I Despise Eric Trump's Politics—But Spitting On Him is Plain Wrong | Opinion

When the Brexit Party leader, Nigel Farage, was splattered with a milkshake while out campaigning in northern England last month, it was front page news. Not only that, the young man who'd thrown the milkshake was seen as something of a hero. Many people were amused.

Spitting at Eric Trump in a Chicago restaurant probably raised fewer laughs, even though he and his family attract the same opprobrium from his opponents as Nigel Farage does in Britain.

I have no time for the divisive and hate-filled politics of either the Trumps or Nigel Farage, but that doesn't mean I condone what was done to them.

I have always supported the right to peaceful protest, or non-violent direct action. I have taken part in many protests myself for causes which I passionately believe in. During one of them a few years ago, at a proposed fracking site in rural Sussex, not far from my constituency, I was arrested alongside other protesters.

These were peaceful protests. Even though the situation was sometimes volatile, with police charging a group of protesters who included children and pensioners, there was no violent response from the protesters. It was not our purpose to make others feel afraid.

And that, I believe, is the red line which should not be crossed.

We live in very polarized societies. People are fearful. They are also angry. And that anger often spills over into violent words or actions.

Almost every day for the past few months, groups of protesters have stood outside Parliament holding banners proclaiming their support for Britain leaving the European Union or staying in it. Some of them have argued heatedly with MPs as they come and go from the Palace of Westminster.

It is the job of MPs to listen to voters' opinions and heckling is a long, lively tradition in democratic politics. But the job description does not include being made to feel afraid and protests have sometimes crossed this line, even when there has been no physical contact.

There can be no justification for using fear or intimidation to make a point, no matter how justified the cause. Threats made online to MPs, or anyone else, fall into the same category. There is no physical contact, the threats may be empty ones, but they are designed to sow fear. And a society where one group tries to get its way by spreading fear is a society well on the way to authoritarianism.

There is a wider issue here. The democratic space is being closed down, and more and more people feel they are not being heard. That drives the need to protest in other ways – by blocking roads, or fracking sites, or airport runways. Or even voting Leave in a referendum as an expression of anger about not being listened to.

It is the role of the state to recognize the right to protest peacefully. When non-violent protests are met with violence, the contract between the individual and the state in a democratic society is broken.

A democracy comes with responsibilities as well as rights. Whatever rights we want for ourselves, including the right not to be afraid, is a right that we must give to others.

Caroline Lucas is a Green Party MP. Twitter @CarolineLucas​

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​