By Vanessa Beeley via 21st Century Wire Jan 29, 2019
A 30-year-old volunteer fireman who joined the Gilets Jaunes protests in Bordeaux, France on the 12th January 2019, is in a coma after being shot in the back of the head by an LBD or “flashball” bullet fired by French security forces who are brutally suppressing public demonstrations in most major French cities. Olivier Beziade is a father of three who now has a “very serious brain injury” and is in an induced coma. As violence radiates across France, western media locks down and fails to report comprehensively or fairly on Police infractions against protestors.
The following is the video of this event, during which one of the police officers appears to say “they (protestors) don’t know it’s us” and instructs his colleagues to “pick up the casings”, after Beziade had been gunned down and was lying face down on the street. WATCH:
The Gilets Jaunes or Yellow Vests
The Gilets Jaunes (GJs) or Yellow Vest movement began officially on the 17th November 2018 but according to some analysts this people’s initiative was being ignited long before and is a product of successive French government marginalisation of important sectors of the French population. Thomas Flichy de Neuville, academic and historian, wrote very recently about the socio-political alarm bells that preceded the Gilets Jaunes by at least five years.
In 2013, a deputy from the Pyrenees Atlantique department of France, Jean Lassalle, spent 8 months walking around France. He covered 5000 km on foot and spoke with the “forgotten” French people. Lassalle reported that the lasting impression from his experience was that most of those he encountered had a desire to “turn the tables, that they had had enough on many levels”.
Lassalle’s report was submitted to the presidents of the assemblees in April 2014. Lassalle warned that nine out of ten people in France were ready to “explode”, three out of ten were ready to mobilise if and when the “explosion” took place. Lassalle prophesied that “Les réseaux sociaux sont prêts à agir comme une arme formidable de mobilisation” “social media is ready to to act as a formidable weapon of mobilisation”.
According to Flichy, the one problem with Lassalle’s ground breaking report was that he predicted the imminent eruption of dissent “it is ten minutes before midnight”, Lassalle wrote. Nothing transpired as predicted in 2015 and the 196 page report was consigned to the archives, its prescient contents forgotten as France buried itself in a foreign intervention quagmire in Syria, Yemen and Mali and ignored the gathering storm at home.
In 2014, Christophe Guilluy, a geographer, wrote a book entitled “La France Peripherique” which investigated the demographics of major French cities and highlighted the problems of wealthy, opulent city centers compared to the marginalised and poor suburbs where 60% of the “forgotten” population resided. Guilluy concluded that many of these communities would ultimately vote for more right wing or nationalist political parties in search of an antidote for their deteriorating living conditions.
Guilluy’s work is particularly relevant when we consider that the match to the touchpaper for the GJs was the hike in fuel prices by President Macron’s government. While this is not the sole reason for the unrest we see today, nationwide in France, it is an important factor for 60% of a population, many of whom subsist on the minimum wage (SMIC) – if those people travel 20km to work every day, they will spend 250 euros per month which is a quarter of the SMIC. It is easy to see why these people reacted so forcefully against a fuel tax that would impact them the most.
Why the Gilet Jaune ? Analyst and author, based in France, Diana Johnstone put it most succinctly in an article for Unz Review:
“Every automobile in France is supposed to be equipped with a yellow vest. This is so that in case of accident or breakdown on a highway, the driver can put it on to ensure visibility and avoid getting run over. [..] The costume was at hand and didn’t have to be provided by Soros for some more or less manufactured “color revolution”. The symbolism was fitting: in case of socio-economic emergency, show that you don’t want to be run over.”
The GJs have distanced themselves from politics and politicians to protect their grass-roots identity. The leadership structure is horizontal, no leaders or identity politics. The spokespeople are not practiced public speakers, they are people from every walk of life and they represent a wide spectrum of French society. The manifesto is varied depending upon regional collectives but most demands nationwide appear to be in synch with minor differences.
One such manifesto was published by a number of media outlets in December 2018 and it listed a number of demands for reform in the economic, political, health and social security and environmental sectors. This manifesto also addressed the issue of Macron’s neoliberal foreign policy and included a call to end “France’s participation in foreign wars of aggression and exit from NATO” and to “cease pillaging and interfering – politically and militarily – in Francafrique which keeps Africa poor. Immediately repatriate all French soldiers. Establish relations with African states on an equal peer-to-peer basis”
The fundamental message of the GJs is that they simply can’t make ends meet. The cost of living keeps going up and salaries keep being squeezed. The Government needs to listen to its people and to change course. Most europeans reading this will feel empathy with this expression of desperation. There has been a cover-up in France by the government and the media. These calls for help have been muted, filtered and ignored by the state-aligned media and government officials for some time now.
Macron’s government has used Climate Change and global warming as a damoclean sword brandished over the heads of the malcontent to distract them from their misery – suggesting the future of the planet outweighs the trivia of feeding your children or avoiding homelessness – the push back from the GJs was swift, while they may cherish their environment and are ecologically aware “they are more worried about the end of the month than the future of the world”
In some cases, early on in the protests, the GJs are being systematically dehumanized. Gerard Darminin, the budget minister, described the GJs as the “peste brune – the brown plague” meaning fascists. In the dozens of interviews I have listened to, not one GJ has expressed a sentiment that could even remotely be described as right wing or fascist. The GJs are an apolitical collective with a focus on socio-economic issues that directly affect their ability to survive in modern France which, in their view, is drifting dangerously away from the vision of a Republic that most of the demonstrators have grown up with.
The government response has been largely dismissive, repressive, condemnatory and increasingly inflammatory. Instead of “maintaining order” through genuine negotiation and reform, Macron appears to have unleashed an escalation of police violence against demonstrators which will provoke the GJs further, increasing dissent and the potential for counter-reactionary measures against the state.
Interior Ministry, State and Media Reaction to Gilets Jaunes
Macron’s first choice Interior Minister was the socialist mayor of Lyons, Gerard Collomb who resigned his post in October 2018, despite Macron’s entreaties for him to stay, citing “immense difficulties” facing his successor. Collomb was replaced by Christophe Castaner as head of national police forces, among other responsibilities. Former socialist and with a degree in criminology, Castaner’s reputation is somewhat tarnished by his connections to a Marseilles mafioso, Christian Oraison, in the 1970s.
French Prime Minister, Edouard Phillippe introduced a new law to “better protect the right to demonstrate” in January 2019. Protestors who are labelled falsely as “agitators” “insurrectionists” or who demand that “President Macron resign” will effectively be collectively reprimanded by a law that introduces measures of heavy punishment of demonstration organisers whose time and place has not been given the official stamp of approval.
500 complaints against Castaner for restricing the right to protest were submitted to the Court of Cassation but were dismissed by Public Prosecutor, Francois Molins, who stated that he would not be prosecuting Castaner for his remarks that “participants in the GJ protests were complicit with those who had resorted to violence”.
Castaner has consistently defended the police squads and their use of disproportionate force against unarmed demonstrators by claiming that the GJs are the ones to instigate violence, the police are acting in self-defense. The mounting number of cases of civilian mutilation and wounding by heavily armed police officers suggest that Castaner is distorting the truth.
Castaner’s only concession has been to equip the police forces with body cameras so they can record their own violations of the use of “proportionate force” in the maintenance of law and order. Doubts must be cast on the willingness of a police force already facing 100s if not thousands of claims against them, to provide the evidence that will further incriminate them. When Castaner was pressed to comment on the violence being meted out against civilians by the police, he responded:
I don’t know of one policeman or one gendarme who has attacked the Gilets Jaunes, on the other hand, I know many police or gendarmes who have taken defensive measures to defend the Republic, the order of the Republic – you know there is no “liberty” without public order [..] but naturally I have never seen a gendarme or a police officer attack a demonstrator or a journalist, on the contrary I have seen demonstrators systematically attack our security forces and journalists.
Castaner is one of the chief promoters of the draconian and controversial “Loi Anti Casseurs – Anti-Breakers (looters) law”. Those who oppose adoption of the law have claimed it will further erode freedom of speech and liberty of expression in France. The law proposes security perimeters around protests, facial recognition, bag searches, body searches, 2-4 years in prison if found guilty of violence against the police and up to Euros 7,500 ($ 8580) fines for those who violate the law. It is worth noting that Castaner himself admits that the number of “casseurs” nationwide are negligible, numbering between “150 – 200/300 across all regions of France”.
The law states that protestors who hide their faces will be targeted – this measure is controversial as most protestors and journalists are forced to cover their heads and faces to protect themselves against tear gas and the risk of mutiliation by “flashball” rubber bullets or “grenades d’encerclement”” which contain 25g of TNT and can release hundreds of 10g rubber pellets at close range if used incorrectly, by the security forces. Macron’s government sees these measures as essential to crack down on violence against the state, the GJs will perceive it as a further instrument of oppression by the state against its own people. So far, 200 ammendments have been made to the law by those who are alarmed by the increased totalitarian measures being imposed upon France and its people by Macron’s ministers.
French state-aligned media and UK corporate media have followed Castaner’s narrative lead with little deviation, the following short clip from a report by France’s TF1 demonstrates the disinformation being presented about the GJs and the police violence. The TF1 presenter denies any police infractions and praises them for their “sang froid”, their composure:
Macron Response to Gilets Jaunes
After initially distancing himself from the protests, perhaps in the vain hope they would fizzle out, on the 10th December Macron finally appeared before his people on TV. During the broadcast an apparently chastened Macron agreed to delay the fuel tax hike, he offered an extra 100 Euros per month for minimum wage earners and tax cuts for pensioners among other measures. Even the Economist described Macron’s 10 billion-euro concession package as an attempt to buy off his critics. The broadcast was watched by a staggering 21m people. The reaction was mixed, perhaps 50% of the GJs and their supporters seeing it as an attempt to keep the people quiet rather than a genuine effort to change course and address the long-standing issues that had generated the protests in the first place.
Macron’s later New Year 2019 address to the nation which followed a terrifying increase in the violence seen on the streets of Paris and across France, was a much more aggressive affair. Having failed to appease the “crowds” with a few unconvincing political crumbs, Macron seemed to have decided to adopt the hardline approach. “These days I have seen unthinkable things and heard the unacceptable” Macron stated. Macron even took on the few opposition politicians who dared to empathise with the protestors. Macron berated those who pretend to “speak for the people”, calling them “spokespersons for hateful crowds” and denounced “those who have mingled with the Yellow Vest protesters to spread hate speech about “police forces, journalists, Jews, foreigners, homosexuals” as a “negation of France”. I am yet to find a recording of a GJ spreading hate speech about any of the factions mentioned by Macron.
Macron’s other concession was the so called “Grand Debate”, a series of town hall meetings where representatives of the communes and departments across France would meet to present grievances on behalf of their constituents and the GJs. In reality, anyone wearing a yellow vest in the vicinity of the meetings may be fined Euros 135 ( $ 154). At some meetings road blocks were erected some way from the meeting place and identity papers of drivers were photographed, anyone wearing a yellow vest was told to go back. So, from day one, the Grand Debate called to address the concerns raised by the GJs deemed the GJs as persona non grata.
On the 18th January 2019, a Grand Debate was held in Souillac, south-west France. One of the attending Mayors gave an interview to a local media outlet after the debate had finished. Rene Revol, Mayor of Grabels (Department 34) said the meeting was nothing more than a “masquerade”, a farce, an election campaign for Macron. Gilets Jaunes were forbidden and threatened with fines if they were caught in the vicinity wearing their vests. Road blocks were set up on all roads leading to the venue. Security forces surrounded Macron’s cavalcade. Mayors were able to speak only if chosen by government ministers or Prefets – effectively controlled discourse. The meeting was ostensibly called to address the issues of the people. Nothing was discussed and the “people” were banned.
State Sanctioned Violence and Repression
Since the 24th November 2018 the violence witnessed on the streets of cities across France has escalated dramatically. One French independent journalist, David Dufresnes, has been recording all infractions committed by police and security forces and tweeting them to the Interior Ministry while giving interviews to a huge number of French media channels to raise awareness of the police brutality during peaceful protests. In the tweet below, infraction number 362 dated 26/1/2019, an off duty soldier is reported to be hit in the head by a police LBD40 rubber bullet as he is leaving a restaurant in Montpelier on his way to the nightclub with two of his colleagues.
Dufresnes has recorded 157 injuries to the head including 18 who have lost an eye, fractures of the jaw and comas in the most severe cases. 11 hand injuries, in 4 cases resulting in the loss of a hand. 8 back injuries, 28 injuries to the upper body, 40 lower limb injuries, 3 injuries to the genital area, 48 unspecified injuries and 55 cases of intimidation, insults, repression of press freedom infractions. One eighty-year-old was murdered on the 1st December 2018 in Marseilles – Zineb Redouane was killed when a tear gas grenade was thrown in her face by the security forces. According to Dufresnes this is the list of the more serious injuries, an estimated 2000 – 3000 more GJs have been “lightly” injured during the protests since November 2018.
Dufresnes argues that the police have already lost control of the situation and can no longer be legitimately claiming to “maintain law and order”. In one interview Dufresnes points out that the use of 10,000 tear gas grenades on one day of protests points to a “panic” situation among the security forces. During “Acte XI” of the protests on the 26th January the elderly man, Eric, in the photo below was hit on the head by a police truncheon in Marseilles. He has three fractures and is forced to eat only liquid food from the left side of his mouth for three weeks, according to his brother.
Two students were recently inteviewed by independent French media channel, Mediapart. Antoine Boudinet lost his right hand when a GLIF4 grenade exploded close to him in Bordeaux, December 2018. Lola Villabriga was hit in the face by a LBD40 flashball bullet which triple-fractured her jaw in Biarritz, also December 2018.
Boudinet was actually taking part in a “climate” march which joined with the GJ march at one point during the protests. Boudinet has submitted a claim against Christophe Castaner for the police use of the GLIF4 grenade which has disabled him for life. Boudinet clearly states that he holds Castaner and the Interior Ministry responsible for the arms used by the police – “when such arms are available, it is certain that at some moment something will happen and there will be an incident. Explosives should never be thrown at people”
Villabriga had been standing on a bench filming the protests when she was hit by the flashball bullet. She describes a protest that was 100% peaceful, “there was no chaos at all. The use of force was totally disproportionate”. Villabriga suffered a triple fracture of her jaw, she has undergone one operation and a second operation is foreseen in the future to remove the metal pins. Commenting on Castaner’s denial of police brutality, Villabriga told the presenter:
“This is absolute denial (from Castaner) which I find totally alarming to see that we are ignored while what happened to us is so terrible. Nobody has come to talk to us.”
Watching the interviews, including one with Dominique Rodtchenki Pontonnier, a mother whose two sons were terribly injured by a GLIF4 grenade, one son losing three fingers in the blast – I was struck by the trauma and shock on the faces of the guests. At one point we are shown the film of the moment Pontonnier’s son is hit and is screaming that he has lost his hand. Boudinet is visibly shaken by the video, he explains that it brings back the memories of the moment he realised that he had been mutilated by the GLIF4 grenade fired by police into unarmed crowds of people that included children and families.
There is utter disbelief during the interview that France has been so rapidly reduced to a violent police state and that the trust between state and people has been so profoundly damaged. Another guest, Anaelle, a volunteer medic, describes the “profound lack of respect and complete rupture of dialogue” between state and people. All guests are horrified at the weapons being deployed to maintain “law and order”.
Meanwhile, Interior Minister, Castaner maintains that the use of the Flashball bullet is necessary because:
“..in the face of extreme violence we need the means to defend ourselves and the simple fact of having a uniform (presence) for a long time has prevented the violence because the people respect that. Now there are people who come to provoke, to attack and to aggress, even to kill. If we consider what happened on the Champs Elysee or at the Arc De Triomphe, according to statements I have studied, there is a desire to kill members of the security forces, therefore they need to be able to defend themselves”
The moment GJ spox, Jerome Rodrigues, is targeted first by a GLIF4 grenade before being hit in the eye by a LBD40 Flashball bullet. Acte XI, 26th January 2019. (Photo: Twitter)
Paris, 26th January 2019, the forces of “law and order” targeted one of the GJ’s most popular spokespeople, Jerome Rodrigues, while he was filming events during the GJ march. During Rodrigues’ live video we can hear him cautioning GJs to withdraw from the scene as elements of the Black Bloc have arrived. Rodrigues does not want the GJs to get caught up in the Black Bloc violence. As he continues filming we see the police forces advancing but not confronting the few members of the Black Bloc who are responsible for much of the looting and damage to shops and buildings during the weekly protests. Instead, the police appear to open fire on the retreating GJs including Rodrigues who is suddenly struck down.
The following video shows the moments after Rodrigues is targeted first by a GLIF4 grenade and then by a Flashball bullet to the eye (according to later testimony from Rodrigues from his hospital bed). WATCH:
Rodrigues is treated by the volunteer medics at the scene before being rushed to hospital. Two days after the incident, Rodrigues posted a live video to his Facebook page, from his hospital room. He calls for peace and calm, no knee-jerk reactions from the GJs and reinforces the message that a very small minority of Black Bloc or Casseurs are committing the random violent acts that are being weaponised by the state. He feels that he was deliberately targeted by the police and this had also been claimed by a number of eye witnesses to the attack. Rodrigues also reminds people that his mutilation is one of many and that he should not be singled out among the GJs who have suffered at the hands of the police. Rodrigues urges GJs back onto the streets for Acte XII, Saturday 2nd February. It remains to be seen where the escalation of violence will progress from here as popular support for the GJs grows across France.
Rodrigues’ poster for Acte XII reads “The powerful will stop dominating when the little people stop crawling”
Weapons used to “Maintain Law and Order”
Chart taken from the website of ACAT, an NGO arguing against increase in repressive laws in France, showing the weapons deployed by France during crowd control compared to other EU countries, November 2017.
The above chart shows the weapons used by French security forces against unruly crowds compared to those used by other EU police forces. There is a clear recommendation of steps and maintenance of proportionate force which is outlined in the national police instruction chart, below. Journalist, David Dufresnes, has clarified that the LBD40 Flashball rubber bullets and the GLIF4 grenade “d’encerclement” are not used anywhere else in Europe because of the risks to human life involved.
The National Police in France should be following the recommendations shown in the infograph above. Step one: demand for the crowd to disperse followed by two clear announcements of the intention to use “force”. First level of force: firearms are strictly prohibited at this stage. Truncheons, water canon and hand thrown tear gas grenades. Level two of force: GLIF4 grenades and grenade launchers. Level three of force: if the police are met with violence. LBD40 Flashball bullets, grenade launchers firing non-metal projectiles and flashball bullets.
What we are seeing, from the footage that is being released, is the police bypassing the recommended steps and progressing almost immediately to the use of disproportionate force and the apparent deliberate targeting of unarmed protestors among the GJs. This is panic crowd control with horrifying consequences. More than 80,000 police are deployed to maintain order during the nationwide GJ marches every weekend. A mix of the BAC (Brigade Anti Criminalite) and the CRS (general reserve of the French national police) are the most prevalent security forces who police the marches.
Many appear not to have been properly trained in the use of the weapons provided to them. The LBD40 Flashball bullet should never be fired at head height, for example, yet we consistently see police officers standing and firing from the shoulder into crowds of Gilets Jaunes. On the saturday that Rodrigues was targeted, I took screenshots from the Ruptly TV live video coverage of the Paris marches which clearly show one police officer pointing a target out to another officer who fires the weapon at head height ten seconds later. The velocity of the Flashball bullet is ten times that of a paintball, its capacity to mutilate at close quarters has been proven by the horrifying injuries circulating on social media.
A recent article in the media outlet, Liberation, has revealed that a police report highlighted the risks of using the GLIF4 grenade for crowd control but the grenade is still being used by police in France. The GLIF4 contains 25g of TNT explosive, emits 165 decibels upon explosion which has permanently deafened one protestor and has caused inner ear problems for others. The GLIF4can contain CS gas in powder form or 10g rubber pellets, lethal at close quarters with potential to tear into limbs and shred hands.
This report was picked up by journalist, David Dufresne, who highlighted the following paragraph:
Liberation had access to a Police scientific laboratory report carried out on this wound ( and submitted to the enquiry) before the Gilets Jaunes movement. The report concludes that the high risk of the (GLIF4) grenade has been underestimated by French authorities and the manufacturer. The Interior Minister (Christophe Castaner) still chose to use the grenades until “stocks were exhausted” without specifying the number of grenades remaining in stock.
The cavalier manner in which Castaner has put the lives of French civilians at risk must be considered reckless at best, criminally negligent at worst.
The following video is a compilation of just a few of the police infractions and violent responses to the GJ protests across France. WATCH:
Conclusion – Chaos Strategy Unleashed?
Alexandre Langlois, General Secretary of the Police Syndicate, VIGI, has accused Macron’s government of stoking confrontation and of favouring repression over dialogue. In a series of public interviews, Langlois blames the hierarchy within the Interior Ministry for the “manipulation” of the police forces already hugely under pressure and experiencing a climbing suicide rate since Macron’s rise to power in France. According to Langlois, the “hierarchy” direct the police working during the marches from remote control centers which disable the police’s ability to analyse events on the ground and avoid dangerous confrontation or provocation. Langlois demonstrates that this system has led to situations that have increased pressure on both the police and the GJs.
Langlois warns that Police are being forced to work blind. The state is pushing for confrontation and it is not avoiding repressive measures that will only increase the chances of violence not reduce them. Langlois laments the 75 suicides of police officers since Macron was elected, 17 since Castaner took over from Collomb who resigned after pressure from Langlois and his syndicate to address the issue of high suicide rates among the national police forces – “we called for the resignation of Collomb, now Castaner should go” .
The dismantlement of the “renseignments generaux” (RG – police intelligence branch) under Sarkozy in 2008 has contributed to the problems in 2019 according to Langlois. Langlois believes the RG would have developed relationships with GJ organisers and worked with them to ensure peaceful demonstrations. The police have been deliberately distanced from the people in order to enable the violence we are seeing since the 1st December 2018. Langlois stresses that many of the Police sympathise with the GJs but that the government is pushing the police to oppose the GJs which can only lead to catastophic consequences if allowed to continue.
Effectively the Gilets Jaunes have exposed Macron and his government for what it is. Macron is the President who was elected by the globalists, the capitalists and the ruling elite to protect their interests. A book recently published, authored by Francois-Xavier Bourmand, entitled “Emmanuel Macron the Banker who would be King” has investigated the corporatocracy who ensured Macron’s election win in order to expand their interests globally and to convert France from Republic into Plutocracy at the expense of the “dispensables”, the “little people”.
During one confrontation with a citizen at one of the Grand Debates, Macron is asked why he has failed to fulfill his pre-election promise of “no more SDF (homeless) on the streets of France – 580 SDF died on the streets of France in 2018. Rather than show compassion for the poverty-stricken and homeless, Macron defends his policies with accountant-speak, informing the audience that the elite must be protected in order to provide jobs for the “poor”.
If indeed Macron’s coterie in government are pushing for confrontation between the people and the security forces and introducing increasingly repressive measures to up the pressure on the protestors rather than trying to defuse matters, it is really ten minutes before midnight in France. The insanity of Macron supporting the “uprising” in Venezuela while sanctioning vicious reprisals against his own people at home is glaringly obvious to all but Macron and his backers. That is because Macron is doing his job and his job is to manufacture the conditions in which the privileged, wealthy ruling elite can thrive and further their globalist ambitions which includes military adventurism and resource theft from target nations that include Venezuela and Syria.
Violence will escalate in France because it is state-sanctioned. Unless the police wake up to their manipulation by the state and join forces with the GJs there is a risk of a serious confrontation in the very near future. However, as historian Diana Johstone has said: “for all the lamented decline in the school system, the French people today are as well-educated and reasonable as any population can be expected to be. If they are incapable of democracy, then democracy is impossible.”. There is still hope that the wave of discontent generated by the GJs may still bring down the globalist power structure and replace it with something more allied to the principles of the Republic of France.
Vanessa Beeley is an independent journalist, peace activist, photographer and associate editor at 21st Century Wire. Vanessa was a finalist for one of the most prestigious journalism awards – the 2017 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism – whose winners have included the likes of Robert Parry in 2017, Patrick Cockburn, Robert Fisk, Nick Davies and the Bureau for Investigative Journalism team. Please support her work at her Patreon account.