Report from the Ground in Paris: The Most Recent Gilets Jaunes Protests

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Our own Colonel Smithers was in Paris for the most recent Gilets Jaunes protests (“Gilets jaunes protests cause extensive damage on Champs-Élysées“; “Macron calls for ‘strong decisions’ after violent Yellow Jacket protests“)[1] and threw a series of emails over the transom. I’m going to put extracts from the Colonel’s mail in chronological order and add pictures that he sent; I don’t need to add any commentary, because Colonel Smithers is so lucid.

* * *

March 16, 6:04 AM

Bonjour,

I am Paris for a long weekend and came across the Yellow Vests assembling by the Arc. I am staying nearby. Tourists are out early, avoiding any demonstrations.

The crowd seems good natured. They are chanting Manu, Manu, but it’s not threatening. There are more younger people around than my previous two encounters with the Yellow Vests.

The agents provocateurs have not arrived yet. They are usually obvious, suited and booted in black for action, probably government issue.

I am emailing from the Place des Vosges and off to the jump races at Auteuil at midday.

HSBC HQ being boarded up yesterday evening. Most buildings did not board up until nearer midnight.

March 16, 6:22 AM

The first clashes have just happened. 20 protestors have been arrested marching to the Elysees palace.

March 16, 7:04 AM

The Metro stations around the Elysees Palace are closed. No further clashes. Locals and visitors don’t appear inconvenienced.

March 16, 7:44 AM

Overground and underground stations in the centre are closed by the police until 20:30.

March 16, 8:50 AM

Just arrived at the races on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne. This area is well to do, aka the golden triangle. There are shanty towns along the lanes in the park.

For a racecourse that can host 30k people, there are a dozen attendees today.

March 16, 1:26 PM

Just arrived at the hotel near the Arc. I walked at the back to avoid the crowds, but the police were shooting tear gas canisters into the back streets, so I caught some.

Most protesters are drifting away. Younger men remain. More protesters of immigrant origin and more families are protesting.

Macron is skiing in the Pyrenees.

As the younger protesters are pushed away, they shout, “Castaner, nique ta mere.”[2] This is a reverence to the interior minister.

It’s noticeable how tone deaf ministers are.

March 16, 2:09 PM

Fouquet’s, watering hole made famous by Sarko and his donors, was vandalised…. The violence now is a marked change from this morning. The “casseurs” are quite different. One hears people asking who is organising them as if there is something going on.

March 17, 5:01 AM

One hears more about the vandals being not the same as the yellow vests and also what possessed so many venues not to barricade. Last week’s protests went off without problems, but “something memorable” was planned for yesterday.

Off to mass in Latin at Notre Dame. It’s nice and sunny. There’s still a big police presence around the Champs-Elysees.

March 17, 11:36 AM

The clean up continues around the centre. There is debris, especially glass, everywhere. The police cordon around the Arc continues. Many people, local and visiting, are photographing the damage.

* * *

I hope readers will feel free to share their own views (or even experiences, if on the ground in France). I was struck first by the city; its beauty — although a beauty perhaps not unmixed to those visiting from the banlieue; the way the life of a great city will flow along and around protests, marches, even violence; and the success of the Second Empire’s Baron Haussmann, who rebuilt Paris with streets so broad they cannot be easily blocked. I was also struck by the way the protesters changed throughout the day, cycling through dull normals, through the appearance of the casseurs — black bloc? — and ending with immigrant families and youth. It’s also odd (to me) that people are photographing the damage, instead of taking selfies of it. It also seems clear that the property damage was targeted and not random; and that the police, for whatever reason, seemed powerless to stop the action. It almost seems like a new normal, or like a ground fire that burns in the earth, and only occasionally sputters to the surface (“something memorable”). But perhaps I am deceived by the lucidity of Colonel Smithers’ prose into thinking the situation was much less chaotic and dangerous than it really was.

Our thanks to Colonel Smithers!

NOTES

[1] The women’s march on Versailles of October 5, 1789, started out on the Champs-Élysées. The avenue also terminates at the Place de la Révolution (now the Place de la Concorde), where the guillotine was set up. (Wikipedia’s entry, amazingly enough, omits both facts). So there’s context besides the expensive shops, parks, and imperial monument.

[2] Christophe Castaner is the Minister of the Interior; something about his mother, I think.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

35 comments

    1. Oregoncharles

      The damage seems both too extensive and too pointed to be the work of “government stooges.” The police seem at a loss. It is a good question why more businesses weren’t protected – though recent protests have been much more peaceful.

      It’s also a good question why the “casseurs” remain so mysterious. I suppose it’s an indication that a lot of them are cops – certainly there’s strong evidence of that in the US. It looks like they aren’t being arrested and questioned. An observation here was that the cops focused on the peaceful protestors because the Black Bloc (1) run away, and aren’t so heavily laden; and (2) fight back. Laziness and cowardice, IOW.

      OTOH, they make the protests look bad; on the other, they greatly increase the impact – as a GJ was quoted as saying, yesterday.

      News today is that Macron, who looked severely stressed, is considering banning protests on the Champs Elysee. That ought to make it a lot worse.

      Reply
      1. David

        Essentially, since the riots in the suburbs in 2005, the police have been told to stand off, and not intervene just to protect property. In addition, last weekend, they were told to be very sparing in their use of anti-riot weapons. The BB, or whoever it is, are disciplined and organised, and are there to cause trouble and to smash things up. They are capable of doing lot of damage to the police, and it’s hard to tell a policeman who can’t afford to shop at Hugo Boss that he should be prepared to die to protect the shop window.

        Reply
        1. Ignacio

          I wonder whether it will be possible to sort out the origin of violence or if the GJ movement will be criminalized as a whole, an opportunity that Macron won’t, probably, let pass. If so, discontent migth increase once protests are banned and treated rigorously. Impotence is not a good feeling to feed.

          The neoliberal press in Spain says clearly the “violence of the GJs”, Macron has fired the police chief in Paris, banned demonstrations and said that there must be a strong response.

          Reply
  1. David

    I’ll start, because the good Colonel asked me about updates in a parallel conversation.
    This evening the Prime Minister (so the government, not the Presidency) made a series of announcements following the violence of last Saturday.
    The Prefect of Police in the capital has been sacked, which is an occupational hazard for Prefects at that level. He is being held responsible for the new orders given to the Police to limit the use of flash-balls last weekend. These orders are described as “inappropriate”. The PM also announced that demonstrations in areas of Paris most affected by violence last Saturday (roughly the 8th arrondissement), as well as areas in Bordeaux and Toulouse could be forbidden if the government had reason to believe that “extremist groups” would be present. Here, he is thinking of anarchist groups who’ve infiltrated the protests from time to time. Any protests actually held in violation of these orders will be “dispersed immediately.” There will also be increased fines for taking part in illegal demonstrations, and a redeployment of some police units.
    The government is maintaining that the violence on Saturday was a product of the very success of Macron’s Great Debate. Laughter all round. But the government does have a real problem here. It also has no idea how to deal with it.

    Reply
    1. barefoot charley

      Thank you, David. (En hommage au Colonel Smithers, qui je remercie aussi)

      I hope someone can link your excellent comments on GJ events in this thread, as you give more informative background than any I’ve read. I know that’s what the good Colonel was thinking too.

      Reply
  2. Frank

    Foquets was made famous at the turn of the 20th century and was a hang out for allied fighter pilots in WW1. It was sold off in the late 1990s. I certainly agree with him about the shanty towns, they are not just around the Bois de Boulogne. Paris last time I was there was a pale comparison to my first visit in 2011. I thank the current mayor for that change. Graffiti up, tourism down and I didn’t bother trying to walk around Champs-Élysées, it wasn’t worth the effort.

    “Génération Identitaire” seems to have been suppressed, or did they evolve into something else?

    “… probably government issue” Does the good colonel have any actual evidence of this?

    Reply
    1. Cal2

      Paris is beautiful. Been there, done that. The past is admirable and glorious.
      The overall feeling of Paris is a city in decline, demographically, culturally, spiritually and economically. National suicide is ugly, unless you have a thousand a night for a really great hotel and can travel by limo.

      The street hustlers, amplified garbage music late into the night, with performers begging around the tourist areas, cigarette smoke, pick pockets and North-Africation of the city makes it a one time experience in our book.

      The French countryside, that’s a different story. Once you’ve been to the museums in Paris, one would be much better off spending one’s tourist time in a little two bar town than wallowing in Paris.

      Reply
      1. Frank

        Sounds like you stayed in the wrong part of town. There are a couple million people in the city and 8 or ten million in the suburbs. New York without the skyscrapers and with much more charm. I recommend a vacation in Detroit for comparison .

        Reply
      2. Alex V

        You probably would have moaned about street urchins, horse manure and Moors if you visited during the Revolution.

        Terms like “national suicide” reveal chauvinistic nostalgia concealing willful ignorance of the present.

        Reply
      3. David

        I’m afraid you’re right. Paris is fast becoming “unliveable” as the French say. I don’t know one ordinary Parisian who isn’t thinking of leaving. Many have done so (the population is in decline) and fewer people than before are “coming up” to Paris as they used to.
        Rubbish in the streets, soldiers and armed policemen everywhere, beggars and the homeless every fifty metres, horrible air pollution (to the point where it’s a health hazard) failing and filthy public transport and endless traffic congestion. It’s not fun any more and it’s getting worse. Increasingly, Paris is inhabited only by the very poor and the very rich. Ordinary people can’t afford to buy there, or even to rent.
        Just before Christmas, I crossed over the Ile de la Cité and walked past Notre Dame. There were soldiers with automatic weapons patrolling, and X-ray security checks at the entrance. Think about that: security checks to enter a church.

        Reply
  3. elissa3

    Fouquet’s had a decent reputation in the 60s and into the 70s. A fairly diverse clientele of movie people (many small production companies around the Champs), neighborhood business people with comfortable expense accounts, luxury shoppers, tourists, eventually including a substantial Gulf contingent from the George V across the street, and, of course, the 5 a 7 cohort which would settle in around 16:30. OK, not exactly Deux Magots in the 50s, but respectable enough. The Champs started going tacky tacky in the late 70s and accelerated with the arrival of the first McDos,which had been delayed by a franchisee dispute. By the late 80s you’d be hard pressed to find a Parisian on the streets outside of weekday business hours. Nonetheless, the images of a burnt out Fouquet’s were pretty sobering to this reader because it remains, at least in one’s memory, as one of the commercial icons of the Champs.

    Reply
    1. Janie

      My mother was in Fouquet’s in May, late seventies. She ordered asparagus and sole. The waiter removed the half plate of asparagus, which she reserved to have with the sole. When she asked him to leave it, he said, “Madame, it is the first course” and took it away. She remained ticked about that until her death twenty years later.

      Reply
  4. Tom67

    I have been involved in quite a bit of radical demonstrations in Berlin in the 80s and 90´s. I have seen how specialised riot police can and will act if given the command. I recall a demonstration against Reagan in 1988 when whole areas of Berlin werde cordoned off so protestors couldn´t make it to the Brandenburg gate where Reagan was mouthing “tear down that wall”. (By the way and OT: Actually somebody had sprayed “Reagan fuck off” at the place he was supposed to speak. They didn´t manage to erase it in time so converted the “fuck off” into some sort of weird smiley.)
    What I want to get at is that surely the famous (or infamous) French riot police which has quite a fearsome reputation is able to control crowds that are much smaller than the ones which turned out in Berlin. Furthermore Berlin was then full of angry young draft dodgers like myself who will create a hell of a lot more trouble than middle age family men. Still if the police really wanted to they were always able to control the situation as when Reagan came to Berlin. There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that indeed the destruction is the work of Agents provocateurs. A time honoured way to make the public bellow for harsh suppression of social protest.

    Reply
    1. David

      It’s not about crowd control, which the French police are as good at as any others in Europe. It’s about the arrival of small groups of violent protesters from unexpected directions, there to break things. In addition, as outlined above, the police were under orders last weekend not to react too strongly, because it was thought the protests were winding down.
      It needs to be stressed that the government don’t enjoy the present situation at all. The last thing they would do is to encourage the violence. And public opinion, if not at all on the side of the casseurs (wreckers) is not exactly rallying to the government either.

      Reply
    2. Acacia

      I was in Berlin around the time of Reagan’s speech, and if memory serves, weren’t tens of thousands of riot police bussed in from then-West Germany to help with crowd control? There were a series of confrontations with riot police (something of a Berlin specialty at the time), and clearly the government knew that Reagan wasn’t going to make a speech there (“I am not a donut, I have a suitcase in Berlin”) without a massive show of opposition. BTW, for anybody interested in the history of these mass protests in Europe and Berlin in particular, the occupation of the “Lenné-Dreieck” just adjacent to the wall, also in 1988, is a very interesting story.

      Reply
      1. Tom67

        As I said, I have been involved in radical politics in Berlin at that time. After reunification there were over a hundred sqats in Eastberlin. Most of the squatters signed “contracts” and became sell-outs in the eyes of the more radical ones. Basically the city government gave the “sell-outs” subsidised housing in the former squats. In return they asked for accessibility by the police and the dismanteling of internal barricades which had turned the houses into fortresses.
        Some though didn´t accept such contracts. Particularly in Steinstrasse, were there were several houses adjacent to each other. These were 5 story buildings with maybe 100-200 inhabitants. These squatters were well organised and did everything to keep the neighbourhood on their side. For instance they threatened and evicted users and dealers of hard drugs who had strangely established themselves on the other side of the road in empty appartments with unclear ownership. The drug dealing was so brazen so it cannot but have happened with the forebearance of the police.
        Public opinion being generally on the side of the squatters and they being disciplined and orderly there was no pretext to send in the riot squat to evict them. Until something very strange happened.
        Right at the entrance of Steinstrasse there was a tramline and one day black clad men in baclavas (then the uniform of radical squatters) entered a passing tram, evicted the passengers and then set the tram on fire. The newspapers howled about this “outrage ommitted by the squatters”. Now there was the pretext the city government had been waiting for and a few days later the riot police entered the main house and evicted the squatters. The rest then also signed contracts.
        And there have been many more such episodes in the recent history of Berlin. Why wouldn´t the French authorities not also resort to such tactics? Agent provocateur is even a French word.

        Reply
  5. Craig H.

    Thank you Colonel Smithers and Lambert. When I checked in on RT live feed Saturday morning they had the Arch Triumph background shot and it looked more like performance art than a riot. There were GJ’s with gray beards who didn’t look like they could put up that much of a fight to the government guys in full body armor.

    Reply
  6. DJG

    I was in Lyon two Saturdays ago. By sheer dumb luck, never having been to Lyon before, I took an apartment just south of Place Bellecour, between Rue Victor Hugo and Rue de la Charité. On Saturday, 2 March, mid-morning, I noticed a big police presence in the Place. I realized that it was episode 14, I believe.

    Access to Place Bellecour was being limited, not so discretely, by the gendarmerie, mixed in with local police. The gendarmes wore a lot of black rubber/plastic armor and carried “machine guns” (or what we refer to as machine guns). They had armored vehicles, which were parked to create pinch points. The gendarmes were all remarkably young looking, with the occasional more senior gendarme in his thirties. This went on most of the morning. There were easily a couple hundred gendarmes.

    I wanted around Presqu’Ile (central Lyon) and returned. It turned out that the two hundred or so gendarmes and local policiers were on the lookout for a demonstration that consisted of about 40 gilets jaunes. I have read that Lyon is one of the most prosperous areas of France, and it certainly seemed so, and wonder if Lyon isn’t a focus for discontent in the same way that the west and southwest of France are. French readers will set me right.

    The contingents of the forces of law and order channeled the small number of gilets jaunes toward a street that parallels the Rhone. The gilets jaunes, and this struck me as curious, seemed somehow unfamiliar with the city. They were shorter–noticeably–than the typical Lyonnais. Then a young man attempted to start a fight with one of the many people watching the few gilets jaunes as they walked together down the street. He was dressed in a black hoodie, and the gilets jaunes moved to isolate him right away. One older gilet jaune succeeded in doing so. The young man had succeeded in pulling off his top by then and was shouting in English–the new international language of resentment and cursing. The older man had steered him toward a fence, where he cursed and shouted–foamed at the mouth–and struck a wrought-iron fence with hands. At first, I thought that the young shirtless man may have been American, given his facility with the use of the word “fuck.” But that’s the international language, and I began to suspect that he was from central Europe, some displaced Ukrainian or Serb, someone jobless and floating.

    Eventually, the young man, who seemed to be drugged up, moved on. The older gilet jaune trailed him, because he was only partly under control.

    I headed back toward my apartment. The gendarmes had turned Rue de la Charité into another pinch point and weren’t allowing people through. They were sending everyone past the big post office, eastwards toward the Rhone. At least by then the helicopters that had been circling, off and on, for hours had gone away.

    I explained, in French, that my apartment was on a street that started a hundred meters further on. The two nineteen-year-olds with rifles shuffled aside enough to let me through.

    It was remarkable for the sheer waste of money on law enforcement for a tiny demonstration that seemed unlikely ever to happen.

    Reply
  7. Susan the other`

    “Skiing in the Pyrenees” is a lot like “hiking the Appalachian Trail” – they are both imaginary places to disappear when you are in fact available. Il’ll bet the last time Manu skied in the Pyrenees was when he was 7. And because of this little obnoxious piece of obfuscation, I’ll also bet that Macron gave the order to shoot-to-kill. So he would have an excuse that he couldn’t have given such an order. He was skiing. It all makes sense to me. Macron is out of answers.

    Reply
    1. David

      The government were pretty convinced that the GJ were over, after a couple of weekends of smaller and generally peaceful protests. They ordered the police to de-escalate, and Macron was sufficiently relaxed to go off skiing. (Incidentally there are a number of skiing resorts in the Pyrenees). They got it horribly wrong, but they weren’t alone. Most of the media was already into the post-mortem stage with the GJ.

      Reply
  8. Janie

    Thanks to all for this and for previous updates. I appreciate the time David, the colonel and others take to keep us informed. It seems many of us have good memories of happier times in Paris and in rural France.

    Reply
  9. a different chris

    >For a racecourse that can host 30k people, there are a dozen attendees today.

    FAKE NEWS!! FAKE NEWS!!!! I EASILY COUNT TWICE THAT MANY!!!! THIS WHOLE ARTICLE IS A…

    Ok, ok, kidding of course. Thanks to the estimable Col Smithers, and also David in the comments.

    Reply
  10. Frenchguy

    In the grand scheme of things, I don’t think this saturday will have any more lasting impact than diminishing once again a bit more popular support for the Gilets jaunes (which is now just a shadow of the November movement). Macron skiing was a slight faux pas but he wasn’t at Courchevel. The situation was indeed not that dangerous and the areas the most impacted are mostly tourist areas, few Parisians live there. At some point, the government will have to really crack down on the Gilets Jaunes, each saturday when the violence picks up, it’s pushing more and more people towards supporting such an action. In polls for the coming European elections, Macron’s base seems to hold up quite well.

    Reply
  11. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Lambert.

    I will email further observations, including snippets of conversations with protestors, local business and travellers on today’s Eurostar home in the next couple of days.

    Reply
  12. The Rev Kev

    Many thanks to the Colonel and David for their reports on the ground. And to think that it was just on Friday that the TV told me that the yellow vest protests had spluttered out and they were finished. All those police operations are going to blow a hole in the French budget as all those measures are going to cost centimes. They are going to have to find a new stream of revenue to pay for it all. Perhaps they could set up a tax on gas & diesel fuel to pay for it all.

    Reply
  13. Carlito Riego

    My 2 cents here: in my own opinion, these black blocks are radicalized youth with antiquated anarchist ideas and a taste for violence. A friend very active in this movement in Toulouse regularly posts videos showing black blocks destroying public or private property, which leads to police response and broader clashes. In fact, these BB appear to be hijacking the protests, which is actually hurting (willingly or not) the whole GJ movement.

    I’ve also seen footage of undercover police with the same taste for violence, though the problem is always to identify on what basis they are operating (do they like to break things or are there orders from above?). Blaming only the government conveniently ignores radical left black blocks exist and that they must be pursued and punished.

    Destroying property is not a good way to make yourself heard. GJ started out peacefully with other legal, peaceful actions that helped them gather broad public support, but recurrent violence have horrified many of my French relatives living in Paris and in the country side that are now strongly against the GJ movement on the sole basis of the violence, which completely overshadows their legitimate demands.

    Reply
    1. David

      This is all very complicated, and I can only offer one person’s opinion. Two points.
      First, the GJ come from parts of society that distrust the media totally, don’t read newspapers very often, and don’t believe what they see on television. They have zero respect or confidence in the government and the political system as a whole. In turn, the government made clear at the beginning that the major demands of the GJ were never going to be accepted, and this attitude has been supported by most of the political class and the media. In addition, and from Day 1, these same forces reviled and dismissed the GJ as fascists and supporters of Le Pen. They continue to do so. You can work out, therefore, what the chances are of the GJ achieving any of their aims by large peaceful demonstrations. They are effectively zero, and all sides recognise that. That’s why, after a couple of weekends of small, generally peaceful, protests, the crisis was declared over by the media and the political classes. But the GJs do not represent single-issue virtue-signalling middle-class campaigners like those for gay marriage or action on the climate. Those people aren’t going to risk anything, and, once they’ve seen and been seen, they’ll go off and do something else. The GJs, however, represent a large, desperate and very insecure part of French society which has had enough and is demanding change. But peaceful attempts at change will be ignored. And those who make peaceful change impossible ….. This doesn’t mean the GJ are sympathetic to violence against people, but direct action against symbols of the state and of the consumer society seem too them, based on the reaction of the government, to be the only way they can make themselves heard. And history tends to support that judgement. After all, if 90% of the French public supported their objectives, it still wouldn’t have any practical effect.
      The black blocs are a very different issue. They have been around for a while, and routinely turn up on the margins of peaceful demonstrations. They are also increasingly international, disciplined and organised. They are essentially anarchists in the 19th century sense, who believe that destruction is a creative act, and that all opportunities to physically damage the state and the economic system must be taken. They make a speciality of attacking the police, and view it as an exciting and fulfilling activity. The police themselves have been trying to infiltrate the black blocs for years, which is probably where the stories about them being manipulated by the state come from.

      Reply
      1. Acacia

        David, perhaps you can weigh in on this to clarify, but my feeling is that there is a certain confusion around the identity of those committing acts of violence in urban France, because they are in fact several different groups. There are the black blocs, which I agree are kind of like nineteenth-century anarchists. There are also youth gangs, often from the banlieue, for example, as depicted in Kassovitz’s film La haine. They are not aligned with the black blocs. There are also some far-rightists, who are hated by the black blocs, but my impression is that they are the minority of those engaged in destroying property. These groups engage in acts of violence for distinct reasons. Significantly, the fact that there are several different groups involved is often glossed over as the middle class and bobos, “outraged” by the violence, seek to demonize the GJ movement as a whole.

        Here’s an attempt to translate a key passage from the French wiki page on “casseur“, which gets to this ambiguity:

        “Finally, the term ‘casseur’ does not mean much. There are several reasons for this: it includes many populations that can easily be differentiated: a young inhabitant of the banlieue is not necessarily an insurgent student let alone [ref. desired] an extreme right or left activist. In addition, the term ‘casseur’ refers to the act itself, not the motives. It thus serves, notably through its use in the media, to stigmatize populations, to discredit violence and thus to hide revolts. Described in this fashion, the motivations of a casseur can not be ‘democratic’ even if the revolt is popular. Let us recall, without apologizing, that our current political systems were built on violence (the Revolutions of 1789, 1848, 1870, the Resistance of 1945, May 1968, etc.). Let’s note, moreover, the role of the media in spreading this term (‘casseur’), to the point of thinking that there might be collusion between the media and public authorities for concerted, segregationist and admittedly political purposes. By using this word, it’s possible to free oneself from finding motives, and may be seen as a way of excluding any revolt from the political field.”

        Reply
        1. David

          Well, you’re absolutely right about the confusion. This is not surprising if you think about it. The GJs have no formal organisation or membership list, and you can’t be expelled. Anyone can turn up, with or without a yellow jacket, and with or without claiming to be a “member”, because there are no members. This leads to situations such as those seen on Saturday, when there were GJs who had removed their yellow jackets to escape notice, others in normal clothes who put on yellow arm-bands at the last moment, and still others who were wearing no identification at all. To those you have to add the overt GJs with the jackets, and then the masked and protected black-clad casseurs (see below).
          It’s made worse by the fact that the black blocs themselves (undeniably present) have no organisational structure or defined membership themselves. They cultivate an anonymity which makes it very hard for the police to know who they are, and don’t seem to have an organised cell structure, fore example. So trying to prevent them mingling with demonstrators is next to impossible.
          In the demonstrations last year there was some opportunistic looting, and that seems to have been the case on Saturday as well. This seems mostly to have been by gangs from the suburbs, as you suggest, but it’s very hard to judge from the information about arrests. The big question, so far, is why the banlieus haven’t joined in, but that may be a function of distance and social separation as much as anything else. And there are certainly extreme right-wing groups involved, and I do mean extreme. This is not Le Pen’s mob we are talking about here, but small, paramilitary groupings who have inherited the populist anti-capitalism of Doriot and La Rocque from the 1930s. They seem capable of forming tactical alliances with the black blocs if there’s any smashing of things to be done.
          All in all a bit of a mess. The establishment was terrified at the first appearance of the GJs, because they represented a popular force over which they had no control. The destruction of property provided an excuse to up the volume of this condemnation even further. I agree that terms like “casseur” (which the autocorrect insists, revealingly, should be “masseur”) is problematic. I normally translate it by “wrecker”, and I think it only has any real sense if you apply it to those for whom destruction and attacks on others are not born of frustration and despair, but rather of deliberate policy and preparation, with a definite, if vague, political objective.

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  14. Stephen Haust

    So what does “dull normals” mean?

    Could that possibly be the same as what Macron calls
    “les gens qui sont rien”.

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  15. JBird4049

    1] The women’s march on Versailles of October 5, 1789, started out on the Champs-Élysées. The avenue also terminates at the Place de la Révolution (now the Place de la Concorde), where the guillotine was set up. (Wikipedia’s entry, amazingly enough, omits both facts). So there’s context besides the expensive shops, parks, and imperial monument.

    Just want to remind everyone of why so many are so ignorant about so much. It is not the overt lying but the refusal to even acknowledge the existence of things; the vast ignorance of the Tiananmen Square Massacre by the Chinese existence because of the successful suppression of its existence by the central government. It does not say nothing happened but rather does not speak of it or allows others to do so.

    In the United States, any inconvenient facts like the Battle of Blair Mountain, the Tulsa Masscre, the existence of the American communist and (I believe two) socialists parties that existed before their suppression, the many, many massacres and genocides of native Americans especially most of the pre 1849 California population (What? The Sacramento Delta and its adjacent areas was the one of the most ecologically rich areas of the Earth. Epidemics did not nearly kill everyone. Bullets did.); if you read even more conservative or rightist areas you will also find similar disappearances although not to as great a degree. Conservatism was much more varied and was something other than worshipping Mammon.

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