Should egging fascists be an acceptable form of speech? Should the Supreme Court protect it? I mean, in practice, presumably it is not a crime with a heavy penalty. But should it be a crime at all?
My initial, gut reaction, to such a thing is always: just make sure to throw the rotten ones first. Many people indeed seem to support the legitimacy of this kind of speech act (see here and here for examples), and of related “genres” as pie throwing (most famous victim: Bill Gates) or shoe throwing (remember George Bush?). I also don’t buy the “counter-productive” argument, or the “this makes them look more sympathetic and human” argument, or the “beware of creating an underdog” argument. I don’t believe that anyone will decide to vote for a party because its leader has egg on his face. Neither do I believe that this is “fighting fascism with fascism”. Throwing eggs is hardly fascist.
Yet we are leaving the ideal of democratic debate far behind us here, especially if the egg throwing is intended not as a protest but as a means to silence opponents. We should let people speak, and THEN throw eggs. The ideal of calmly and reasonably exchanging opinions is only possible when both sides are calm and reasonable. The unreasonable should probably be answered in a more spectacular way. It’s hard to win an argument when the other side refuses to listen to reason.
It’s important to understand that such acts are indeed speech acts, even though the people engaging in it usually don’t utter a word, at least not an intelligible one. In this respect, it’s a form of speech similar to flag burning and some forms of obscenity and advertising. And as speech acts, they deserve protection, at least as long as no other rights, such as the right to physical security of the targets, are threatened (see this post for the general rules guiding the limitation of free speech). If no harm is done – and that’s the case as long as the airborne projectiles aren’t heavier or more dense than eggs – then such acts shouldn’t be a crime.