PARIS – Bubbling beneath France’s political landscape is an assortment of ultra-right groups, a subculture that shot to the nation’s attention when a young man slapped President Emmanuel Macron and blurted out a centuries-old royalist cry.
Ultra-rightist groups are considered increasingly dangerous despite their small following and are on the radar of authorities. Numerous arrests have been made and several groups banned. Challenges to the French identity are often at the center of their ideologies.
During Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting, Macron stressed the incident a day earlier was “an isolated act by a violent individual” that wouldn’t stop his direct contact with the population.
“No violence can be considered banal in the country,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal said.
The town of Tain-l’Hermitage, where the assault occurred, was the president’s most recent stop on a tour designed to “feel the pulse of the country” that’s been laid low by the coronavirus and trying to get back on its feet.
Damien Tarel, 28, the man who slapped the president, and a second man, identified only as Arthur C., also 28, were quickly arrested. Neither had police records, the local prosecutor said.
Tarel told investigators he struck out without thinking, the prosecutor’s office said. He is to appear in court Thursday on a charge of violence against a person invested with public authority.
While Tarel’s motives remained unclear, it was his Medieval-era cry “Montjoie! Saint Denis!” as he slapped Macron’s cheek, that pointed to the aggressor’s potential interest in the tiny royalist fringe movement. Social media posts showed he followed royalist TV channels and a smattering of extreme-right figures.