these political asswipes really are trying to get everyone killed. Do until others first.

  7. kestrel says

    I just listened to Thomas Smith and Eli Bosnick break down milkshaking and it was pretty interesting: https://seriouspod.com/sio194-milkshaking-with-eli-bosnick/ I think the idea is that the right, who does not care about facts or reality, simply tries to get the left to fight with itself over something really stupid (like milkshaking) because all they need to do is peel off a few lefties to get them to vote in sympathy or whatever. The podcasters felt the right response was just to not argue about it. There’s a lot more there of course.

  8. PaulBC says

    From Manhattan (of course Woody Allen has his own baggage…):

    “Has anybody read that Nazis are gonna march in New Jersey? Y’know, I read this in the newspaper. We should go down there, get some guys together, y’know, get some bricks and baseball bats and really explain things to them.”
    “There is this devastating satirical piece on that on the Op Ed page of the Times, it is devastating.”
    “Well, a satirical piece in the Times is one thing, but bricks and baseball bats really gets right to the point.”

    Every time I read “[So and so] destroys Trump [with some witty rejoinder]” I think of this. I do not advocate bricks and baseball bats, but let’s not fool ourselves about what “destroy” means. Many people are still in power despite all the devastating satire hurled at them on a regular basis.

  9. F.O. says

    @SC: thanks! I (think) Gessen’s article is probably the one I was thinking about:

    Rule #4: Be outraged. […] in the face of the impulse to normalize, it is essential to maintain one’s capacity for shock. This will lead people to call you unreasonable and hysterical, and to accuse you of overreacting. […]

  10. Ishikiri says

    Marcus Ranum @#8:
    I agree, retaliatory violence can be justified if it’s hitting an appropriate target.

  11. weylguy says

    The rallying cry of Germany’s left wingers, trade unionists, the Social Democratic Party and the Centre Party against Hitler and the Nazis in 1933 was “When they go low, we go high.” Look where that got them.

    Pelosi thinks that impeaching Trump would be a bad idea (not just because “He’s not worth it”) but because she wants to go high. The Democrats need victories if they are to sustain any kind of barrier against the GOP fascists. That includes moral victories, even if the Senate shuts down the impeachment process. Democrats also need morale-sustaining actions if they are to avoid the hopelessness and despair that I’m experiencing.

  12. PaulBC says

    The “it could have been acid or poison” argument makes no sense. If I have a line of sight to you, I could possibly shoot you. Does that mean I should avoid ever having a line of sight? If I look someone straight in the eye and glare at them is that a threat to put a bullet in their heads. (Answer: No; just to cut to the chase and avoid the pitfalls of rhetorical questions). I think hitting someone with a milkshake might count as some form of assault, and I don’t really recommend it, but there is a reason the law makes a distinction between milkshakes and acid throwing.

  13. says

    Back in the “good old days” the proto-fascist conservatives dream about, they’d have been tarred and feathered. I guess they’re lucky there’s Socialized(tm) Police(r) around to protect them. How quickly they forget.

  14. Curious Digressions says

    …and it’s definitely not a handbook for terrorists.

    Anyone else think of the “Totally Not Evil” song from the Lego Movie?

    Don’t worry, I’m totally not one of those evil queens
    You’ve read about in fairy tales or seen in the movies
    And there’s no reason at all to be suspicious of… me!
    Not evil, not evil, no. The least evil person I know.

    I’m so not a villain, I have zero evil plans.
    No ulterior motives, just want to help where I can!
    I want to shower you with gifts ’cause I’m selfless and sweet!
    So there’s no reason at all to be suspicious of…
    The least evil queen in history!
    And if you do not believe me!
    I totally won’t imprison your family!
    ‘Cause that’d be evil! And that’s so…. not me!

  15. ColonelZen says


    Don’t know about where you live, but in my state (Pa) according to the NRA course I took many years back (don’t know how they are now but when I took it, they were still great on teaching gun safety – emphasized six ways from zero … was end of the second or into the third session before we ever touched a weapon … and the legal points of handling in your jurisdiction) you can be arrested and (sometimes successfully) prosecuted for “brandishing” a weapon, i.e simply taking it out of the holster with directed intent. Pointing it at someone is (again in PA back then if not still, but I suspect in almost any sane jurisdiction — pointing any weapon in the direction of a person is a huge NO, NO from a safety view no matter how sure you are that the safety is on, or that “it’s empty”) simple open and shut assault.

    After being hit with a milkshake, with no evidence of harm and no evidence of further physical aggression toward the gun-holder would constitute justification for any self defense claim.

    (I am not a lawyer and all commentary on legal circumstances is purely anecdotal and “heresay” no matter the quality of my citation. No advice is offered or implied).

    — TWZ

  16. says

    ColonelZen, it’s possible they realize this on some level, and that’s why they’re now practicing their mantra “I-WAS-IN-FEAR-FOR-MY-LIFE” (“Seriously! I thought he was coming for me with a bag of Skittles!”) and agreeing frantically with one another that a milk shake could be anthrax or arsenic or acid or maybe a nuclear malt. Seemingly still hoping for that golden opportunity to kill somebody and get away with it.

  17. says

    We already have the executive branch, the judiciary branch, and half the legislative branch corrupted and useless as a check on power.

    I’ll quibble with Christina on that one.

    First the pessimistic: I think the entire legislative branch is corrupted and useless as a check on Trump’s power.

    Now the optimistic: First, there are reasons to believe that a significant minority of congressional democrats, perhaps even a majority of congressional democrats, are actively working to return congress to a state where it could be such a check on power. It’s not right now, but it could be at some point in the not too distant future.

    Second, the picture of the judiciary as “useless” is probably inaccurate. Now, I admit the judiciary is useless for certain things, such as protecting the integrity of elections. We’ve seen that with Bush v. Gore’s direct intervention in an election, we’ve seen it with the rejection of claims that gerrymandering violates rights (including notably rights of association protected by the 1st amendment), we’ve seen it with Shelby County v. Holder’s decision invalidating the pre-clearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act, and we’ve seen it in the case most familiar to non-lawyers, Citizens United, where the court held that indirect bribery is of no significant constitutional concern. But the judiciary has checked a number of Trump’s actions and will very likely continue to do so.

    Rather than being “useless” in an unqualified, unlimited way, the judiciary is instead “useless” on certain very major issues while nonetheless retaining its usefulness in other areas of law.

    I’m not saying it’s a state of facts we should be happy about. I simply think it’s slightly different from what Christina originally asserted.

  18. blgmnts says

    Unless the American “Left” stops retweeting questionable memes and gets their asses into the streets and supports/shames Democrats into action not much will change.

  19. Morgan!? ♥ ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ says

    Re #2 comment by F.O.: The author you are thinking of is Amy Siskind who publishes a weekly list of things that are “not normal” in trump’s administration. She has published a book on the subject and will be publishing more. She is very well worth following. https://theweeklylist.org/

  20. mountainbob says

    Greta still makes no case for violence! She makes the case for not giving sway to those who would infringe the rights of others, but doesn’t present a civilized way forward. Eisenhower made the wrong choice when he invited right-wing religious participation in his inaugural. Israel did it when they decided they had more important things to consider and left the harmless extreme religious groups to do as they pleased. The extremists have been crying “victim” for more than 2000 years, and we’ve still not learned to stand up to them and insist in a legal and civil way that they keep their doctrine off our secular societies.