A 28-year-old Frenchman who described himself as a right-wing or far-right “patriot” was sentenced Thursday to four months in prison for slapping President Emmanuel Macron.
Damien Tarel was also banned from holding public office in France and owning weapons for five years during the coup on Tuesday, which hit Macron’s left cheek with an audible blow as the French leader waved to a crowd.
During Thursday’s trial, Tarel said the attack was impulsive and unplanned, and motivated by anger over France’s “decline”.
He sat upright and showed no emotion when the court in the city of Valencia, in the south-east, convicted him of violence against a person in public authority. He was sentenced to four months in prison and an additional 14-month suspended sentence. His girlfriend burst into tears.
Tarel, who launched a secular royalist war cry by hitting the president, described himself as a right-wing or far-right “patriot” and a member of the yellow vests economic protest movement that rocked Macron’s presidency in 2018 and 2019.
Poise and calm, he firmly defended his action and his point of view on Macron, without providing details on the policies he wants France to change.
Tarel admitted to having hit the president with a “rather violent” slap. “When I saw his friendly and lying gaze, I felt disgust and had a violent reaction,” he told the court. “It was an impulsive reaction … I was surprised by the violence myself.”
While he said he and his friends had considered bringing an egg or custard pie to throw at the president, he said they had given up on the idea – and insisted the slap in the face was not premeditated.
“I think Emmanuel Macron represents the decline of our country,” he said, without explaining what he meant.
He told investigators he had right-wing or far-right political beliefs without being a member of a party or group, according to the prosecutor’s office.
The slap drew attention to an assortment of far-right groups bubbling under the French political landscape, which are seen as increasingly dangerous despite their small number of supporters.
Macron declined to comment on the trial on Thursday, but insisted that “nothing justifies violence in a democratic society, ever”.
“It’s not that bad to get a slap in the face when you go to a crowd to greet people who have been waiting for a long time,” he said in an interview with BFM-TV. “We must not make this stupid and violent act any more important than it is.”
At the same time, added the president, “it should not be trivialized, because any person holding public authority has the right to respect”.
Another man arrested in the uproar that followed the slap, identified by the prosecutor as Arthur C., will be tried later, in 2022, for illegal possession of weapons.
The prosecutor’s office said that in addition to finding weapons, the police who searched Arthur C.’s house also found books on the art of war, a copy of Adolf Hitler’s manifesto “Mein Kampf ”and two flags, one symbolizing the Communists and the other the Russian Revolution.
Neither Tarel nor Arthur C., also 28, had a criminal record, said the prosecutor.
While crimes in France often take months or years to go to trial, in this case, authorities used a special emergency procedure to hold a trial within two days of the slap in the face. Tarel did not object to the procedure.
Videos showed Macron’s assailant slapping the French leader’s left cheek and his bodyguards pushing the man away during a quick meeting with members of the public, who were held behind traffic barriers in the wine town from Tain-l’Hermitage.
We heard the assailant shout “Montjoie!” St Denis ! a secular royalist war cry, before ending with “Down with Macronie” or “Down with Macron”.
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