The Surprisingly Long History of Throwing Eggs at Politicians
Egg Boy follows a long legacy of political egg throwers.
Screengrab via YouTube
It’s probably a safe assumption that, until he opened his mouth last week, a lot of us were unfamiliar with far-right Australian politician Fraser Anning. Until last week, a lot of us didn’t know about his history of homophobic, xenophobic, and Islamophobic statements. Until last week, a lot of us didn’t know that he was essentially Queensland’s version of Steve King.
But in the hours after a 28-year-old man opened fire inside a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing at least 50 worshipers and wounding 20 more, Anning opted to blame the Muslims themselves. “The real cause of bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place,” he said in a statement. “Muslims may have been the victims today, usually they are the perpetrators.”
His comments were near-universally condemned, in Australia, New Zealand, and beyond. John Oliver described him as a “huge fucking asshole.” And during Anning’s Saturday morning news conference, a 17-year-old smashed an egg on the senator’s head. Anning responded by punching the teenager in the face, twice.
Pretty much everyone not named Fraser Anning or Dean Cain has rallied behind William “Egg Boy” Connelly. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that Anning should face “the full force of the law” for his response to Connelly. A GoFundMe was launched to raise money for Connelly’s legal fees—and for “more eggs”—and more than 3,000 people have already donated more than $63,000 to the cause. (Connelly has since stated that “a majority of the money” will be donated to the victims of the mosque shooting).
Although Egg Boy has emerged as our newest hero, he’s also the latest participant in our time-honored tradition of throwing eggs at—or smashing eggs on—politicians. Why do we do it? It could be because eggs are readily available to almost any of us, they’re reasonably inexpensive, and an egg is a self-contained, non-lethal way to express your disapproval without causing any damage that can’t be fixed with a trip to the dry cleaner. It could also be because, well, people have used a well-thrown egg to say “This sucks and you suck, specifically” since the late 1500s.
The Guardian points out that Elizabethan-era theater crowds tossed eggs at particularly terrible actors, a practice that eventually became a more widespread way of punishing prisoners and politicians alike. (The concept of throwing food, in general, at political leaders has an even longer history: the earliest recorded incident took place in 63 AD, when Roman governor Vespasian was hit with turnips).
In E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class, he mentions a 19th-century prisoner who was egged for his crimes. “The day before, in the same place, a man had been in the pillory for perjury, and had been pelted with rotten eggs, and almost strangled by blood and guts brought from the slaughter-houses, and flung in his face,” Thompson wrote. (So things have gotten slightly more civil since then). In George Eliot’s 1871 novel Middlemarch, she subjects her would-be parliamentarian Mr. Brooke to “a hail of eggs” during a poorly received campaign speech.
And, more than 100 years before Fraser Anning’s egging, Australian brothers Pat and Bart Brosnan threw their own eggs at Prime Minister Billy Hughes before a speech at a Warwick, Queensland train station. One of the eggs hit Hughes’ hat, and his supporters responded by turning on the Brosnans, pushing them out of the station. Pat later returned, insisting that he’d only thrown the egg because, unlike Hughes, he didn’t believe in compulsory military service. “Billy was a great old feller,” Brosnan said in 1952. “I would’ve loved to meet him, but never did. I hit him fair and square with the egg as he arrived at the Warwick railway station. He just kept on going. The ‘little digger’ was campaigning for conscription at that time. He may have been right, but I did not want to be conscripted.”
Regardless of Brosnan’s motivation, the Warwick Egg Incident is memorable for a couple of reasons: as The Conversation notes, it was a direct, physical attack on the Prime Minister, and the incident ultimately led to the establishment of the Commonwealth Police Force (now known as the Australian Federal Police) in December 1917.
Because we’re nothing if not thorough at MUNCHIES, we’ve collected a few more high-profile eggings for our shared enjoyment.
In April 2010, future Prime Minister David Cameron—then a Conservative politician—was egged by a 16-year-old student as he left Cornwall College. At the time, Cameron was being followed by a Daily Mirror reporter who was dressed as a chicken, so he was able to make the most basic of jokes as a result. “Now I know which came first—the chicken not the egg." (*laughs in Old Etonian*). The student was briefly arrested, but not charged. “[T]hese things happen and it's probably an expression of a lot of anger people have towards politicians at the moment,” the president of Cornwall College’s Student Union said. “A lot of students and members of the public see them as comedy figures rather than to be taken seriously." That hasn’t changed, really.
Ed Miliband has also been egged more than once, as has UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage. In 2014—a full two years before the Brexit vote—a protester pelted Farage because of his right-wing, anti-immigrant policies. “Egg-throwing is a well established form of political protest in this country,” a man identified only as Fred told the BBC. “I saw the guys outside the town hall about 10 minutes ago. I went to Tesco, bought some eggs."
Earlier this month, Labour Party leader and amateur jam-maker Jeremy Corbyn was egged as he visited the Finsbury Park Mosque in London. The man who broke the egg against the back of Corbyn’s head said he did it because he disagrees with Corbyn’s anti-Brexit views. “When you vote, you get what you vote for,” John Murphy allegedly yelled, mid-egging; Murphy has been charged with assault and is due in court on March 19.
One of the gold standard eggings involves former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who got yolked during a May 2001 campaign stop in north Wales. Protester Craig Evans hit him “at point blank range,” and Prescott—a former amateur boxer—responded by punching him in the face. The two men then briefly wrestled each other before being separated by police.
“Well, let me tell you when I walked past this guy, and he hit me with the egg, right, I don't know it was an egg, I just feel this very warm thing running down my neck and I think, well I just think somebody's perhaps knifed me or assaulted me, you know, that all happens in a split second, and I see this fellow built like a bloody barn door, and I turned, and I reacted,” Prescott explained during an episode of Top Gear in 2011. “And when Tony [Blair] asked me what happened, I said I was carrying out his orders; he told us to connect with the electorate, so I did.”
Elsewhere in Europe, then-Chancellor of Germany Helmut Kohl had more than one egg-related incident in the spring of 1991. During a mid-May visit to Halle, more than 30 people launched eggs at him, and he responded by trying to go full John Prescott on the protestors. Kohl “pulled away from his security guards and lunged over the gate separating him from the crowd.” He tried to grab some of them, as they all shouted “Liar! Liar!” in his face. “It was a success,” he later said of the trip. “A few mobile troublemakers were not representative of Halle.”
And Emmanuel Macron, then the French Economy Minister, was pelted with eggs in June 2016, when he visited a Paris post office to reveal a commemorative stamp. More than 100 Communist Party protesters were waiting for him, armed with both eggs and vegetables, and he took one to the face before he made it into the building.
American politicians aren’t exempt—although some of the most memorable eggs have been thrown outside the United States. Richard Nixon, for example, was egged in three different decades, in at least three different countries. In 1958, the then-vice-president had eggs, rocks, and assorted other projectiles launched at his motorcade as it drove through Lima, Peru. “They were throwing eggs at the car, not me,” he insisted, which, yeah, sure thing, Dick.
Nixon also had eggs thrown at him twice in the same day during a trip to Michigan in 1960, as he drove through the streets during an October 1970 visit to Dublin, Ireland, and after a Republican rally in San Jose, California later that same month.
On a May 2000 trip to the Czech Republic, then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was targeted by two self-described anarchists who shouted “Death to American imperialism!” before winging two eggs in her direction. A State Department spokesperson said that Albright—who was barely soiled—joked that she’d been up too early to have breakfast “so here are our eggs.” A year later, former president Bill Clinton walked out of an antique store in Warsaw, Poland, and was egged by a 19-year-old protester. Clinton took off his stained jacket and shrugged it off, quipping that “it’s good for young people to be angry about something nowadays.”
One of the most gloriously awful eggings took place in Curitiba, Brazil during the summer of 2017, when a furious crowd assembled outside a church so they could throw eggs at a member of the state government ON HER WEDDING DAY. More than 100 people were waiting for Maria Victoria Barros, and they celebrated her big day by chanting angrily, verbally assaulting her guests, and, yeah, fast-pitching so many eggs at her that she had to be driven away in an armored vehicle. In addition to being a politician herself, her father was a member of then-President Michel Termer’s administration, right when Termer was being accused of corruption and accepting cash bribes. On the bright side, the eggs probably counted as her something new and her something borrowed.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a longtime politician whose resume includes stints as the UK’s Defence Secretary and Foreign Secretary, once praised the “long and honorable tradition of throwing eggs at politicians.” As long as eggs are still sold in supermarkets—and as long as politicians continue to be dickheads—it’s a tradition that we’ll undoubtedly celebrate for decades to come.