NEW YORK — Many VIPs have gotten a pie in the face from protesters: Bill Gates, for one, and years earlier, Anita Bryant. President George W. Bush dodged a shoe hurled at him. This year, for some liberal activists, the guerrilla tactic of choice is a shower of glitter tossed from close range.

So far, three Republican presidential candidates — Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann — have been targeted by the so-called glitterati, primarily because of their opposition to various gay-rights causes.

Among the public, there's been lively online debate about whether the tactic is refreshing and effective, childish and rude, or even worse. Some critics wanted the perpetrators manhandled, Tasered and jailed.

Among gay activists, the question is whether to extend the glittering campaign or call it off.

"I think some glitter brings some magic into the debate," said Michael Mitchell of Stonewall Democrats, a network of gay and lesbian Democratic clubs. "But it has to be done strategically and backed up by effective messages."

A rundown of the incidents to date:

—On May 17, Gingrich and his wife, Callista, were showered with glitter at a book signing in Minneapolis. The perpetrator was Nick Espinosa, an activist and occasional political prankster who yelled at the former House speaker, "Stop the hate. Stop the anti-gay politics."

—On June 16, two activists from the left-wing group CodePink dumped glitter on Pawlenty while he was signing books at a health insurance conference in San Francisco. Before being led away, the activists berated the former Minnesota governor for his conservative views on gay rights and abortion.

—On June 18, an activist flung glitter toward Bachmann just after the Minnesota congresswoman finished a speech at a conservative conference in Minneapolis. The activist, Rachel Lang, said afterward that she was protesting Bachmann's "hateful and anti-gay rhetoric."

In each case, the targeted candidates and their staff have had little to say in public about the glitterings. Gingrich smiled as he brushed away the glitter, and said, "Nice to live in a free country."

There are mixed views as to whether the incidents could be classified as assault, and thus far none of the glitterers has faced criminal charges.

"They don't want to talk about it — it's embarrassing to them," said Espinosa. "If they were to press charges, it would make them look bad."

He depicted glittering as "a silly and fun action, with a serious message behind it."

Lang, prior to her encounter with Bachmann, got some strategic and logistical support from Get Equal, a gay-rights group that emphasizes direct action — protests, marches and other pressure tactics that even some gay-rights allies have faulted.

Heather Cronk, Get Equal's managing director, said it's "an open question" whether the group will be involved in further glitterings. But she said more than 100 people across the country had signed up online as potential volunteers if the tactic was tried again.

"Are future glitterings scheduled? No," said Cronk. "Would we rule it out? No."

Several activists depicted glittering as part of a venerable tradition of political theater in the U.S. — citing instances ranging from the Boston Tea Party to the 1991 stunt by AIDS activists who put a giant condom over the home of conservative Sen. Jesse Helms.

"The gay-rights movement has had a long and creative history of action in calling attention to something," said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "I see glittering as the new pie."

Some gay-rights activists contend that glittering is counterproductive — burnishing the targets' credentials among conservatives and possibly alienating middle-of-the-road voters.

However, Jake Goodman of Queer Rising, a grass-roots New York-based gay-rights group, lauded glittering as a "nonviolent way for us to fiercely show our condemnation" of political adversaries.

"It utilizes the element of camp that has so often been part of the queer culture," he said. "It's a way to publicly shame these offenders."

Goodman said anyone contemplating a glitter foray should carefully weigh possible legal consequences, and he suggested that the tactic could be inappropriate in some politically sensitive circumstances. Those disclaimers aside, he said, "I encourage it."

Lang, a 32-year-old lawyer/activist from Minneapolis, said she targeted Bachmann partly because of the congresswoman's past associations with the Rev. Bradlee Dean, a controversial pastor who has made derogatory remarks about gay people.

Lang, in a telephone interview, described herself as bisexual, and said her mother and some other family members are gay.

Some online critics have called her a terrorist, Lang said, adding that she sought to carry out the glittering "in an extremely non-threatening way."

For example, she said she used large, confetti-style glitter — easier to remove than some smaller varieties that can cling maddeningly.

"The guy in a suit who escorted me out afterward was very nice," Lang said. "He said, 'Thank you for using the large glitter.'"

___(equals)

David Crary can be reached at http://twitter.com/CraryAP