BFM TV / AP
VALENCE, France (AP) – A 28-year-old Frenchman who described himself as a right-wing or extreme-right “patriot” was sentenced on Thursday to four months in prison for punching President Emmanuel Macron in the face.
Damien Tarel was also banned from ever having public office in France and from owning weapons for five years during the ironing on Tuesday, catching Macron’s left cheek with an audible attack as the French leader greeted a crowd.
During Thursday’s trial, Tarel testified that the attack was impulsive and unplanned and encouraged by anger over France’s “decline”.
He was sitting straight and showing no emotion when the court in the southeastern city of Valence convicted him on charges of violence against a person invested in public authority. He was sentenced to four months in prison and given a further 14 months probation. His girlfriend broke down in tears.
Tarel, who shouted a centuries-old war cry when he hit the president, described himself as a right-wing or far-right “patriot” and a member of the Yellow West economic protest movement that shook Macron’s presidency in 2018 and 2019.
Quietly, he firmly defended his action and views on Macron without giving details of what policy he wants France to change.
Tarel acknowledged that he had hit the president with a “pretty violent” blow. “When I saw his friendly, lying gaze, I felt disgust and I got a violent reaction,” he told the court. “It was an impulsive reaction … I was even surprised by the violence.”
While he said he and his friends had considered bringing an egg or a cream cake to throw at the president, he said they dropped the idea – insisting the battle was not deliberate.
“I think Emmanuel Macron represents the decline in our country,” he said without explaining what he meant.
He told investigators he had political beliefs about right or ultra-right without being a member of a party or group, according to the prosecution.
This clap drew attention to a selection of ultra-right groups bubbling under France’s political landscape, who are considered increasingly dangerous despite their small following.
Macron would not comment on the lawsuit Thursday, but insisted that “nothing justifies violence in a democratic society ever.”
“It’s not so much to get a slap when walking towards a crowd to say hello to some people who waited a long time,” he said in an interview with the television station BFM-TV. “We must not make the act of stupidity and violence more important than it is.”
At the same time, the president added: “We must not make it banal, because everyone with public authority has the right to respect.”
Another man arrested in the accident that followed the battle, identified by the prosecutor as Arthur C., will be convicted at a later date in 2022 of illegal possession of a weapon.
Prosecutors said that as well as finding weapons, police searching Arthur C.’s home also found books on martial arts, a copy of Adolf Hitler’s manifesto “Mein Kampf” and two flags, one symbolizing communism and another of Russian revolution.
Neither Tarel nor Arthur C., also 28, had police records, the prosecutor said.
While crimes in France often take months or years to reach trial, the authorities in this case used a special emergency procedure to hold a trial within just two days of the battle. Tarel did not object to the proceedings.
Videos showed Macron’s attacker hitting the French leader’s left cheek and his bodyguards pushing the man away during a quick meeting-and-greeting with members of the public who were held back behind traffic barriers in the winery town of Tain-l’Hermitage.
The attacker was heard shouting “Montjoie! Saint Denis!” a hundred-year-old royalist war cry before ending with “A bas la Macronie” or “Down with Macron.”