THE BATTLE BETWEEN FAR-LEFT AND FAR-RIGHT YELLOW VEST PROTESTERS IN FRANCE
A chronology of fascist and anti-fascist groups clashing in the midst of the French Yellow Vest movement
Since the beginning of the Yellow Vests protest movement in France in November 2018, footage of brawls between opposing groups of protesters have frequently emerged online. To an unfamiliar eye, these images show Yellow Vests battling each other, which at first seems odd.
The reality behind these clashes though is an ongoing struggle of opposing fascist and anti-fascist youth militant groups, both trying to "hold the streets" in order to promote their political ideas within the Yellow Vest movement.
Based on open source research, this article builds a chronology of the clashes mainly focusing on the events that have occurred in Paris — although similar fights broke out in other cities . It'll also discuss the evolution of the balance of power between the two factions. It is important to note that although the Yellow Vests movement gave both sides the opportunity to meet on the ground every Saturday and assert their strength, such confrontations are not new.
A French fascist militant group called "Zouaves Paris" began to promote its activities on a far-right football hooligan Facebook page named "Ouest Casual" a year ago. Comprised mainly of former members of the GUD, a post-1968 fascist youth group now renamed "Bastion Social", the Zouaves embody the recent resurgence of the far-right on the streets of Paris.
Alongside members of other nationalist groups, such as the royalist and catholic organisation "Action Française", and so-called "independent football hooligans", they've come together on several occasions since the beginning of the Yellow Vests to attack leftist elements within the movement and to enforce their own ideas.
At the same time, French anti-fascist groups share footage of their activities on a Facebook page named "Antifa Squads". These feature pictures of their "mobs" (what they call mobilised groups) and leftist football hooligan tribunes.
Quite active in Paris, the anti-fascists have for instance attacked on two occasions the headquarters of right-wing youth group "Génération Identitaire". The anti-fascists also promote "popular self-defence" against fascism. To attend Yellow Vests protests and counter fascist elements, several anti-fascist youth groups have joined forces. Amongst others, these include the "Action Antifasciste Paris-Banlieue", “Rapaces Paris", and the "SIAMO Paris Antifa".
Anti-fascist “mob” - February 2nd 2019
BROWN-YELLOW OR RED-YELLOW?
The first clash of opposing fascist and anti-fascist groups took place on December 1st 2018, as the third Yellow Vest protest unfolded in the Champs-Elysées neighbourhood.
Around noon, an anti-fascist mob ran into members of the "Parti Nationaliste Français", including Yvan Benedetti, the ex-leader of the defunct "ŒuvreFrançaise" —an anti-semitic group that was officially dissolved in 2013 by government decree following the murder of 18 year-old anti-fascist activist Clément Méric.
According to chat on Ouest Casual, the anti-fascist mob was later attacked and beaten up during the afternoon by the Zouaves in front of the Arc de Triomphe. This, they claimed, was their first victory.
Although I couldn't find any footage of this confrontation, both factions usually tend to follow vague "rule of honour", which usually prevents them from simply inventing clashes. They certainly do tend to exaggerate events and their successes, but the losing side often admits its defeats. Additionally, the anti-fascists did not deny that this confrontation happened.
The Zouaves posing in front of the Arc de Triomphe after allegedly beating up the anti-fascists
The following week, on December 8th, the only encounter between the group was anti-fascists kicking a small group of "Action Française" members from a demonstration.
After several weeks without any clashes, on the January 19th, fascists and anti-fascists fought again briefly at a Yellow Vests demonstration. Some footage showing Antonin Bernanos with a bloody nose emerged. Bernanos is a known figure of the leftist "Action Antifasciste Paris-Banlieue" who has been condemned for setting fire to a police car at a protest in May 2016. Ouest Casual made fun of him in a video due to him being held back by protesters whilst urging the Zouaves to confront him.
Later on that day, Parisian anti-fascists attacked Léopold Jimmy, a far-right "journalist" (ex-candidate for the National Front) known for filming himself chasing Gypsies in the metro and actively collaborating with fascist militant groups. He's also known for creating "watchlists" of leftist militants.
Left: Anti-fascists chasing Léopold Jimmy - Right: Léopold Jimmy after being attacked
Additionally, in Lyon, anti-fascists claimed that they were attacked from behind by fascist activists who were joined by local far-right hooligans. Footage showing the anti-fascists being chased away emerged on Ouest Casual.
January 26th marked a major escalation, as the Zouaves twice attacked members of the far-left political party "Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste" (NPA). Several were left badly injured.
It's important to mention that even though the NPA is an institutional and democratic party, which has run for the presidential elections on multiple occasions, these attacks barely aroused any reaction from the rest of the political sphere or the government.
The NPA getting attacked
Zouaves posing with a banner they stole from the NPA
Ouest Casual then shared pictures of fascists gathering in Lyon, Strasbourg, and Angers. Minor confrontations allegedly took place in Lyon, although it is unclear if any faction took the advantage.
In response to the Zouaves attack on the NPA, anti-fascists in Lille claimed an attack against the local bar used by Génération Identitaire.
On the February 2nd, trying to reassert their leadership in the streets following the attacks against the NPA, a large anti-fascist mob gathered in Paris and chased the Zouaves out of the Yellow Vest demonstration on two occasions. Footage showing Aloys Vojinovic, one of their leaders, seemingly lost and angry that his friend Marc, AKA "Hassin" ran away, surfaced. It was used by the anti-fascists to make fun of their opponents.
Stimulated by their victory, the anti-fascists posted a picture of themselves that night in the 15th district of Paris, a neighbourhood where the Zouaves usually hang out. One of the comments asks: "Where is Marc ?"
After this, Ouest Casual claimed that a minor clash took place in Toulouse, sharing a picture of local far-right street-fighters posing with a stolen shoe as a trophy.
Left: Far-right with "trophies" after a street fight with leftists - Right: Far-right assembled in Lyon
The following Saturday, on February 9th, Zouaves were nowhere to be seen in Paris. What's more, images from Lyon allegedly showing Marc / Hassin getting knocked out in a fight appeared online. This suggested that some of the Parisian fascist militants had temporarily regrouped in Lyon, which is considered their stronghold.
Another video from that same day showed the fascist mob attacking leftist activists in Lyon, in what became a large and particularly violent brawl.
The brawl in Lyon
Like the previous week, a group of fascist militants gathered in Toulouse and clashed with local anti-fascists.
On the February 16th, several anti-fascist groups merged in Lyon in response to the previous week’s large-scale fighting. Despite this, it seems as if no clashes broke out, as the fascists didn't appear to be out on the streets that weekend.
On March 2nd, a group of roughly 80 fascist street-fighters gathered in Lyon. Again, no major confrontation unfolded. Ouest Casual claimed that the anti-fascists were “invisible”. In turn, the Antifa Squads made fun of the fascists for not showing up in Paris.
Notwithstanding the defeats that the two factions have suffered, it looks like both fascist and anti-fascist militant youth groups are determined to continue their struggle to "hold the streets" within the Yellow Vests movement.
As demonstrations continue every week throughout France, and the future of the movement remains unclear, it's more than likely that clashes will continue to occur in major cities and that both groups will fight each other within them.
Follow Sébastien Bourdon on Twitter: @primeralinea