Who are the masked rioters causing havoc in France?

The Local/AFP
The Local/AFP - [email protected]
Who are the masked rioters causing havoc in France?

The ongoing labour bill protests in France and especially Paris have seen swathes of violence and vandalism. But who is behind it all?


Thursday saw an especially violent day of protests across France, leaving 124 people arrested during the day and another 24 at night. 
Some 24 police officers were left injured, several of them seriously. 
One of the officers was even knocked unconscious after getting hit in the head by a cobblestone, many of which were hurled at the riot police around the country.
Meanwhile, cars are getting torched, shop windows are being smashed, and buildings are being sprayed with graffiti.
A bank close to the Place de la République in Paris has been so badly targeted that it has erected temporary walls around the entire building. 
While the protesters are for the most part peaceful, the violent members of the groups - which Prime Minister Valls referred to as "the irresponsible minority" - are especially aggressive. 
Paris police prefect Michel Cadot said they were "very organized groups of rioters" who were committing "acts of unspeakable violence" against the police. 
But who are they?
Those marching and protesting are opponents of a planned labour reform, which is billed as an effort to reduce chronic unemployment, which stands at 10 percent. Protesters say it will threaten cherished rights and deepen job insecurity for young people.
Among those marching are especially younger people, students and high school pupils, but also leftists and union members.
But many insist that it's not these protesters who are getting violent.
A protester in Paris who gave his name only as Floryan said the aggression comes from people who don't actually identify with "Nuit Debout", a youth-led movement that spawned from the labour reforms, which has seen advocates of a broad spectrum of causes gather in city squares at night for the past four weeks to demand change.
"I think they're mainly outsiders who want to discredit the movement," he told the France TV Info channel.
"And as we repeat every day at the Place de la République, the Nuit Debout is all about pacificism."
Many have noticed that protesters are often masked or wearing helmets. These "black bloc" tactics - a name which derives from the black ski masks, scarves, sunglasses and motorcycle helmets they wear to disguise their identity and protect them from tear gas attacks - suggest that the protesters are associated with anarchism.
According to intelligence services, the rioters are part of a "radical protest movement" made up of a melting pot of a slew of other movements.
"This includes members of anarchism and autonomism, anti-fascists, libertarians, zadistes (a term referring to those opposed to a new airport in western France), and those who support squatters," a senior official told Le Parisien newspaper.
"A handful of youths from the sensitive areas of Greater Paris also come to try and aggravate violence in the aims of looting the stores that get broken into."
An investigator added that their habits are slightly different to the usual rioters in such protests.
"Before, these kinds of rioters would hang around at the end of the protests and wait for it to end, and that's when they'd start escalating things," he told the paper. 
"They know how to move through a crowd and seize an opportunity as soon as it presents itself. Now, they're positioning themselves quickly at the very front of the protest so they can attack the police."
The investigator said that the rioters, who weren't associated with the Nuit Debout movement, were sensing that numbers were dwindling at the protests and so have changed their attitude. 
"These rioters are there to affirm their opposition to the state of emergency and the police state."
Political scientist Eddy Fougier says that the violence France saw on Thursday isn't reflective of a typical rioter, rather "radical militants".
"In very simple terms, I think a rioter is a kid from the suburbs who uses these kinds of rallies as a chance to smash a window and steal some sneakers," he told the Atlantico newspaper
"The troubles that can arise from zadistes, the Nuit Debout movement, and the regular mobilization against the labour reforms, these attract radical militants, which I wouldn't qualify as rioters."


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also