On Tuesday, the trial of members of an extreme right-wing group accused of plotting to assassinate Emmanuel Macron as part of a coup attempt will begin in Paris.
Prosecutors say members of the group called Les Barjols planned to attack the president with a knife during an official visit to northeastern France in November 2018.
Detectives, who tapped telephone conversations during the four-year investigation, claim there were also plans to kill migrants and attack mosques, as well as evidence of anti-Semitism, but none of the alleged plots were carried out.
Defense lawyers say the group’s threats were just talk and that there was no specific or immediate threat to Macron.
The absence of any criminal charges led prosecutors to downgrade the charges against those on trial – 12 men and women aged between 26 and 66 – to conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism. The defendants, who face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison if convicted, have denied any wrongdoing.
Lucile Collot, the defense lawyer, said the prosecution’s case was based on “the fiction that an act of violence will occur.”
Les Barjolsa nationalist and anti-immigration group that used the nickname locals in Mali gave to soldiers taking part in the 2013-14 French battle. Serval military operations, was formed on Facebook in early 2017.
The arrests followed a tip-off to French internal security services suggesting a far-right activist based in the Alpes region planned to attack Macron in November 2018 during World War I Armistice Day commemorations in Verdun, northeastern France. Its supposed leader, Denis Collinet, an unemployed man in his 60s and a former activist with the far-right National Front, now the National Rally (RN), was arrested in 2020.
Prosecutors alleged that the group, which at one point had 5,000 members, also conspired to kidnap members of parliament and overthrow the government. Some meetings included paramilitary-style marksmanship and first aid training.
The woman in the dock, who has not been named, is a 53-year-old former military secretary from the Dordogne who held a Les Barjols meeting at her house.
During raids on members’ properties, officers say they found firearms, including an M16 assault rifle and instructions on how to make explosives. The police allegedly found a knife in the house Les Barjols member Jean-Pierre Bouillet (66), who was arrested a few days before Macron’s visit. However, during questioning, Bowyer insisted it was all just anger.
“He admits there were talks, but they never went any further,” Bowyer’s lawyer, Olivia Ronen, told Agence France-Presse. She accused the prosecution of failing to put his hostile remarks towards Macron “in the context of the times”, when there was widespread anger in France over rising fuel prices that led to gilets jaunes (yellow vests) movement.
“What was presented to us as a planned attack on the President of the Republic is actually the beginnings of the yellow vests,” Ronen added.
One member of the group had “contrary views on the government” and made comments that were “sometimes extreme,” said defense attorney Gabriel Dumenil. “But does that mean they wanted to take action and assassinate the head of state?” The answer is no.”
Prosecutors will argue that the group’s plans were “entirely aimed at seriously disrupting public order through intimidation and terror” and that they existed long before the yellow vests.
The trial will last until February 3.