This Picture’s Not Funny: French Far-Right Official Sparks Mob Violence Against Journalists

Where the hell are all the #jesuischarlies?

Following the attacks against the cartoonists and journalists at the Paris headquarters of Charlie Hebdo, the English-language media fell all over itself to show support for the magazine. The New York Times published a column describing the attack as “an assault on French identity.” The Guardian, the Wall Street Journal, the Daily BeastUSA Today, and many others all republished a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad to show their support for the magazine. Nearly 4 million people gathered in a giant Paris “unity rally” to condemn the attack. Charlie Hebdo and its anti-Muslim cartoons are still in the news four months later as the magazine was awarded the prestigious PEN Freedom of Speech award this year, despite strong objections from PEN members.

So why aren’t any English-language media covering the vicious mob violence perpetrated against Parisian journalists on May Day?

The violence was carried out by Front National members and, most importantly, by an elected, sitting Front National European deputy. You may know the FN as France’s anti-gay, anti-Muslim fascist party. Party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen recently described the Nazi gas chambers as an unimportant “detail of history.”

On May 1st, as it does every year, the FN held a rally and march to commemorate Joan of Arc. The event quickly went south for the fascists, with much lower turnout than previous years due to rain, and immediate disruptions by topless FEMEN activists. In the FN’s first assault on free speech of the day, FEMEN was immediately and violently removed by the fascist party’s private security service. (French newspaper Le Monde says FN security’s removal of FEMEN was blatantly illegal, as “Following the penal code, coercive power is exclusively reserved to the police and the gendarmerie.”)

Then came the mob violence.

French satirical program Le Petit Journal, which has been described as the “French Daily Show,” sent two camera crews to the FN demonstration, capturing party supporters saying really dumb and racist things and supporting the Nazi-collaborating WWII Vichy government of Maréchal Petain. It was all fun and games until party leader Marine Le Pen took the stage.

Le Pen’s hour-long speech was pretty standard FN stuff, decrying the French government for its supposed multiculturalism. “They have allowed massive immigration to install itself in France. They have unpinned the Islamic fundamentalist grenade,” Le Pen told the crowd of 3,500.

Though Le Pen’s xenophobia was expected, Bruno Gollnisch’s violence was not. Gollnisch is an elected member of the European Parliament, one of 23 French deputies representing the FN at the EU. Le Petit Journal installed itself next to the FN’s VIP box, recording Gollnisch and other elected officials’ responses during Le Pen’s speech. Gollnisch, recognizing the journalists as employees of Le Petit Journal, grabbed an umbrella and attacked the journalists, managing to break their boom mic before being pulled away by FN security.

Gollnisch’s umbrella assault, on its own, might have been harmless, or even kind of silly. What came next was definitely not.

The FN’s security service ejected Le Petit Journal from the rally, leading them to the police line at the edge of the Place de l’Opéra. As the journalists were being escorted out, the crowd turned ugly. Taking their cue from Gollnisch, FN supporters viciously attacked the journalists. Reporter Paul Larrouturou was punched in the back of the neck, cameraman Clément Brelet was punched in the face, as was sound engineer Boris Balducci, who escaped the crowd with a bloody nose. Video of the incident shows multiple FN supporters charging the journalists and about a dozen FN security personnel are forced to form a box around the Le Petit Journal crew to prevent further attacks.

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A Front National supporter attacks Le Petit Journal sound engineer Boris Balducci as FN security escorts Balducci out of the crowd. (Screenshot from Le Petit Journal aired May 4, 2015)

The journalists are all ok, but without the protection of FN’s security, they certainly would have been hurt worse. I strongly encourage you to watch the video of the incident released by Le Petit Journal. You don’t really need to understand French. The images themselves are shocking enough.

In the week between the incident and this piece being published, there has been exactly zero English-language media coverage of the attack. Not one word in newspapers, blogs, or on TV. All the commentators pouring heartfelt paens to the freedom of expression in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks have disappeared into the ether. (The incident did make somewhat of a splash in the French-language media, and Le Monde published an editorial decrying “The blows of FN’s umbrella against the liberty of the press.”)

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It wasn’t even the FN’s only attack against journalists that day. The mob also turned against journalists from TV station France 5, according to France 5 journalist Anne-Sophie Lapix. “Our journalists were also attacked during FN’s parade. Their camera was broken,” she wrote in a Tweet. In a second Tweet, she said their journalists are ok, but described the attack as “violent and shocking.”

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The English-language media’s silence is especially unacceptable considering that in some ways the FN’s attack against Le Petit Journal is more dangerous than the January attack on Charlie Hebdo. This may seem counterintuitive, given that Le Petit Journal’s journalists weren’t seriously injured. But they easily could have been, and the seriousness of the mob violence is underscored by the way French power structures have implicitly condoned the attack.

The Charlie Hebdo attackers, though inspired by ISIS, were essentially lone-wolf gunmen acting without outside support. FN’s mob violence, on the other hand, was perpetrated by the party itself and implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) condoned by nearly every FN leader. Given that the FN won the most seats in the 2014 European Parliament elections – the most recent elections held in France – the FN is currently a significant force in the country, making it truly concerning that the party would commit and then defend an act of vicious mob violence against journalists for the simple crime of filming party members during a public rally.

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The above Tweet is one of the few public comments FN President Marine Le Pen has made about the incident. Setting the tone for FN’s subsequent statements on the violence, she says “The behavior of some journalists isn’t ethical. Bruno Gollnisch was harassed and wanted this to stop.” She doesn’t mention the mob violence inspired by Gollnisch’s attack.

It’s worth noting here that Le Pen and many other FN members and leaders marched in support of Charlie Hebdo in the days following the murders. Le Pen herself, in a controversial speech disseminated on Youtube, condemned the “murderous ideology” of the killers. The murders, of course, played right into FN’s anti-Muslim worldview, and Le Pen found plenty of opportunities to throw the word “barbaric” around in the days after the attack while decrying “Islamic fundamentalism.” She also got in lots of flowery declarations about the importance of liberty and “our most precious values.”

Le Petit Journal host Yann Barthès explained on air exactly why Gollnisch was responsible for the FN supporters’ attacks on the journalists. “Imagine you’re an FN supporter, already a little angry, and you see a member of the party, a deputy, strike a journalist. You yourself are a little angry at the journalists. What do you do?”

In video captured by Le Petit Journal and other French media that day, we saw what they did. They took up Gollnisch’s proposition and tried to carry it through to the end. And now we’ve also seen how the FN reacted to the violence against journalists.

Perhaps the worst was from Bruno Clavet, an FN candidate for office in Paris’ 3rd arrondissement. On his personal Twitter account, in a Tweet screengrabbed and broadcast by Le Petit Journal, Clavet declared “I’m disappointed by the behavior of FN activists towards Le Petit Journal…They should have hit them harder!”

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Nearly every important figure in the party has come forward in support of Gollnisch while generally refusing to mention the mob violence that followed the elected official’s attack. In classic blame-the-victim mode, FN Vice President Florian Philippot went on TV to say that Le Petit Journal had “searched for the incident.” Philippot was actually present in the VIP box when Gollnisch attacked the journalists, along with Louis Aliot, another FN vice president, and the president of Marine Le Pen’s support committee Gilbert Collard. Collard was captured on video watching the scene unfold while doing nothing to intervene.

On May 5, four days after the incident, FN General Secretary Nicolas Bay finally addressed the fact that more people than just Gollnisch attacked Le Petit Journal. In a statement released on the FN’s website, Bay blamed a single “maniac” for the attack and praised the “great kindness” of FN’s security service in protecting the journalists from the mob.

Bay’s statement obviously serves to cover up the fact that it was the crowd itself that attacked the journalists, rather than a single “maniac.” He doesn’t address the fact that an elected official provoked the mob violence, or that the FN has consistently supported that elected official. His statement is so vague, in fact, that it’s not even clear which attack he’s referring to – three different people carried out the attacks against Larrouturou, Balducci, and Brelet, and it was presumably someone else entirely who attacked the France 5 crew in a completely separate incident.

Gollnisch himself, perhaps unsurprisingly, is completely unrepentant. In a statement, he accused Le Petit Journal of “trying to capture our private conversations…fraudulently and without our knowledge.” In an apparent vow to do it again if given the opportunity, he ended his statement saying “I always respond courteously to the microphones of journalists interviewing me. On the other hand, I destroy the microphones of spies. You’ve been warned…”

All of this, I believe, proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the FN itself, as a party, instigated and supported the attack. Again, this is a highly popular political party in France right now, and an elected, sitting European Parliament member is going around bragging that he really gave those journalists what-for. The entire FN leadership has lined up behind Gollnisch, showing absolutely no concern for the dangerous attack on liberty of expression and freedom of the press.

Nor have the French police opened any sort of investigation into Gollnisch. Even without the mob violence that followed, Gollnisch clearly assaulted the journalists and destroyed their property. He’s on camera doing so. The French police’s failure to investigate Gollnisch or other members of the FN for their role in the violence amounts to tacit state support for the attack on Le Petit Journal.

The utter lack of reaction by English-language media is also very telling. The attack against Charlie Hebdo, perpetrated by Muslims, provided another convenient target for the insidious Islamophobia of mainstream Western thought. Coverage of the murders fits in perfectly with the story line promoted in the wake of 9/11 of a clash of civilizations where innocent Westerners are attacked by crazed Muslims driven by irrational fundamentalist religion.

FN’s mob violence, however, is more uncomfortable for mainstream Western media. Here we have (presumably nonreligious) white people viciously beating journalists in public for the offense of filming a public event. We’ve got Marine Le Pen, one of this year’s Time Magazine “100 Most Influential People” publicly supporting the attack. Elected officials, the respectable elite, responsible for the kind of mob violence we like to pretend only happens in “uncivilized” countries. Don’t expect Western commentators to use the word “savages” any time soon in reference to the Front National’s savage, barbaric violence.

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Front National European Deputy Bruno Gollnisch attacks journalists from French satirical news program Le Petit Journal with an umbrella. Gollnisch’s attack incited FN party members to mob violence against the journalists (Screenshot from Le Petit Journal aired 4 May 2015).

Artefacts:

Translation of Bruno Gollnisch’s statement following his attack on Le Petit Journal

Translation of FN General Secretary Nicolas Bay’s statement on mob violence against Le Petit Journal

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Andy is a journalist living and working in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the home of Walter White and the world capital of nuclear weapons. He has reported first-hand from conflict zones around the world, ranging from occupied Palestine to drug-war-ravaged Mexico. He's covered diverse issues such as the struggle for transgender rights in Istanbul, violations of the Geneva Convention in the Israeli prison system, and of course, the collective psychosis of his hometown's world-famous police department.

He began his career writing for the University of New Mexico's student newspaper, one of the U.S.’s only daily student publications. He then went on to freelance for the Alibi, an Albuquerque-based alt weekly, covering immigration, the drug war, and the Occupy Movement. In 2011 Andy received an invitation to attend the School of Authentic Journalism in Mexico, where he was invited by another course participant to move to and work in the Occupied West Bank. He lived there for nearly two years writing investigative reports on Israeli crimes as well as colorful features on Palestinian arts and culture. Following Israel’s 2012 assault on the Gaza Strip, Andy gained access to the embattled enclave for a feature on the experience of medical professionals in the strip during Israel's eight-day bombing campaign.

Andy has contributed to the Electronic Intifada and VICE magazine on couchsurfing in the Israeli settlements; the Albuquerque Police Department's ill-advised "Police Shooting Contest"; and the ongoing eviction of 40,000 Bedouin residents of the Naqab desert.

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