VALENCE, France (AP) — A 28-year-old man on trial for slapping French President Emmanuel Macron testified Thursday that the attack was impulsive and unplanned, and prompted by anger at France’s “decline.”
Damien Tarel faces possible jail time and a fine if found guilty of assaulting a public official at the special emergency trial in the southeastern city of Valence. Tarel was quickly arrested after the swipe Tuesday, which caught Macron in the face with an audible thwack as the French leader was greeting a crowd in the region.
Tarel acknowledged hitting the president with a “rather violent” slap. “When I saw his friendly, lying look, I felt disgust, and I had a violent reaction,” he told the court. “It was an impulsive reaction… I was surprised myself by the violence.”
While he said he and his friends had considered bringing an egg or a cream pie to throw at the president, he said they dropped the idea — and insisted that the slap wasn’t premeditated.
“I think that Emmanuel Macron represents the decline of our country,” he said, without explaining what he meant.
Tarel told the court that he supported the yellow vest economic protest movement that shook Macron’s presidency in 2019. He told investigators that he held right- or ultra-right political convictions without being a member of a party or group, according to the prosecutor’s office.
The charge of violence against a person invested with public authority is punishable by up to 3 years imprisonment and a fine of 45,000 euros ($54,000).
Macron wouldn’t comment Thursday on the trial, but insisted that “nothing justifies violence in a democratic society, never.”
“It’s not such a big deal to get a slap when you go toward a crowd to say hello to some people who were waiting for a long time,” he said in an interview with broadcaster BFM-TV. “We must not make that stupid and violent act more important than it is.”
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At the same time, the president added, “we must not make it banal, because anyone with public authority is entitled to respect.”
Another man arrested in the ruckus that followed the slap, identified by the prosecutor as Arthur C., will be judged at a later date, in 2022, for illegal possession of weapons.
The prosecutor’s office said as well as finding weapons, police who searched the home of Arthur C. also found books on the art of war, a copy of Adolf Hitler’s manifesto “Mein Kampf,” and two flags, one symbolizing Communists and another of the Russian revolution.
Neither Tarel nor Arthur C., also 28, had police records, the prosecutor said.
Videos showed Macron’s attacker slapping the French leader’s left cheek and his bodyguards pushing the man away during a quick meet-and-greet with members of the public, who were kept back behind traffic barriers in the winemaking town of Tain-l’Hermitage.
The attacker was heard to cry out “Montjoie! Saint Denis!” a centuries-old royalist war cry, before finishing with “A bas la Macronie,” or “Down with Macron.”