At 7am on the morning of the European Elections, 81-year-old Don MacNaughton, a retired army veteran and Brexit Party supporter, was setting up as an election teller outside a local polling station in the Garrison town of Aldershot. Half an hour later, “some yob…mid-20s” apparently took exception to his Brexit-blue rosette, proceeded to verbally abuse him, gave him the finger, then, after a ten minute trip to the Co-Op down the road, returned to hurl a milkshake over him. The assailant then scarpered, leaving Don with his shirt and regimental tie covered in strawberry goop.
Don, a 22-year veteran of the Parachute Regiment, seemed to take it all in his stride. He popped into the convenience store across the road to tell them about the incident, spoke on video about the attack, and posed for photos with passersby and other locals turning up to vote, which immediately started circulating on social media. After swiftly gaining traction on Facebook and Twitter, the story was then picked up by local and national news media.
Inevitably, the Brexiteers then started to respond.
Having read the reports about one unidentified wrong’un with a milkshake, Jamie Bryson, Editor of UnionistVoice.com and a contributor at Brexit Central, decided to jazz the story up a bit with some completely made up details: “Fanatical Remainers are prowling the streets assaulting pensioners that served in our armed forces to keep us free,” he said. Other Brexiteers talked of “Remain Ultras” and a “radicalised and militant anti-democratic mob”.
A Tommy Robinson supporter called Andy Saxon also tweeted about the incident, ominously copying in the likes of Danny Tommo (convicted kidnapper and Robinson’s personal security) and Kevin Carroll (Tommy’s cousin and co-founder/former member of the English Defence League). It felt like Don’s milkshake incident could potentially spiral out of control, resulting in either retributive violence or a world cruise funded by the far-right.
Within a few hours, Leave.EU had posted the story on Facebook, entitled “Radicalised Remainers attack military veteran”. (Not happy with just one bloke with a milkshake, they pluralised to make sure that people were thinking ‘gang’ rather than individual.) Then, somewhat predictably, Nigel Farage tweeted about it, using the incident to rally voters with a message of defiance.
Incandescent with rage after hearing about the incident, Piers Morgan was also keen to have his say. After putting serving troops’ lives at risk and tarnishing the reputation of the British Army in 2004 with his faked photos of Iraqi prisoner abuse on the front page of the Daily Mirror, Morgan has a natural affection for anyone who’s served.
All the while, Don stoically manned his post wearing his milkshake-spattered shirt and tie. Kind-hearted locals offered to take him home to get changed, but he steadfastly refused. Someone even brought him a brand new shirt and pair of trousers, but he had no interest in fresh clothes. “These [clothes] are my war wounds and I’m keeping them on,” he told reporters.
Don went through several moods throughout the day, ranging from perky and cheerful, sporting a fresh coating of fruit-laced shake across his midriff, to the kind of glum, disgruntled expression you often find in local newspaper stories about people who’ve woken up to discover that the local council has randomly stationed a bottle bank across their driveway. In later photos, a more serious Don pulls at his shirt to direct our gaze to the solidified smear of milkshake that has now seeped into the very fabric of his being.
But visits to the crime scene kept on coming. He was visited by Robert Rowland, Brexit Party MEP candidate for the South East, who referred to the incident as “a hideous attack…akin to a sort of Zimbabwe school of electoral politics, where people are intimidated at the polling booth”. Rowland was in Oxfordshire at the crack of dawn but made the hour and a half trip to Aldershot to capitalise on the publicity, where he filmed a fifty second video with a largely mute Don by his side, stood there like a piece of performance art.
Not to miss out, Don was then visited by local councillor and President of Aldershot Young Conservatives, Calum Stewart.
And to top it off with the perfect photo op (just in case there was more than one milkshake-throwing Remainer tearing around the majority Leave district of Rushmoor) Don ended the day flanked by two burly ex-Paras.
I’ve seen so many photos of Don in his sullied shirt and tie that I’m starting to think a management agency might snap him up for a series of lucrative personal appearances at nightclubs and student unions, where he’ll be contractually obliged to always wear the same crusty clothes. (Incidentally, he’s been invited to the election count this Sunday and has said that he’ll go dressed in his stained shirt. I’m not even making that up.)
In spite of the attack being blamed on Remainers there was a massive outpouring of sympathy and support for Don from many on the Remain side, who reiterated that throwing milkshake at a pensioner for having opposing political views is both abhorrent and totally unwarranted.
But did this really even happen?
The problem we have with determining the truth here is that Don – the victim – is beyond reproach: an elderly veteran innocently going about his democratic duty. To accuse him of fabricating the whole affair is to question his honour. But the news media have reported the story with such fervour, they haven’t really stopped to ask any serious questions about the incident itself.
Why were there no witnesses? There were only witnesses to the aftermath, such as Lucy Blackman, who happened upon Don shortly after the attack. She said that he “seemed shocked” (in spite of Don telling The Sun that he “curled up laughing” when the yob threw the milkshake, adding “I didn’t mind because it was my favourite flavour.”)
And if the incident happened at 7:30am, then why didn’t Hampshire Police receive a report about the assault till 10:06am? (And even then, the report was made by “a third party”, not Don.) Furthermore, where’s the CCTV from the Co-Op? Where’s the police description of the perpetrator?
Don also told The Telegraph that police had “searched the bins to find the milkshake carton”, which I’m slightly dubious about. Wouldn’t it just have been left on the ground? After all, it’s not like the attacker was trying to dispose of, say, a 19-inch Gladius machete, like National Action’s Jack Renshaw was planning to use on Labour MP Rosie Cooper. Or a 17-inch Fairbairn-Sykes ‘fighting dagger’ like Thomas Mair used to stab Jo Cox fifteen times.
Finally, why does it look like he’s lost a fight with a pot of strawberry Onken? And how did the assailant manage to lob a whole ‘milkshake’ and not get a single drop on Don’s highly polished shoes or the surrounding pavement? An article in The Mail Online actually explored the idea that the milkshake attack might have been staged by Don himself, but he “laughed off the claims and branded them ‘ridiculous’, adding that it didn’t matter if it was a milkshake or not”.
But of course, it does matter. The details matter.
A GoFundMe page was set up for Don to cover his dry cleaning bills and to send him on holiday, which raised over £5,200 in a single day. He’s since asked for everyone’s money to be refunded, asking instead for people to donate to the Airborne Forces Security Trust Fund.
Is that guilt or just selflessness?
Was this an old man pulling a fast one for sympathy votes (and literal votes)? Or was this a Brexit Party production from the start? It smells decidedly off to me, a bit like soured milk.