French MPs face unprecedented death threats from 'Yellow Vest' protesters

As thousands of 'Yellow Vests' took to the streets for a 9th Saturday of demonstrations in France, some 50 MPs have been the target of attacks, including death threats and gunshots, which have raised concerns about the state of democracy in France.

LUDOVIC MARIN / AFP | French gendarmes stand guard in front of the French National Assembly, in Paris, on January 12, 2019 at the start of an anti-government demonstration called by the Yellow Vest "Gilets Jaunes" movement.

Threatening letters, homophobic, anti-Semitic, racist and misogynist messages, and gunshots fired near their homes. For the last two months, around 50 members of French President Emmanuel Macron's La République en Marche (LREM) party have faced unprecedented threats from the "Yellow Vest" movement.

LREM’s spokesperson Aurore Bergé and her colleague Marie Lebec have been threatened multiple times since early December with “death by decapitation or hanging”.

“This violence is growing, so are death threats, but there are also concrete violent acts,” Paris deputy Laetitia Avia told Sud Radio on January 8.

MPs say that even though they are used to being occasionally insulted, this time a line has been crossed. “This is beyond limits,” MP Bruno Questel told FRANCE 24. In mid-December, around 40 “Yellow Vest” protesters fired six shotgun rounds in front of his home and he received many threatening letters, telling him his “death is near”.

Torture and sexual assault threats

On January 4, MP Jean-François Mbaye received a typed letter with racist insults. “You will get a bullet in the head” or “You are going to die,” said the letter, which also named other MPs of African origin such as Laetitia Avia and Hervé Berville.

Given the unprecedented number of violent acts and messages, most LREM MPs decided to strike back through court, filing regular complaints. On Wednesday, LREM’s Gilles Le Gendre wrote an editorial in French daily Le Monde called “Enough is enough!”, and calling for “respect towards the Republic and its representatives”.

“We were not able to file a class action, but we have all filed complaints. We help each other and even political opponents support us,” Questel told FRANCE 24. “These acts are actually more violent towards our female colleagues than their male counterparts,” he added. Like other women MPs, Bergé has received multiple torture and sexual assault threats.

Targeted MPs also question other parties such as the far-right’s National Rally (RN, formerly known as National Front) and leftist La France Insoumise (LFI) for their silence on these violent acts. “Everybody knows that the 'Yellow Vest' movement is also manipulated by RN and by LFI, some of their leaders were there at the beginning,” said Questel.

“These are parties that were defeated over and over again and they are trying to fight the same battle again, which they are not able to win... but independently, it is complicated when people think they have the right to condemn you to death and that they have also the right to openly tell you so,” added Questel.

Crisis in democracy?

Some people think these threats represent a democratic crisis. According to historian Christophe Bellon, this kind of violence “can be found in various moments in the 20th century, moments of extreme tension”.

But since 1958, “these acts of violence against representatives of the state had no equivalent”, he adds. “There were acts of violence (…), but never with a social movement such as this one,” Bellon told Le Monde.

“I don’t think it illustrates a crisis in our democracy,” said Questel. “Each and every one is free to vote. The real democratic crisis is the fact that most of the 'Yellow Vests' have never voted or have not done so for the past 30 years. The real democratic crisis is the fact that 50% of the voters didn’t express their opinions during the second round of the presidential election (in 2017),” he added.

Nevertheless, many of his colleagues are under police protection, a measure the government says it will not be able to maintain indefinitely.

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