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The man who tried to kill the French president

Published: 05 Jul 2013 14:01 GMT+02:00
Updated: 05 Jul 2013 19:00 GMT+02:00

Who’s Maxime Bruniere?

He’s a 36-year-old former neo-nazi activist who attempted to assassinate then French President Jacques Chirac in 2002.

Why is he in the news?

This week it was revealed that he had been charged with committing acts of violence against his girlfriend.

Tell me more.

On Wednesday, French radio RTL reported that Brunerie had been arrested by police in Hauts-de-Seine, near Paris, on suspicion of domestic violence against his girlfriend.

They also revealed he had been spotted by French intelligence services at anti-gay marriage protests, in the company of members of the far-right Printemps Français group.

So he tried to kill the president?

Yes. On July 14th 2002, Bastille Day, 25-year-old Brunerie tried to assassinate Chirac with a rifle at a military parade on the Champs Elysées.

After missing by a long way, he turned the weapon on himself, inserted the barrel into his mouth, and attempted to kill himself.

He couldn’t reach the trigger, however, and was quickly bundled to the ground by police and arrested.

Why did he (try to) do it?

In 2011 he told French magazine Paris Match his actions were the result of “existential despair, a rejection of our society which transformed itself into a rage and hatred for the whole world, and a big dose of megalomania.”

It then emerged he was a member of the far-right Unité Radicale group, which was immediately disbanded by the French government.

What happened to him afterwards?

At his trial in 2004 it emerged that Brunerie was less a political or ideological zealot, and more a very strange and deeply unhappy young man.

He had initially simply been planning to kill himself , but wanted to at least end his life with some notoriety, and hatched a plan to go out in a blaze of glory – ‘suicide by cop’, having just “killed the King.”

“Having screwed up my life, I didn’t want to screw up my death,” he said afterwards.

He was sentenced to ten years in prison for attempted murder.

What’s he done since then?

Brunerie got a two-year technical degree in management in 2009, before being released later that year.

In 2011 he published his memoirs, “An Ordinary Life: I Tried to Kill Chirac”, in which he recounted his troubled childhood (he called his mother a ‘castrator’), his search for belonging in skinhead groups, and his five difficult years in prison.

Up until this week, Brunerie appeared to have been a changed man.

A lover of improv theatre (“I enjoy myself like a little mad man”), a trader of antique books, and a supposedly devoted boyfriend to his partner Delphine, he has nonetheless found it hard to escape his past and be accepted back into society.

In 2010 he tried to join the centrist Modem party, but had his membership application rejected. In 2012, he was placed on the jury of a French literary prize but the rest of the judges left in protest.

What does he have to say for himself?

“Delphine is more than my rock. If one day she wasn’t there, there would be an empty abyss,” Brunerie told Paris Match in 2011.

What do others say about him?

“He is a brilliant human being, very literary. He might seem like a psychopath at first glance, but he’s really not,” French writer Laurence Biava, justifying her decision to invite him on to the jury of a literary competition in 2011.

“The accused’s past is a tale that moves between the bright light of his scandalous fame and the darkness of his death. Above all, this is about a childish obsession with the forbidden,” prosecutor Philippe Bilger said at Brunerie’s trial in 2004.

Dan MacGuill (dan.macguill@thelocal.com)

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