France is bracing for an escalation of protests and possible violence on Saturday as anti-tax “Gilets Jaunes” protesters wearing high-visibility yellow vests plan to hit the streets. The approval rating of French President Emmanuel Macron continues to slide, while public sensibilities were piqued again after nearly a month of protests by mostly middle-class and working-class French citizens, who wear yellow vests as their symbol. A viral video that showed French police detaining high school students "execution style" is causing outrage in a country already stirred by anti-tax sentiment and Muslim immigration.
Video footage shows dozens of young protesters who had denounced planned educational reform in Mantes-la-Jolie in northern France. Arrested on Thursday, most were teenaged high school students. Released on Thursday night on Twitter, the video has been viewed nearly three million times in less than 24 hours. Some commenters observed that the scenes suggested terrorist “hostage taking” or "execution by firing squad."
Last weekend, thousands of protesters fought police along the famed Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris. There were dozens of arrests of protesters who threw rocks, incinerated cars, broke store windows and looted. Four deaths were reported. The protests forced Macron to suspend the fuel-tax plan, which is envisioned as environmentalist policy to push for electric vehicles and combat global climate change. However, the yellow vests apparently are not satisfied.
A Yellow Vest leader, Benjamin Cauchy, said this week, “The French are not sparrows and don’t want the crumbs the government is giving. They want the baguette.” Some members of the movement are calling for taxes to be cut to 25 percent of GDP, or half of the current rate.
“Act IV” of the Yellow Vest protests are expected in Paris and elsewhere in France, where protesters (many of whom are truckers and taxi drivers) will meet some 89,000 police and gendarmes in riot gear, according to the French prime minister. In Paris alone, some 8,000 riot police are to be deployed. According to Bloomberg, an angry taxi driver is calling for President Macron’s “scalp.” According to the news service, the Frenchman said of the coming protests,
"We’re going out there to fight." He added, "I want Macron’s scalp, I’m not afraid of anything. I have nothing to lose. You have to risk your life or you don’t get anything from these people."
French army units are being deployed. Social media have displayed videos of military vehicles, including armored personnel carriers, on the roads leading to Paris. The deployment of armored vehicles, the first since 2005, has been confirmed by the government. Some 8,000 members of French security forces are expected in Paris, where the famed Eiffel Tower and Louvre Museum have been closed.
Truck and taxi drivers scorn Macron and his government for having ruined their business. The driver quoted by Bloomberg said he will join others to break into the Elysee presidential palace -- an act that has already been compared to the famed storming of the Bastille castle during the French Revolution more than 200 years ago. One of the reasons for the anger is that Macron, while serving as economy minister (2014-2016) deregulated taxis and favored car-booking apps, such as Uber. “He ruined us, he broke our business,” the taxi driver said. “He wants everything new, digital, the new world, and he did it all without thinking of the cost for us.” According to the OECD, France pays some of the highest tax rates in the world.
In an interview with Spero News, Rev. Ben Johnson of the Acton Institute likened the current revolt in France to the Boston Tea Party that marked the beginning of the American Revolution. “This is another example of the disconnect between elite politicians using government to enforce extremist ideologies, and average working people who have to pay the price,” said Rev. Johnson. He said that Americans who voted for Donald Trump in 2016, especially in the industrial Midwest, are similarly concerned about taxation and policies advocated by Democrats and global elites.
In a video interview with Rebel Media, one of the masked protesters told a reporter of his frustrations over media representations of the tax revolt. The young male protester said that prices are rising and the standard of living is dropping, while taxes continue to rise along with “legal and illegal immigration.” The fuel-tax was the “last drop on the big pile of shit that France has become,” said the protester, when asked what other issues are motivating the movement. Regarding media coverage of the movement, he said “The level of treason on the part of the press is astounding. I think it’s at least on the level of the USA. Constant lies. Constant pointing the finger at this movement, that it’s anti-Macron, possible neo-Nazi.” Expressing the frustrations of many in the Yellow Vest movement, which he predicted will challenge Macron in May 2019 from the right and left, the protester said that France is a “disfunctional country. Everything is going to shit. We have more taxes to fund the government the money it doesn’t have. It’s not going to get better.”
Some protesters have dubbed members of the media "editocrats" for perceived favors to the government.
The Élysée Palace, seat of President Emmanuel Macron, announced that “great violence” is expected on Saturday. According to the Élysée, they expect “a hard core of several thousand people” to arrive in Paris on Saturday with the intent to “break and kill.” The American embassy in Paris is warning citizens: “Demonstrations may become violent, resulting in damage to property, including overturning vehicles and setting them on fire. Police responses may include water cannons and/or tear gas.” The embassy recommended that American citizens should avoid protests and “shelter in place if in the areas affected,” and notify family for their safety.
Even while police and troops are being called up, some are showing sympathy with the yellow vests. The Police Union Vigi Ministère de l’Intérieur supports the movement, and has called members to strike and join the Yellow Vests. “It is time to organise legally and to be in solidarity with them, for the benefit of all,” the union said and added, “We know that we will have wounded and we fear to have dead among us.” While active-duty officers are not allowed to strike by law, support and administrative staff may do so. “Without the technical assistance and cooks, the companies of CRS [riot police] can be immobilised. Without the administrative assistants, services can be closed. Without the state workers, the maintenance of buildings and vehicles can no longer be done,” the union said. This week, some officers showed solidarity with the protesters by removing their helmets when confronted at a rally.
Government tax collectors are running scared. On Tuesday, a tax office in central France was firebombed, following a similar bombing of a tax office near Avignon. 67 percent of the French believing that taxes are “too excessive.” Tax officials now fear for their safety. Last week, 200 tax collectors fled their offices in Poitiers. One of them said, “The crowd screamed ‘fascists! collaborators!’ What is the next step? The guillotine? The scaffold?”
Presidential staff have been told to stay home on Saturday. President Macron himself has been confronted in public by Yellow Vest members during a visit to Puy-en-Velay this week. Protesters refused to shake his hand and shouted “Resign!” and was chased by Yellow Vests as his convoy attempted to leave the area.
In a sign that the movement is growing, there are reports that similar Yellow Vest protests are being planned for the weekend in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and Sweden.
Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.